Letting Go of the Martyr Syndrome
Teacher Leaders Network
Ellen Berg discusses the complicated emotions around making the fresh start of a new school and cross-country move.
I was taught to desire nothing, to swallow other people's misery, and to eat my own bitterness. And even though I taught my daughter the opposite, still she came out the same way. Maybe it is because she was born to me and she was born a girl, and I was born to my mother and I was born a girl, all of us like stairs, one step after another, going up, going down, but always going the same way. No, this cannot be, this not knowing what you're worth, this not begin with you. My mother not know her worth until too late—too late for her, but not for me. Now we will see if not too late for you, hm?
--From The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan
I've been absent. Gone, silent, the antithesis of prolific. And while I have had a lot to say, it has been as if a huge wall has been between me and my fingers on the keyboard. I have tried; I probably have seven or eight diary entries begun but left unfinished. My teaching partner hypothesizes that it's the enormity of the life change I have undertaken that has rendered me mute, and to a certain extent I agree with her. What I also know but confess to few people is that my life has not only changed externally, but I am also going through some sort of internal metamorphosis.
Yes, I have made many changes since the misery of last year. My husband and I packed up our house and cats and moved nearly 2000 miles west to San Diego, California. We bid farewell to jobs, family members, and dear friends in quest of our dream of living in San Diego and a fresh start. Since our departure we have started new jobs, made new acquaintances, and purchased a home while adjusting our understanding of what a "reasonable" price for a two-bedroom condo is to California standards. It has been a lot of change in a little bit of time.
I expected some adjustment to the newness of everything, but I was also terribly surprised to find the saying, "No matter where you are, there you are," to be so appropriate. I had projected all of the unhappiness of my last school year onto the incredibly dysfunctional school and district I was employed by, and I sort of believed that once I was rid of that beast, I would be blissful. Some of that was true; my new school is mostly a dream. It is not perfect, but it is far more enlightened and relaxed than my last job.
Still, worries and pressures have intruded. How do I teach students at and far above grade level? Am I selling out by teaching outside of the high-poverty schools I've been used to? How will I forge close relationships with colleagues like the ones I had in St. Louis? And it's not only school that preyed upon me. No. Thoughts of my aging grandmother, moving away from my family just when it feels as if my mother finally understands me, and wrenching myself from the comfort of a very good set of girlfriends have gnawed at me.
I am fortunate in that I have a very rich intrapersonal life within which to process all of this. I spent many angst-ridden days worrying over my decision to move and where I should head next career-wise. I am fairly sure I drove my poor husband crazy with the endless chewing and rechewing of it all, with the inability to just live in the moment. That is just not my way; I have to digest it all, even the unpalatable bits and pieces.
I arrived at the conclusion that this is where I need to be for now, that for once, it needs to be about me. I realized that I had sacrificed so much of myself in my last position that I was truly unable to function. I was in crisis mode every day, so much that there are areas of my practice I have been unable to improve, areas of my life I have been unable to improve. When the teacher cannot grow, she ceases to be effective.
My new position is very mellow but challenging in its own right. I am teaching kids at or far above grade level who are very motivated to learn. My principal is my new hero, and the school culture is incredibly positive. It is in an environment in which to heal and to develop skills in other areas such as differentiation and working with gifted learners. It does not have to be forever; I anticipate returning to my work with at-risk kids in the future. However, for now, it is exactly what I need.
I have discovered I am worth taking an easier path. On this path I am free to dig deeper into content instruction, to consciously carve out balance, and to spend one hour six times a week doing yoga, pilates and weights for my health. I do not have to completely sacrifice myself for the cause to be a good teacher or human; I do not have to succomb to the martyr syndrome so many of us in this profession do to our detriment. I can learn and grow and develop in my own time, in my own way.
I can honestly say I am happy, and it has little to do with location. It has more to do with acceptance of who and where I am and an understanding of my worth. I am worth taking a break from crisis for; I am worth taking care of my health; I am worth taking time just for me, without concern for what comes next.
What comes next will arrive soon enough, and I want to be ready for it. Until then, I am still learning, still growing; just not in the same way as the past.
Source: Berg, Ellen. (2005). Letting go of the martyr syndrome. Teacher Leaders Network diaries. Retrieved from the Teacher Leaders Network 8 Apr 2008. Link: http://www.teacherleaders.org/old_si...ries/EB01.html