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?


About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.


  1. As a fellow teacher, I completely understand! I think it is the nature of the beast and those of us that get in this business want to do the very best 🙂

  2. There is nothing wrong with wanting to do your best by your students, and family, and of course, yourself. It is a good thing. My sister is the same. She truly wants the best for her students, and she works her butt off for them. She grades slowly too, because she wants to do it properly. She CARES. Just like you care. Don’t ever feel like you’re failing. Ever. You’re a very good teacher, mom, wife, and friend.

  3. Your students will survive if it takes 2-5 more days to grade essays, won’t they? I made a rule after I. Had my daughter that I would not take grading home. That time, especially weekends, belongs to my family and is precious. I have to be more diligent about grading while making copies on prep. Sometimes I’m grading APs last week essay while they are writing this weeks. We still review them and improve them and they are still relevant. Maybe think about what you want for YOUR time? Because you deserve it, and prioritizing yourself does not make you less of a teacher.

  4. NO expecting the best for your students is not bad, as long as your expectations are not so elevated you cannot reach them. You are human, you need to breathe, even if just for an hour in a hot bath with a glass of wine. Recharge yourself momma period. Only then are you giving them your best because you know and demonstrate that while you love writing you also know there are moments you have to step away

  5. here’s what I know: you are doing more than most of us. I am barely able to work full time (NOT TEACHING our next generation of children) and get home, make dinner and spend some time with my sons.

    I think that you are incredibly amazing, inspiring and just going through what all of us go through when we want our best food forward. Of course we expect a lot from ourselves, of course we want to do a good job, serve the greater good and give back to our families in equal (if not excessive) amounts. I believe that to be a function of mothering in all it’s forms.

    Deep down, you know this, but if you need me (us) to remind you of that or sit with you and say “Yes, of course, you need down time, you need to recharge, you need to be at your best to give your best” I’m happy to do that for you, because you always do it for me.


  6. Would you expect your students to give up sleep? To not take a minute for themselves?
    If they were feeling like they were failing if they weren’t doing homework every waking minute, I bet you’d be the first person to tell them to take a break. That it’s okay to take time for yourself. That it’s healthy to take time for yourself.

    Give yourself the same latitude you would give to others. You are not a failure. You are human.

  7. You have so much going on right now! I think finding a balance between high expectations and unreachable expectations is so hard, and it changes all the time. I don’t really have advice, but I want you to know your words are being heard.

  8. You’re doing an amazing job. In every post you write about school, your love for teaching and for your students is palpable. if your family and students are your priority, then it’s okay to let other things slide. Honestly, I don’t know why they haven’t invented self watering plants. That would help ME out a lot, and I’m not even half as busy as you. I just suck at keeping plants alive. 😉

  9. I think what you are experiencing is part of what makes you such an outstanding teacher. I hope you are able to find a way to lessen that pressure. xo

  10. Oh hon… You are a great teacher and momma and friend and wife and all of those things. It gets so hard when we place such heavy burdens on ourselves. I know because I do it too. You just have to find a way to believe that you are enough just the way you are. I know that’s harder than it sounds.

  11. About seven years ago when I was trying to work full time while parenting a 2 year old and being pregnant with Nola, I felt similar to you – being pulled in 100 different directions, and depressed and unhappy with everything, because i could give anything 100 percent. Someone close to me told me I should “lower my expectations and I would be happier”.

    At first it sounded offensive, but then I really thought about the chaos that I had created due to my expectations, and realized that yes they were right. If I have less stuff on my to-do list, let others in better life situations take the lead on some of the stuff I loved to do, I would be happier because the calm would lead to healthier homelife.

    Honestly, I repeat to myself probably weekly, “lower your expectations (expectations I place on others, myself, my children, my husband, my job) and I’ll be happier. And it helps.

    Also worth a read is this post by Danielle Smith – you guys I think are similar. Give it a peruse (when you have a second, don’t feel guilty about it):

    Hope you can find a balance soon.

  12. I honestly don’t know how you do all the things that you do. Please try to relieve some of the pressure you are putting on yourself… i know that’s easier said than done. I swim in the guilt – I know what you’re feeling. Be gentle.

  13. Girl, you are speaking my language. Between homeschooling all day, running a religious ed. program at our church, teaching two theater courses, along with all of the daily parenting and wife commitments, I perpetually fell like I am in a state of “suck!” As in, I suck at everything. The reality is my expectations are what suck…totally suck. I place unnecessary expectations on myself all the time. I’ve found myself realizing that I am not teaching my kids what it means to have high expectations; rather, I’m teaching them what it means to have a disordered life–one in which my priorities need to be reshuffled and my expectations brought down so that I can show my family and friends (and myself!) what happy and balanced looks like. I have this terrible fear that my kids will one day look back and remember a mother who was always stressed and tired, instead of one who laughed and loved and hugged them more than not! It is the kind of fear that keeps me awake at night. I’m working to readjust my expectations. It is a daily battle. I’ll pray for you!

  14. Oh hon! Don’t be so hard on yourself. If I can take one positive thing from my divorce, it’s been to lower my bar and my own standards. I had to in order to survive. My expectations were physically impossible to maintain. Unless I skipped sleep all together.

    The thing is, when I dropped that bar – and it was a heavy, high bar – I came to realize those expectations were self imposed. The world did not crumble. People could still depend on me. My children were just as happy. My friends didn’t feel neglected. My work improved. My writing improved. Because all that stress of holding that damn bar up was keeping me from enjoying my life.

    Keep your head up. Don’t beat yourself up. And cut yourself the same slack you cut others.

  15. When you first posted your schedule, it made me anxious. Caring about your students and their successes is what makes you awesome. As far as the length of time it takes you to return an essay. I’d much rather have thorough feedback than just a letter grade. Also, I’d love to take your writing class 🙂

  16. It’s probably a bit of an oversimplification, but I use the kids or friend gauge when I am out of whack. If my daughters or my friend recounted my own mindset and scenario to me, what would I say. Sometimes I think that our desire to be so good and so many things to so many people, we forget to be loving or realistic with ourselves.

    I hope you find your way out of this particular storm. I do wonder if you might be able to chip away by offering access/feedback that doesn’t require 100% grading of essays. Check ins?

    Thank you for putting so much heart into what you are doing.

  17. I think you are an incredible teacher for having such high aspirations for all of them and for yourself. That doesn’t make your job any easier, but it does mean that you are working hard and doing something really important. You are only one person. You can only do one person’s worth of work, and you are doing it well. That is enough.

  18. I hope that you can find a good blend/balance of all these things so that it will not cause you stress. But I haven’t even done that myself and I do not have a job outside of the home. My hat is completely off to you, Katie. The fact that you do all of this amazes me!! But also, try to understand that there will be times that something has to slide and that is okay…. xoxo

  19. I remember when I was in school, I really loved getting comments and feedback on my essays and always learned from the teacher’s notes. I am sure that your students will feel the same way, even if they have to wait a little longer to get them back. Having so much going on at once, I can see how you feel like you need to always be doing something, but you really do need to take some time for yourself, too.

  20. I think you’re amazing and I admire all that you manage to do and juggle along with family/blogging/friends/life. I love the way you’re inspiring your students and taking their photos and making a big deal out of things to encourage them—

    What matters most, at the end of the day is—are you doing what makes you happy? Are you fulfilled? And it sounds like it, but it also sounds like maybe you’re a bit overwhelmed and also being too hard on yourself. I’ve never been a teacher, but I’ve always highly respected anyone who is because it is a TOUGH job. An important job. And you’re the kind of teacher I’d have wanted, and that I want my kids to have.

    It sounds like you need to cut yourself some slack. My mums are going brown too. I love that metaphor. It’s a sign to slow down a bit. You need more Katie time.

    I love you.

  21. Oh, honey.

    I read this yesterday and again today. Twice. I keep thinking of all the things I want to say but unfortunately, I want to say ALL THE THINGS.

    So I’ll stick with yes.

    Yes, I get this. Yes, you’re working too hard.
    And no, you won’t be able to do it any other way.

    But you are working miracles for your students and setting an example for your boys of what true passion and commitment mean.

    I wish so much that it could be easier for you.
    But life is only easy for the ones who do not care.

  22. Oh wow. We really ARE twins.

  23. What would you tell your best friend if she came to you with this scenario? Would you tell her to “buck up?” That you were disappointed that she couldn’t do it all? Not a chance. You’ve got to be your own best friend here.


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