When We Leave Ourselves “On”, Burnout is Inevitable

Teaching in a remote location with little industry brings forth a bunch of unique difficulties. One of them being my own identity.


While I lived and taught in DC, I was always “Ms. Duchene” except among my roommates…and then in my second year when I lived with a coworker, I was sometimes still “Ms. Duchene”. At that particular school, we never called our coworkers by their first name, just their teacher title. For two years, my identity was “Ms. Duchene”. When I returned to school for the summer or home for the holidays, it took a while to adjust to being just “Aletha”.


Here, I am usually just “Aletha”. The kids all know my name and although they call me by “Duchene”, they forget that they can be more informal outside of school. I don’t feel as trapped in the role of my teacher title as I did before…however, I find myself more trapped in the role of my profession.


There is nowhere I can go and no person that I can interact with in an 80-mile radius (perhaps more) that does not know me as a teacher, interact with me as a professional, or associate me with the education system. Even when I was flying out of our hub on spring break, everyone around me assumed I was a teacher from the district. They weren’t wrong.


It’s a lot of pressure to live constantly under the professional umbrella. I would never wish to be famous, a socialite, or someone that ran in circles that mandated “proper” behavior. I have a feeling I would have been the daughter that made her wealthy aristocrat parents pull their hair out in the 1800s because she’d rather run around the lawn barefoot and her dress would come back with grass stains.


While there are many social moments with coworkers during which the mask of teacher can be slipped off, it doesn’t change the fact that everyone I interact with, knows me as a teacher.


In DC, I was a teacher, community member, frequent flyer at various nearby churches or book talks and the grocery store behind the house. I could be anonymous or a familiar face. Outside of my friends, none of those people knew my story, none of them knew anything about me. It was kind of nice. There was no pressure to be “on” because my actions didn’t necessarily reflect on my competence as a graduate student or a professional.


It’s exhausting in a strange way to need to seem put together all of the time. It is as if you are always on stage and would hate to misstep. I’ve never done well when the spotlight is on me. I’m more of an off-stage back of the room dancer than the main attraction (except for that one time).


My identity has never just been single-faceted, until now. I’ve always found myself hopping from one group of friends to the next at a gathering, talking to as many people as I can and genuinely enjoying myself. Being able to act on all parts of who I am meets my needs to be as diversified a human as possible. Teacher friends, grade school friends, exchange student friends, college friends, study abroad friends, my siblings’ friends, family, ACE friends, book-loving friends, work friends, adventure friends, concert-going friends… I need them all!


Having different outlets and anonymity allow for ways to express everything I need to express. I can’t speak Portuguese with just anyone on the street…unless I’m in Brazil. I can’t geek out over Young Adult novels with just any of my friends or students. Most people would pretend that I’m a stranger rather than dance around like a lunatic with me. I can’t talk hunting with most of my closest friends. Not everyone wants to sit around and talk about social justice issues. There are a lot of people in my life that aren’t interested in a good conversation on faith. I can’t run lesson plan ideas by all of my friends that are nurses in the same way I can my teacher friends and coworkers.


We are all complex people and I don’t think we realize how much we rely on a diverse cast of characters to help us meet all of our social needs. That is a realization I’ve been coming to over my travels as I fulfill some social needs, but miss others. It is something that rings terribly true here where my surroundings don’t seem diverse enough to meet most of those social needs.


That is what makes being in a profession where I’m afraid to set a “bad example”, in such a small community, so difficult. It isn’t as easy as living two towns over and going to bars another town over to avoid running into students’ parents. It means that my emotions should be in check, I should think before I speak, and when I run over the roof of my house or throw on boxers to take a picture in the snow, I should make sure students aren’t around. Heck, even my answers to questions and my conversations on planes in the area should be thought out or censored. It’s exhausting.


But…in a couple of days, I’ll be back to a semi-anonymous life for a couple months…and maybe I’ll be eager to return to a place where everybody knows my name.


Cheers to the last work day of the school year!


Not only will I be able to take off the professional mask this summer, but I’ll also get a chance to just be a daughter, a sister, a niece, a cousin, a granddaughter, a stranger, or a friend.