I’ve been home again with Covid this week. It’s my second go with it, this one timed with the start of the calendar year, extending my winter break from teaching. Sort of.

If you’re a teacher, you know that taking days off rarely means not teaching in some fashion. Whether it’s creating plans, responding to emails, reading student work, or contemplating how to rearrange your curriculum and calendar around lackluster student engagement days, there’s rarely a time when a teacher is out. but not working.

That’s not what I want to talk about here though. We all know this – it’s nothing new.

I want to get into the feelings of guilt and selflessness surrounding merely taking the time away from work to be sick and – even more relevant – those feelings around taking time away from work to heal and be well.

It’s hard to put yourself first when your work and ethic calls you to put your students first, your colleagues first (you know how many absences there will be tomorrow – a Friday – regardless of whether I take one more day at home to rest and recover?)

Half of the reason I’m considering going in tomorrow is because I know there will be a ton of teachers out this Friday – any Friday post-Covid it seems (why are we saying “post” anywhere near “Covid” anyway? I’m mid-Covid myself right this second. The only person who might be “post-Covid” for sure right now is the one who somehow transmitted it to me. And even that’s not a given).

And, with a ton of teachers out, that means a ton of clerical staff scrambling to get classes covered, and a ton of other teachers adding to their workload to cover for them.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m very much focused on my students as well. They’ve missed 3 days with me right after winter break since they went back but I couldn’t, and they’re potentially going to miss one more. Some have done the work I’ve posted for them, but not all. Another day out for me on a Friday this time means that those who sandbagged the week will do nothing to prepare for being ready to move forward come Monday.

And look – I get it. It’s not the same for them when the teacher is out. It’s not personal; I was a kid in a class too, long ago, and I loved the implied “break” of days with a sub. But as someone who attends at least one conference and convention each year, I know what happens when the teacher is out for multiple days at a time. The days are somehow sucked into a vortex of largely lost time.

Not for all students, but for enough of them.

Which means that if I don’t return until Monday, I will essentially have to somehow facilitate both this past week’s plans as well as next week’s plans, all in the span of one week. I don’t give busy work ever, so what I posted for them this week was the foundation for moving forward.

Sigh. So my choices are:

  • Go into work, hoping that I’m well enough to endure without a relapse or the daily afternoon headache that’s been thwarting my plan for a rapid recovery. Then figure out how my students can use the weekend to get on track for January’s learning endeavors.
  • Stay home and rest, knowing that some students will be behind come Monday, and that I’ll have to help them navigate catching up while we move forward.

Meanwhile, one of my goals for 2023 is / was? to put me first.

I’m horrible about that. I take care of everyone and everything and every task at work that needs to be done for others before I take care of the things that need to be done just for me. Whether it’s planning my own classes / reading my own student work, making time to work out or rest or play, these are the very last items I address in my daily to do lists. At least, that’s how it’s been for me. Putting me first has always felt selfish, and I learned at a very young age that being selfish – being focused on self, on MY self vs. anyone else’s self, is wrong. Arrogant. Mean. An act that destroys trust, community, connection, relationships, value, inner goodness, spiritual worth.

That’s a lot of negativity to carry in a quest to not earn or deserve rejection by others. Either I reject myself, or I reject others. It’s not truly a binary, I know, but for most of my life it has played out like one.

And for the record, though I’ve been home sick for three days of work, I have worked each of those three days for a large chunk of the day.

Why would something characteristic of “self” – the one person we have to live with no matter what our other choices in life are – be a bad thing to focus on, in moderation, especially in the quest to be physically well enough to serve the rest of the world as one desires?

Honestly, when I put it like that, I can’t think of a good enough reason.

And that is progress. Which means I’m in current practice of my goal to put myself first this year. Practice is never easy, and it’s literally by definition not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be a time where we stretch into something new. Something different. Something unfamiliar. Something unknown. Something uncharted. Something where the mind / body / spirit will have to be in darkness, fumbling for a way that feels good.

Yoga teaches us that life – and asana – are practices. And that this is a good thing.

Yet here I am, writing the words though the idea is still – to be honest – somewhat terrifying:

I will put myself first tomorrow.

I will focus on my personal wellness over my professional commitments.

This sounds so entitled to my ears. Trust me when I tell you that if you know me, you know this is possibly one of the more frightening decisions to make, especially expecting some will view me negatively for it. And that, my friends, is the hardest part of leaning into being selfish: knowing that by doing so, we are the ones rejecting others. It might be easier in the long run to be the one doing the rejecting, but from a moralistic standpoint, it’s certainly not the easier choice at the time. It too feels selfish. Vicious cycle.

It’s far easier to do the selfless thing than the selfish thing. This makes me think perhaps some of the problem here is in the wording.

Because I’m starting to think that maybe selfless is really the truest form of selfish, in that NOT doing for one’s self means we’re only approximating the self, as the suffix “ish” stands for. We’re making the self “less” than it otherwise would be. In other words, we’re not keeping the self whole.

That doesn’t sound like a good thing to me. I’m hearing a lot of “Put your own oxygen mask on first” and “Pour from a full cup” in my head.

Let’s not approximate the self. Let’s fulfill the self. Self-fulfillment ISN’T a bad thing. Society and a variety of moral and ethical codes seem pretty clear on that. And we like our compound words, especially when they help us to see things differently.

So, I propose some new terms: how about we use “self-full” or “self-filling” instead of “self-ish?”

I rather like it. A lot. It sounds like a really great way to start a new year. Let’s do the self-full, self-filling thing this year, in the name of service to both ourselves and those we serve. We deserve it. And they deserve a full, whole, fulfilled self from us in service to them, too.