Hey there music teacher! This is Michelle from Music with Miss W and I’m about to be real with you for a minute.
Three Mondays ago, I was having trouble breathing. It started when I opened my laptop to check my school email while watching the news and eating breakfast(I am the first ever middle/high school music teacher at a public virtual school in my state so all of my classes are taught from the comfort of my own home). Throughout the day, I felt like my chest was getting tighter and I could barely get a full breath in. I decided to go to Urgent Care because I was home by myself and afraid I was going to pass out or worse.
I felt like the Urgent Care people thought I was crazy. I am in perfectly good health with a fairly good diet and regular exercise. I’m not allergic to anything besides penicillin, which I did not take. My oxygen levels were high and I do not have asthma. The doctor said it sounded fine when I took a breath in.
“Okay…I know I sound crazy but I can’t catch my breath and my heart is beating fast and my hands are shaking so there has to be something going on, right?”
The doctor looked at me and said “It just sounds like you have anxiety.”
Okay, I thought, this is not bad and I am not dying of some rare disease that only Dr. House can solve. But then I told him “I am not that stressed right now. My new job is great. I practice yoga annnnd I meditate. I’ve got things under control.” The doctor told me that even if I am not that stressed mentally, anxiety can still manifest itself physically. He talked to me about next steps and now I am on a path to managing my anxiety. Best of all, I am feeling much better, even though it’s been a pretty short amount of time.
So why am I telling you a very personal story about my mental health? Because I wish I had gotten help sooner and if you are struggling at all, I don’t want you to wait. It seems to be our dirty secret: teachers have feelings.
My first year as a high school band director was a nightmare, a very terrifying and sincere nightmare beyond what’s expected at any new school. Without going into too much detail, I will give you a direct quote from my principal talking about another band person I had to interact with often “He is a known bully in our district and there’s nothing we can really do for you.” I didn’t have a good mentor. I felt very alone. More often than not, I was having nightmares that would cause me to wake up screaming. My hair was falling out in large chunks and I lost a lot of weight from stress.. I had always been given the advice that the first year of any new school is really hard and you should just tough it out. Looking back on it, I wish I had known there was no harm in getting help. I wish I had gotten help back then.
Music teachers have stressful jobs. Why aren’t we having this conversation about mental health in teacher training programs? Why isn’t there more talk about it in staff meetings? Why are we training teachers how to help students with mental health issues but we aren’t giving teachers themselves room to talk about their own mental health? Who will care for teachers? I can’t change the world. But I hope by writing this post and starting the conversation, someone out there get the help they need.
Here are some tips and resources to help you, fellow music teacher, if you are struggling with mental health:
Employee Assistance Program
Many schools have an Employee Assistance Program that is offered free of charge. So what is an EAP? To quote Monster.com, “An EAP is a confidential, short-term, counseling service for employees experiencing difficulties.” In most cases, there is a phone number you can call to talk with someone. If you aren’t sure of this number, you can ask the HR department about this benefit(or about benefits for employees in general if you don’t want to ask specifically about EAP).
Benefits vary from place to place but I know that I get a handful of free counseling sessions for free through this program. Definitely take advantage of it. If you want to read more about EAP, check out this article.
Avoid Facebook groups as places to vent. I see multiple vents/rants/pleas for help every day in music teacher Facebook groups. Even though these groups are closed, you never know who can take a screenshot and use what you’ve posted against you. Talk to mentors or close friends. If you feel like you don’t have anyone to talk to, you can always reach out to The Music Crew or to myself! We are a group of 30 or so educators who are always willing to lend an ear.
If you think your district or school environment is the biggest contributing factor, look for a new job. Sometimes things will not get better because they are totally out of your control. Don’t be afraid to look elsewhere. And don’t feel guilty either.
Take a mental health day if you need it. Don’t be afraid to take a day if you need it. Those days are there for you to use. Your students will learn better from someone who isn’t running on fumes.
If you think you need help, get it right away. It is easy to put off getting help but the sooner you get help, the sooner you can feel better.
You aren’t alone. Let’s keep the conversation going. The more we talk about mental health, the sooner people who need help can get help.