I feel like a failure.
Last month, those were the words that I said to my husband more often than I have ever said them.
Like many teachers, I feel like a failure on a regular basis. However, recently I have felt even more like I am failing all the people in my life. If you know me really well, you know I have a son with severe autism and severe cognitive delays. He is a 2-3 year old toddler trapped in a pubescent 13 year old boy. He brings me more joy and more frustration than I ever thought possible, and recently I have felt like the biggest failure when it comes to him.
You see, Brody was struggling to behave and control himself at school. We consulted his doctor and he was prescribed a low dosage of a new medicine that they assured us would help him. However, it had the opposite effect. It caused him to not be able to control himself.
As I read update after update from his teacher, I felt like I had failed Brody and his teachers. I also felt like I had failed my students because my focus was more on my son and how he was doing in school than on them. I even felt like I had failed my husband because I am the teacher in the family. I am supposed to know what to do and how to help my son behave at school, but I couldn’t.
Now, you may be thinking that I was being entirely too hard on myself and you are right. But the reality is that we usually are our own worst critics. Reflecting on these last few days made me realize that some of my readers may be feeling like failures in some aspects of their lives.
If you are, I want you to know that this is perfectly normal and you are not alone.
But, I also want to help you overcome this. So, we will interrupt my usual pedagogy and content-focused posts to bring you something a little different. I want to share with you my simple go-to strategies for when I am feeling like a failure in the different aspects of my life. Try them as-is or adapt them for your own unique needs and situations.
When you feel like you are failing your own children…
1.) Look through pictures of great times and vacations together. Laugh and reminisce about specific memories you have. Look at pictures of when they were babies and tell them stories about them that they won’t remember.
2.) Plan a special event for the weekend. This doesn’t have to involve spending a lot of money. It can be taking your children to the park or a picnic.
3.) If you have older teenage children, take them to the movies or their favorite restaurant for dinner. If they are more interested in their friends, take their best friend with you. I know that is not ideal but sometimes we have to take what we can get with older children. But, try for the alone time first. I bet even moody teenagers would jump at the chance if they got to pick the movie and the restaurant.
When you feel like you are failing your spouse/significant other…
1.) Do something nice for them just because. Don’t even mention it to them or try to get a “thank you” from them. Do it just because. They will appreciate it more and you will feel better if you know you are not doing it for self-gratification. #spokenfromexperience
2.) Take a task off their plate for a day or a week. My husband takes the boys to school each morning since they attend a different school than I teach at. This allows me to sleep in an extra thirty minutes. However, when I feel like I am failing my spouse by not doing enough for him or with him, I find an opportunity to take the boys to school for him. He appreciates it and gets to sleep in and I get to spend extra time with the kids. Total win-win.
3.) Make their favorite meal or dessert or even order take out from their favorite restaurant.
When you feel like you are failing your students…
1.) Ask yourself what is the ONE area you think you are failing them the most. Then take that one area and do this:
- Plan an engaging activity that you know the students will love.
- Create a Pinterest board and keep on the look out for ideas and resources to help teach and engage your students in that area.
- Block off your day or part of your day and focus on that one area. Use that engaging activity and your Pinterest board to help you plan activities that you and your students will love.
2.) If you feel like you are failing your students in a particular subject, make it a point to get to work 10 minutes earlier or stay 10 minutes later and focus on just that subject. Use that time to do whatever you feel is lacking in that subject area. That could be finding more engaging activities, taking the time to leave meaningful feedback on student work, or even just spending that extra time planning more thoughtfully.
3.) If you feel like you are failing a specific subset of students (shy students, students inclined to misbehave, struggling students, etc.), make a point to spend some time with those students in the next upcoming week. This could be pulling them during instruction to a small group for extra instruction or even just chatting with them at recess or transition times about their day.
Here is an example: At the beginning of the school year, I work very hard to nurture my reluctant readers and get them motivated and interested in reading. But as the year goes on and the stress of the standards hit me, I notice that I spend less and less time encouraging them and getting them excited about new books. When I start to realize that I am failing them, I scrap my guided reading lesson plans for the day and spend that time sharing books, discussing books, and just getting them excited about reading again.
Another example is one year, I realized I had dropped the ball and failed my students with multi-step word problems. My students that year had huge gaps in learning and understanding and just getting through the basics was enough of a challenge. Needless to say, we just hadn’t practice enough of multi-step word problems. So, I spent a few days in math doing engaging activities that my students enjoyed and that gave them the necessary practice in multi-step problems. Not only did it truly help my students but it also eased my feelings of being a failure that year.
When you feel like you are failing yourself…
1.) Buy something new for your favorite hobby. For me, that is a new book. I would spend a few minutes scouring the internet and asking friends for recommendations. Even if I don’t have time in my life to read the book right then, just knowing that I have a great book ready and waiting for me is sometimes enough to get me through a rough patch.
2.) Treat yourself. This can be through purchasing something like mentioned above. Or it can be treating yourself to lunch with a friend or family member you haven’t seen for awhile.
3.) Take a nap. This is often impossible for me to find time to do, but I try to find time every now and then to slow down and take an hour nap when I feel stressed. I wake up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle my to-do list.
4.) Exercise or go for a walk. Sometimes, this is the most difficult for me to do. I think of all the million things I need to be doing instead of exercising. But, in most cases, this is just what I need. I usually compromise and take my sons with me and I get to spend time with them while doing something for myself.
What do you do when you feel like a failure with your job or your personal life? Do you do any of these strategies I shared above? Do you have others? I would love to hear what you do to help overcome feelings of failure.