While lying on the couch yesterday, succumbed to what I learned later in the day to be pneumonia, I found myself immersed in the television, achy from head to toe, my chest wheezing with every breath. I pored through shows and movies on Netflix, Hulu, and HBOGo, until I finally found a movie that I’d been meaning to finish for a long time, “The Fault in Our Stars.”
It was a timely watch, and not to worry: it’s not because I have terminal cancer or currently know anyone with it. Instead, it was because of one of major themes in the movie.
“Hamartia,” Hazel Grace says in the movie. “It’s a fatal flaw.”
I had forgotten about this part. In fact, just a year or so before, when I began watching this movie for the first time, the concept of hamartia struck me. I even started a blog post about it. I began to ponder over what my hamartia was. I came up with a whole slew of flaws, but I wasn’t sure if any of them were quite fatal. But as I lay on the couch yesterday, on what felt like the brink of death, I started to think about a conversation I had with my boyfriend a couple of weeks ago.
“You’re sounding a bit self-important,” he said to me. He always has this way of telling me exactly what I need to hear, pissing me off to the nth degree, only to have me realize a day or so later just how right he was.
I can’t quite remember the impetus for the conversation or the result of it for that matter, but I do remember that I was talking about my job, going on about not only it’s importance in the world, but how it just may, in fact, be the most important job in the world. And while I still believe this — that what I do is one of the most important jobs in the world — my conversation with my boyfriend, paired with this tragic movie, may have helped me to see what could, perhaps, be my fatal flaw.
And that fatal flaw is the self-importance and martyrdom that I think many educators put on themselves.
I don’t think anyone–my boyfriend included–would debate the importance of what educators do every day. But, as an educator, I know that the immense importance of my job sometimes weighs on me. I feel the pressure of holding every child’s fragile and precious childhood in my hands, the gravity of these formative experiences, as well as the opportunities of a high-quality education and the detriments of a low-quality one.
And I think it is this idea, the sheer responsibility of it all, that leads me to my workaholism, my late nights on the computer, and my tireless communication to parents. I think this is what leads me to sometimes neglect myself, my loved ones, or even my own interests sometimes. I’m simply not happy unless I’m doing everything I possibly can to deliver the best experience possible.
When I started to look into pneumonia a bit, I not-so-shockingly learned quite a bit more about it. While in many cases, there is nothing you can do to avoid it, in some cases, it seems like you can. In fact, it says that very commonly pneumonia is a complication of the flu, a festering and unresolved disease, one that no doubt comes from not taking care of yourself.
I traced back my steps over the past week, wondering where this might have begun, how long I may have had pneumonia for, and if there was anything I could have done to prevent it.
I almost immediately remembered running down the street, trying to catch the train, feeling all-in-all, pretty wonderful after a hard day’s work. Sure, I’d been feeling a bit under the weather, a bit congested and slow, but I certainly pushed through it. And of course, I couldn’t miss work. My kids, my co-teachers, they needed me there–or at least that’s what I thought.. I couldn’t let them down. But when I was about half-way to the train, I felt a dull pain in my back. My chest felt heavy and constrained, my lungs wheezed just a tad. But I ignored it.
Surely I was just a little tired. Nothing I couldn’t handle.
But Sunday night, when it all took over and Monday at 2 AM when I sat awake finding it difficult to even breathe, I realized that something was bit off, different than usual. This wasn’t just a cold or the flu. I started to panic. I had so much planned–so many important things to complete with the kids. What’s more, one of my other co-teachers was out already, and leaving all of this on my other co-teacher (and on her birthday, nonetheless) had me plagued with guilt.
“You’re not going to work,” my boyfriend said to me. I looked back at him, told him I’d do what I pleased, even though I knew he was right… again.
The fact of the matter was that I wasn’t going to be helping anyone by coming into work this sick, even if I was feeling all too important. In fact, I’d probably do more damage. Not only would I sacrifice more of my own health, but I’d most likely sacrifice the health of my co-teachers and my students.
As educators, our cross we have to bear is that we can always do more. Our best is never going to be exactly what every child needs, and our maximum output will most likely never fully fulfill the needs of all of our children. Essentially, while it’s a hard pill to swallow, our efforts are not always directly correlated with the results. At a certain point, the benefits of our energy expenditure plateau, leaving us no better off, even if we feel like we’ve sacrificed everything for the best results.
Most of all, it’s true that in order to care for others, we need to care for ourselves first. While I still believe my job to be one of the most important in the world, martyrdom is an educator’s fatal flaw, only contributing more to the plight of our self-imposed self-importance. We need to remember to take a break, to let others take care of us, and to remember that we can’t do anyone any good if we’re not personally at our best.