This was a tough year for my family. Between December of 2013 to March 2014 my dad spent 120 consecutive days in the hospital. Most of those days were in ICU. I'm pleased to say that he is doing VERY well today, but it has been a long and difficult journey. As I look back on this year I can say that there were several things that happened before, during and after the crisis that allowed me to continue to teach in the midst of the chaos. I'm sharing these in hopes that these posts might help those in difficult circumstances.
Here is a link to Part 1 - Planning and Preparation
Managing work responsibilities while in a season of crisis!
- Don't drive yourself when you get bad news! My dad was in the ICU but stable, so I felt OK about being at work. My brother was with my parents and I was scheduled to take the day off a couple of days later when my mom would need a break from the hospital. At lunch I realized that I had missed several phone calls and a text from my mom indicated that my immediate presence was needed at the hospital. In addition to being upset and in a hurry, I was more than an hour away from the hospital. I informed my administration about what was going on and then got in my car. I drove about a block when I realized that being behind the wheel was REALLY a bad idea for me. I was able to contact a friend who drove me to the hospital. I got there safely and therefore avoided additional crisis. Don't drive yourself when you get bad news!
- Understand your Human Resources Department! In addition to being experts about everything you need to know about insurance, leaves of absence, disability, donated sick days and what happens to your pay check when you miss too many days, they also have information about resources such as family counseling and various avenues of assistance that are available to employees in crisis. My dad had a turn for the worse right before the winter holidays. One of the last things that I did before the administration offices closed was take the time to speak with one of the folks who would help me take a leave of absence if it was eventually needed. Because I knew I would be off for two weeks no matter what happened, I needed to start the ball rolling early.
- Get creative with how you use your days. - In December and January especially I spent a LOT of time at the hospital, and as much time as I was there, I also knew that I wanted to stretch out my days as long as possible. I took LOTS of half days especially when my dad was in ICU because the ICU was closed from 6:00-10:00 a.m. anyway, so it didn't make sense for me to be there when I could e at work saving days for another week. When my dad was awake, he was happiest and calmest when we were with him. We were happiest and calmest when we were with him, so it worked out best if we were all together. I also found it VERY helpful to take advantage of weird days at school. Music teachers everywhere know that specials are often the first classes to get hit with the "weird schedule" stick at school. While my dad was in the hospital, we had our annual visit from the local dentist and our annual PTA fundraiser grade level pep rallies. Both events took place during what should have been my teaching time. However, when you are facing a crisis, your time is worth gold, therefore, I very happily took the days and spent them with my dad while I let my sub sit in on the dental hygiene lecture and listening to the fund raiser pep rally 6 times. Don't waste your time at school NOT teaching! You might need that day to take your turn at the hospital. You might need that day at home to do laundry and to prep upcoming lessons. Do what you need to do!
- Time is precious so prioritize. -Because I didn't choose to take a leave of absence, I was at school 1-2 days a week during the toughest times. When I was at work, I felt like I could work all day but I had to be very choosy. What was I doing? I was creating GOOD sub plans, I was teaching the tough stuff and I was letting the small stuff go. While in the hospital waiting room, I submitted my grades, wrote emails, did any computer prep work I could do and wrote lesson plans. This helped me to keep things going at work but more importantly, it kept my mind occupied during the LONG LONG LONG LONG hours of unknowns and waiting! "Let it Go!" was sort of my theme song. Music teachers are sort of control freaks and when things got crazy at home, I couldn't control everything anymore so there were things that I had to let go of.... which leads me to my next point...
- Receive help gracefully!!!!! My co-teacher, my specials team, my grade level teams and my administrators were absolutely amazing. They were so faithful to help out. Of course, I can't even begin to tell you the hours that my co-teacher spent making sure that I had all of my bases covered. I can't tell you because she didn't burden me with that stress... THAT is how awesome she is!!!! I pretty much had to dump an entire choir concert and full day multiple stop field trip in her lap. She was a champ. She stepped up and took charge. My team helped cover my classes when I had to leave and a sub wasn't available. My team leader helped by being another "heavy" at our concert. He even served as MC during the concert. It is a role that I would usually fill, but although I managed to attend and conduct the concert, I was not REALLY there, don't actually remember the concert and wouldn't have been fit to hold the microphone, let alone speak coherently. We muscled through that concert as a team. One of the 5th grade teachers was even on stand by as an emergency conductor. She attended the last week of choir rehearsals, learned the music and was ready to step in if needed. My administrators also worked with me to find solutions to make sure that when I was in need, my students didn't suffer.
- Communicate - Depending on your type of crisis, you may not want the world knowing your business, but you do need to communicate with you co-teacher or team leader and admin. They can't help you or problem solve with you if they don't know what is going on. Be sure and let them know if it's ok for others on your campus to know your news. You have the right to be private if you choose.
- Don't procrastinate - None of us know the future. If you have time to make that phone call or 5 minutes to order your recorders then do it today! There are so many things beyond our control that we have to wait on, so at least at work, don't put things off, you might need tomorrow to do something important.
- Record yourself - A picture is worth a thousand words and a poor quality, in a hurry, on the fly video is worth a million. With the iphone in your pocket you can make a pretty great video. You can demonstrate choreography you can teach a descant....AND you can talk faster than you can type..... There were a couple times when I needed to move quickly that a video on the music ipad was the fastest way to communicate with my co-teacher and sub. I'm glad that those videos have since been lost, but they worked better and were faster than anything else.
- Embrace flexible scheduling - Sometimes, you can ease your stress significantly by making adjustments to your calendar. Move performances, trade performances with another department, or even cancel.... it will be ok..... really..... it will be ok.....
- Keep it simple. No one will take away your music teacher card if you simplify. In fact, if YOU simplify, then perhaps your students will shine brighter! It is after all about the students. Do something they already know. Choose a program you've done before. Decide not to have speaking parts and just sing. Decide to wear holiday outfits from home instead of music room costumes. There are LOTS of ways to shave the fluff out of your music class.... The fluff may be what you love the best, but when there is a crisis, you might drown in fluff, so get rid of it.
I have also written a post about how to develop good sub plans HERE!