crippling expectations

A few weeks ago I bought a beautiful purple mum. I placed it on our stoop next to our front door under a fall wreath that I had created a couple years ago. Every time I pulled into our driveway, I smiled at the pretty pop of color it gave the house as all the rest of the plants had started to wither and brown.

Yesterday as I turned into our driveway, I noticed that my mums were all dried up and brown.

I had forgotten to water them.

Something was bound to give, I suppose. This is the paradox of this school year for me, and I was feeling it on Sunday.  The brown mums were the last straw, I guess you could say.

I love each and every opportunity and responsibility I have taken on this fall.

Having four sections of twelfth grade English has been so fun and such a great challenge. I love the immense responsibility of helping our school get it’s graduation rate up because it’s not just a number to me, it’s the 100 faces that show up in my classroom each day. For some of these kids it means they will be the first in their family to graduate.  That isn’t a statistic to me, it’s personal.

Last year I took on the volunteer task of doing Students of the Month at my school.  Each month I send out a survey to staff gathering nominations. Then I get to announce the winning students in each grade (one boy and one girl, so a total of six kids each month). But I don’t have it end there. I track down each student, have each fill out a profile questionnaire, and then pose for a photo. Then I ask their teachers to give me a sentence or two about the student. I take all that, combine it with their photos and post it on a bulletin board in the hall. I also submit it for the monthly school newsletter.

It’s a lot of work for no pay, but I adore it. The kids get such a proud smile when they find out they are chosen. And reading what their teachers say about them almost make me tear up. But my favorite part is watching students look at the bulletin board. It’s such a huge affirmation to our kids here.

Being back in the Community College classroom has been positive for me too.  I absolutely love teaching a class that is focused on writing. I love the discussion and the higher level of maturity I get with college students. I feel like I am able to stretch my teaching muscles in new ways through teaching this class.

On top of all that I am trying to keep up with freelance writing. I love the challenge of expository writing and researching content that I may not otherwise read about. I like practicing what I preach. I spend so much time teaching students to do good informational writing, but recently I haven’t done much of it myself. Unfortunately, when things get busy, this is the first thing I have to say no too.  And of course it’s the only one bringing me in some spending money for Christmas gifts, but I would rather give that up than give up time with my family.

This past weekend things caught up with me.

I have been diligently sticking to my time management plan, but  when 130 essays get turned in at once, things get squished.

Sunday I felt like I was failing everyone. I couldn’t grade fast enough. It consumed my entire day and evening. I wasn’t seeing my family, I wasn’t going fast enough to get the papers back to my students in a timely way.

I texted Cortney from where I sat in Starbucks armpit-deep in essays. I was crying and I told him I felt useless and horrible. He assured me I was neither and to just work through it one essay at a time.

Later when I complained that I was such a slow reader and commenter, he said, “no, you’re just really thorough. You want to give your students the tools to succeed. That is not a bad thing.”

He is right, but it makes me feel so awful.

I never feel good enough.

I have such high expectations of myself. I have such lofty goals.

I want 100% of my seniors to graduate this year.

I want 100% of my college students to get better at writing and start to like it a little bit.

I want to have a quick turn back rate so students (and parents) can understand where they are in terms of mastering my content.

I hate that it takes me weeks to get essays back.

I hate that it I can’t keep up with calling/meeting with students who are in danger of not graduating–that I run out of time to check on ALL their grades and touch base.

I wish I could give up sleep…or have an extra 12 hours added to each day just for sleeping, so the other 24 can be for other stuff. I don’t want to give up on my family or my students.

But sometimes it feels like I am failing people if I let myself sleep or watch TV or stare at Pinterest. Like I should be grading or writing or planning or doing something for someone else.  If there are items on my To Do List it seems that I am a waste if I am not working on them.

I know I have to put myself first or no one will get the best of me. I know this.

And yet…when I let myself go to bed after grading only one paper or I let myself play Words With Friends on my phone or I write this blog post instead of filing writing samples…I feel guilt.

Stupid guilt.

I take my jobs–all of them–very seriously. Very personally.

When I don’t meet my own expectations that I place on myself, I feel like I let everyone down.

pile-of-paperAm I putting too much pressure on myself? Should my expectations of myself be lower? Am I crippling myself with my expectations?

This is what I know: I can’t have high expectations of my kids–both my own and my students–if I don’t also have high expectations of myself…right?