I returned home from a faculty meeting yesterday with newfound affirmation that teaching during the pandemic has been difficult in ways that are challenging to articulate, even for college professors.
For empaths, it has been a two-year marathon of absorption of others’ stressors, anxiety and loss while also dealing with our own personal installments of the dynamically-draining trio.
For teachers, even those of us who support masking in schools, it has been an exhausting marathon without water stations of attempting to forge connection with faces we can only see slivers of while hiding behind our own masks. Wearing the mask causes me to wish I never had to talk at all, so forcing myself to talk in a classroom and project my voice so that at least half the room can understand what I am saying is drop-dead exhausting. There is always repetition involved in classroom instruction, but with a mask on, the necessity of repeating oneself, then sending emails to reinforce the information that students only heard half of has added so many hours to my day that I really don’t want to do the math.
During a pandemic, the grumpy get grumpier, the lazy get lazier, and the delegators seem to go into overdrive. In classrooms, every one of us– students and teachers–are doing more, more, more, but to less, less, less effect.
My super power as a professor is my ability to read a room. Guess what, I read mouths. Turns out the mouth is the facial feature that reveals the most in terms of nonverbal communication. The eyes without the mouth are not so readable.
My course evaluations last spring were the highest I have ever received (and they were already high), but as I read the students’ comments and looked at my numerical scores, I did not feel proud or happy about the results. I felt as though I had gotten away with subpar performance because my students were, themselves, so in need of caring, love and support.
My face is permanently chapped from wearing a mask and my lipstick tubes are all dried up from lack of use. I am dehydrated–physically, spiritually, emotionally, and in ways I am still processing. And, after yesterday’s faculty meeting, I realize I am not the only one. As one faculty member shared “There is just a heaviness about everything.”
When empaths like myself, who are much more comfortable leaning into others’ problems, actually take a moment to share our own struggles, the nonjudgmental caring we so naturally give doesn’t always come back to us in spades. That’s because non-empaths don’t really have the awareness to gage the amount of strength and resilience it takes to listen about others more than to speak about oneself.
My burnout as a teacher is not something I am proud of, but, it is a thing, a real thing. It isn’t the result of my lack of faith or character or willingness to endure when the going gets tough. When the going gets tough, all empaths know that we are the ones who sensed it and felt it weeks, years, months before our sanguine neighbors did.
Listening to my colleagues yesterday strengthened my resolve. This pandemic has affected each one of us, albeit in different ways. It has affected our campus community from the top down.
So, I am not going to apologize for feeling the way I feel, nor am I going to attempt to work my way out of it by working harder. Nor am I going to internalize shame or guilt from well-meaning Wesleyans when I do share.
I might put my friends who are also empaths and colleagues who are in the same lifeboat on speed dial and just share with them. Wait, and blog about it. You do what you’ve got to do. And you are enough. God did not create me to go through a pandemic and not be affected by it, and chances are He hasn’t created our children, our friends, our students, our colleagues to accomplish that either. It seems as though we’d be neither human nor infused with God’s Spirit as believers if we were capable of that feat.