Thursday Talks – The Emotional Support Teacher

I’m lucky to have a lot of inspiring people in my life. As I research work-life balance, I talk to friends and colleagues about how they manage the day-to-day while following their passion and maintaining wellness.

Chrissy is an emotional support teacher at an urban high school. Emotional support teachers are teachers certified in special education focused on students with a history of emotional and behavioral issues. As her friend, I saw first-hand the time that Chrissy’s job demanded of her. It was not unusual for her phone to ring on a weekend and it be a parent or a student. Chrissy supported those who especially needed the support, namely students in the foster system. One student had moved around so much that Chrissy was the most stable person in his life.

This year, her first as a working mom, she knew she had to take steps to find a balance between her work and her family life. She shared what she’s been doing this year to focus herself and be the best she can be both for her students and her family.

Refocus the environment

“In my classroom, I’m often repeating to my students: ‘In this classroom, we are creating a safe learning environment for everyone. We have to maintain self-respect and respect for others.’ The students might get sick of hearing it, but I’ve found that it helps the kids and it helps remind me of our focus in the classroom.

I also moved my office this year. It’s been really working out. I only have one other person in my working space compared to previous years where my office space became a hub for the department. It was too distracting and I ended up getting caught in others’ drama or work frustrations. Now, I can separate myself to refocus my priorities.”

Setting healthy boundaries

“I’ve always been a resource for a lot of my co-workers. I would end up staying after school to help them and I ended up draining myself. Now, I make the most of my time at work to get my tasks done. I take it moment by moment. I exert enough energy to get me through the immediate challenge or task. I’ve learned that sometimes you just have to leave work as is and pick it up tomorrow. I have another job that’s more important, being a mom.”

On finding emotional balance

“If I’m in a stressful situation, let’s say I get a new case load or if someone has a complaint (that’s the biggest trigger), I start feeling panicked and stressed. The first thing I do is try to separate myself from the feeling and then immediately prioritize my next steps. I have to do this moment to moment. Often, I find myself going back to that panicky feeling and I acknowledge that I am going back into a negative mindset. And then I reset myself and re-prioritize my next steps again.”

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