Yesterday my friend Ben got married, it was a wonderful ceremony and reception. As Ben and his wife were making their rounds of thank yous, I got to chat with Ben for a while. We talked about our experience working in hospitality together and I had asked if he ever thought about going back to which he responded “no way!” We both agreed the industry is brutal and you can really work yourself to death. Which was meant as a joke but we remembered that actually happened to my boss, Jade. She worked herself to death.
Ben and I worked together at a hotel in Albuquerque many years ago. He worked the front desk and I worked in housekeeping, cleaning the public areas of the hotel; we both worked the evening shift. While I enjoyed working with Ben and others at my hotel, the hospitality industry is brutal. Late nights, extreme physical labor, violent guests, minimal pay. The list goes on and on. Jade, my boss, was a woman who was a perfectionist, which is a good trait to have when you are housekeeping supervisor. It may seem that housekeepers only clean rooms, but that work is exhausting. Every room must meet certain standards, and making 10 beds a day is no easy feat. Whenever you stay in a hotel, please leave a tip and a note that says how well the room was made up, because it means a lot to the housekeepers. At our hotel we would hang up all the notes on our bulletin board, it made our jobs a little easier.
Jade was proud of the work she did and how well the hotel was cleaned. She would often stay late doing more chores, or come in early, and overwork herself. During October she came in when she was sick and we all told her to go home and rest, she of course didn’t listen. One day in January Jade was sick again with bronchitis and kept coming in to work. I got a text on my day off saying that Jade didn’t report for work in the morning, and they went to her apartment and found her body. It was later revealed that she had died because of complications with her bronchitis. She had given work her all, and she had literally worked herself to death.
Going back to work was the hardest thing I had to do. Walking into our housekeeping office and truly feeling an absence is a feeling that can only be described as intense and powerful.
After her death I left the hotel because I was beginning to student teach and finish my degree. Her death stayed with me a long time and I came up with three things I learned from her dying: (copied from a post on a different social media platform)
The first is that death does not wait for anything. It can come at any time, place, age, and certainly not when expected, despite our human efforts, we can not control this great force. The second is that because of this, we need to take time to enjoy everything we have in this life (which sounds cliché) but our lives are far too short not to express daily gratitude for everything we have. The third is that we need to take care of ourselves in all aspects, because we deserve the best that life has to offer.
I need to expand on that third point. We as teachers have got to take care of ourselves. I recently received a hilarious shirt from my friend and it says “Everything hurts, and I’m dying, but writing sub plans is worse!” That shirt is tongue-in-cheek humor that teachers would rather work when sick that create sub plans. It is a sad truth. I have worked many times when I should have stayed home. But it is more than working while sick. It is those extra nights where we stay “just a few more minutes.” Taking on extra school projects, more mandates from the state or district, working at home or on the weekends, or being bombarded with ridiculous deadlines. The list could go on.
Teachers are some of the hardest working people in our society, we work well beyond our contracts, it has almost become a societal norm to go beyond what is expected. But where do we draw the line between hard work and over working ourselves? For Jade, who gave her all to the hotel, crossed that line at a point of no return.
I am making a renewed commitment to myself this year that I can’t give teaching my all. I love this job, but it is not worth my life. I am renewing myself to be a passionate and healthy teacher, to create a better balance of life and work. I think we often forget, but teaching is a job. It may be our life calling, but at the end of the day it is work, and we have to create that balance. As a teacher, I often refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs so I can help my students achieve self-actualization through means of supporting their other needs (physiological, safety, love, etc)**. But the reality is I don’t check Maslow’s for myself, and I doubt other teachers do too. That is something that I need to change this year. If I want to be the best teacher for my students, I need to make sure my own basic needs are met too.
As we wind down summer and begin to get ready for the fall; make a renewed commitment to yourself to love teaching and your students, and to love and take care of yourself. Make a commitment to stay a little less late at school, block off times for yourself (or family/partner), when you are sick stay home. Take care of yourself, so you can take care of others. Do this for yourself, do this for Jade.
Here are some resources to help create a balance:
** To see how you can use Maslow’s in your classroom, see these links: