Career Crisis #1 (of 2)

Last call for drinks at CoffeeCat. Since 17h00 — from immediately after our staff meeting on — I have been a slowly spreading bomb. My blast radius has expanded inches on the hour; ungraded tests and lesson outlines now taunt gravity at the edge of my table. Last call for drinks and I realize I’ve spent my entire day — 8h00 until 00h30 the next day — in the service of my 80% contract.

Any teacher pursuing the title of Most Beleaguered has a hell of a lot of competition, I realize, but surely this day — a day which I have lived four times already this semester, twice this week — puts me in striking distance of the Sweet Sixteen.

In my efforts to digitize my content and create a rehearsed, visual learning experience, I’m driving myself crazy. Absolutely crazy. And when I know my housemates are back home, kicking it with my friends, when one of my co-workers walks into this very coffee shop to kick it with one of his friends, I get crazier and start to wonder a) if all this planning is worthwhile, and b) if there exists a more obnoxiously self-lamenting martyr in the entire San Lorenzo Valley.

I can only console myself:

  1. I’ve never taught better.
  2. I’ll never have to make these lessons again.
  3. My students are enjoying math, some of them, by their own admission, for the first time.
  4. I’ve never taught better.

Then I tell myself I’ll wake up an hour earlier every school day, come to this same coffee shop before school, and do nothing even remotely school-related. For an hour. And then I’ll teach and plan long into the night again. But at least the sun won’t set and rise on my job.


From the comments, Steve writes up my job description in a way that, if not directly helpful, helps me get my head around this comprehensive exhaustion I’ve felt lately:

From idea to finalized digital product, you research, write, produce, direct and perform the equivalent of five shows a day, five days a week.

The exhaustion is comprehensive because the job itself, right now, the way I’m working it, comprehensively taxes every hemisphere, every lobe of my noggin.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Balance. It’s tough. You’re investing in your future career (and your future students) by creating all this content now, so make sure you don’t cut yourself off from that future by burning out. Regular exercise and regular sleep cycles are mandatory. At least, that’s my conclusion after a week off!

    Have you thought about getting a TA to grade some of those tests or paying a trusted friend to grade tests with you in the coffee shop for an hour or two?

  2. I’ve thought about the T.A. thing, but grading tests, more than anything else I do, tells me what my students know and don’t know. Grading drives my instruction. Can’t bring myself to outsource it. I don’t see many solutions to this problem, just a lot of coping mechanisms to keep me at peak operation until summer.

  3. Maybe I’m delusional, but I’ve got the idea that this year is just the initial leg of the marathon where I jockey for position and find my stride. If I thought the rest of the marathon would be this arduous I’d adjust immediately.

  4. Hey Dan,

    There is always the threat of burnout, but what does it look like? A week in bed with a killer flu? A deer-in-the-headlights daze of a daydream that cannot be broken? Or is it a general slowing down after a couple of years. You’ll have a ton of material, ready to go; you may not think anything more needs to be tweaked or added. Having run the race for two or three years you’ll find that you have lost the fire you had at the start. Burnout without a bang, but a whimper.

    On a different note, I can say from experience that no one in the outside world has any idea of the extent of your task. From idea to finalized digital product, you research, write, produce, direct and perform the equivalent of five shows a day, five days a week. Is there any job that requires more than the creative, digital teacher?

  5. Burnout with a whimper, not a bang. I’ll keep an eye on it but so far I’ve had too much fun revising old lessons, improving the flow, adding window dressing, to worry too much about stagnation.

    Your last note is the real complicated one there, Steve. I imagine a large crowd of teachers would bristle at the designation of “entertainer” you impose on them. I don’t know the answer to your last question, but that penultimate sentence there is about the most accurate description of this job I’ve read.

    We’re the entire cast and crew of a show that’s struggling for ratings. But as much as the workload has been killing me lately, this job has never — not once — been boring.

  6. I heard a very smart woman speak about a year ago and she affirmed the notion that much of teaching is a marathon, but then she said, and I’ll paraphrase: “There are times for sprinting. There are times when a goal is in sight, and what is required is focused, self-aware movement toward that goal, because not all windows remain indefinitely open.”

    To which I say, word.

  7. Lately my movement feels unfocused, uncoordinated, and sleep-addled but, yeah, that really captures the immediacy of this year for me.

  8. TMAO, I agree completely… and I’d argue the last year and a half of my life has been a full-on sprint without let up — more so than any time in my professional life — but even with all that has gone on (and let me tell you, if anyone ever tries to tell you that starting a school and having a baby at the same time is a good idea, tell them they are lying to you) — I’ve really had to watch for burnout. Now, I also have to watch for it in my staff too… and when you’re starting a school, it’s easy to feel like every moment, every day is of the utmost importance. But I still have to kick teachers out of the building some days, just because I think they need to go home.

  9. I’ve either read that last line on your blog or you told it to me once before. Either way, at the time I thought you were just being poetic. You aren’t kidding, though. That’s almost … paternal … of you, Chris.

  10. Well, one of the things about believing in an ethic of care (and this is what Thomas Sergiovanni talks about much better than I do) is that it can’t just be teacher to student. If I want my teachers to care about my students as people, then I *have* to care about them as people too.

  11. Have to say the post sums up how I felt for most of last year, 07-08. Having gotten smart boards for our school, and having decided to write my masters thesis about the use if them in physics teaching I had to plan and create all (well, almost all courses) for the year in the stride of working out the last bits of my studies, what with lab work and of course the thesis. Waking up at six and going to bed at two isn’t very healthy, no.

    Since then I’ve finally finished my own studies and hopefully this year will be a little easier. At least I can focus completely on the job now..