By JESSE SCACCIA
As a teacher, you are not allowed to get depressed.
There is too much work to be done. The kids feast on any perceived weakness, especially in a new teacher. Or, the kids take it personally, and think you’re upset with them. Being depressed can make it seem like you don’t believe in the lesson, the school, the education system itself, and if you don’t believe in these things, there’s no way the students will.
But teachers are only human. I’d even go a step further than human. In many cases they are the most human, with naturally flowing sympathy and an innate desire to shepherd their younger brothers and sisters. But it’s this extra-humanness that, unfortunately, makes teachers more susceptible to depression.
Its a horrible catch-22: being a teacher you’re not allowed to be depressed, but the emotional output required by the job makes you more likely to be depressed.
Is there any way out of this mess?
I am a man who has battled depression since early childhood. I was still in primary school when I first held a knife and wondered just what I could do to myself with it. So I know depression, and it is something I’ve had to deal with at some point at every step of my teaching career. What I can tell you is, first of all, you can’t wish depression away. So for those of you reading who are thinking right now, “Well, why not just not be depressed?” that solution is a ghost. It doesn’t exist.
So until the depression is mitigated by drugs or therapy, what is a teacher to do? I’ve tried everything. I’ve drank a Coke before each class and kept a drawer full of Kit-Kats. I’ve faked it, pretending to be happy, hoping the kids weren’t savvy enough to see through my mask. I’ve taught for me first, worrying more about making sure I enjoyed teaching my lessons then whether my students did (because, hey, if I like it they’ll probably like it too). I have even been honest with my students. I’ve told them flat out, “Hey, I’m kinda of depressed today. Take it easy on Mr. S, will yah?”
Sometimes these solutions worked, and sometimes they didn’t. By now, at 30, I know myself well enough to mix my own happiness smoothies on the fly. Sometimes it takes a Kit-Kat with a dash of Radiohead in-between classes. Sometimes I use a life line, and text a friend mid-class. I have figured out what works for me.
So for those of you teachers reading who battle depression- and I know you’re there- my only advice is the advice you give yourself. Be reflective and recognize your triggers. Know yourself well enough to be aware of what can pull you out of that dark blue pool. If all else fails, channel your inner Michael Jordan. Someone once asked him why he played so hard every night, even against teams the Bulls were blowing out. His answer was that there might be one fan out there who will only see him play that one time, so he had to give his best. As a teacher, you never know if this is the only time in a student’s life they’ll hear a certain lesson. So you have to play hard every period.
As always, never forget this handy cliche: This too shall pass.
I feel the need to add some ‘real talk’ here at the end. For some depressed people, teaching just won’t be right for you. There will be too many expectations and pressures from a myriad of sources. Your life will be too rigid, the negative reinforcement will outweigh the positive. You might care too much or be too sensitive, making your small, everyday failures (of which there are a million a week) into a million potential depression triggers a week.
If you’re one of these people, I’m sorry. But I think I speak for the rest of the teaching community when I say, We’re here for you.