Overcoming Overwhelm: 3 Tips for Special Educators

The other day, I kept letting my mind wander to all the things I’m currently dealing with at the moment like

  • the 18 IEPs I have to write in 2 months
  • the routines I still need to get into place 
  • when another para is going to be hired to fill an open position
  • getting lesson plans done and IEP boxes made
  • not to mention the ever changing daily schedules. 

I was having a really hard time staying focused and I couldn't pinpoint why I couldn't complete any of the above tasks.

steve harvey smh GIF

That’s when I realized that the overwhelm of this job is what was on my mind and well duh...what a great topic to discuss with you as well. Because, more likely than not, you are dealing with overwhelm right now too.

Can I get an AMEN!??

In fact, I was talking to my new neighbor the other day who is a special education teacher in another district and we were discussing what a special education classroom looks like in the middle of a pandemic. After we talked a while and vented and described the chaos we were each dealing with for a little bit, she said to me (after a big long sigh) “It is SO good to hear that I’m not alone.” 

I want you to know you’re not alone either.

I am right here with you in the trenches day in and day out working my butt off trying to keep my head above water. Whether you are teaching in person, remotely or a combination of the 2, I know how full your plate is right now. And it probably resembles my husband’s plate at a Thanksgiving dinner.  You know the one... where you have so much on it that things are piled on top of each other, some things are in jeopardy of falling off and everything is running into everything else.

I could not understand more. The beginning of this year started off quite rocky for me. In fact, there were quite a few tears shed. But I got through it and  by implementing these 3 tips, you will too


Tip 1:

The first way I deal with overwhelm is to treat each day as a new day. But before you can do that, you have to let the current day go. What I mean is, let it out...verbally and mentally.

annie edison screaming GIF

One of the ways I do this is to have a conversation with myself on the way home from work. I have a 20 minute commute, so it’s pretty easy for me and I just talk through my day as if I’m talking to someone else..someone who is very understanding and doesn’t try to fix my problems...just listens. Talking through a difficult situation is very therapeutic.

You can also do this with a spouse or significant other once you’re home and I will do this from time to time. However, if your spouse is anything like mine, he doesn’t understand the field of education much less have any clue what a special education classroom looks like on a daily basis. He wants to solve all my problems and the majority of the problems can’t be fixed. It’s just part of the profession. So I don’t take this route every day because I don’t want to dump my problems into his lap all the time.

However you do it, just do it.

Talk it out and let it go for your mental health. Verbally speaking it into the universe gets it out of your brain and off your mind. Once you have let the bad day go, you are ready for the next day. Pretend it didn’t happen. Pretend that the child who had such extreme behaviors the day before is going to be an angel for you today. Forget the mistake you made on your paperwork. Move past the disagreement you had with a co-worker. Today is a brand new day and there is absolutely nothing you can do to change what happened yesterday. 

Tip 2:

Another way I deal with overwhelm is by realizing that I’m not alone. I want you to find a group of people, whether they are at your school, within your district or online, you have to find other people whom you can learn from and lean on when times get tough.

Talk with your co-workers and let them know you are struggling. I have actually done this this year and my staff was amazingly supportive. They wanted to know how they could help out to make things run a little smoother when my department was VERY short handed.

Online, I’m in many different Facebook groups where I skim through and see that I’m not alone in this profession. I see that others struggle with behaviors and paperwork and life in general. And it makes me realize, I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to have my crap together 24/7. I can take 2 steps forward and 4 steps back and Still be okay.

I am also a part of 2 different masterminds which is a very small group of people who have like minded interests and meet on Zoom every week or so. We talk and laugh and share our struggles and share our successes and support each other during hard times. I have come to really enjoy these meet-ups and look forward to our weekly conversations.

Tip 3:

And the last way I deal with overwhelm is to give myself some grace and to be flexible at all times. I might have said this before, but I am a Type A wanna-be. I love to be organized but the reality of the situation is...I’m not. I’m just one day ahead of myself at all times.

Detailed organization has alluded me for my whole career. I’d say my department runs more on organized chaos than it does anything else. And guess what? It’s okay.

I give myself grace every day by saying “I’m okay with being very good at my job. I don’t have to be THE BEST.”

Nbc Hm Okay GIF by SVU

Being flexible allows me to be able to accept when things don’t go the way I wanted them to. I can have some really good lesson plans and inevitably things will change course. Staying flexible allows me to stay calm. I don’t let the little things weigh me down and I try my hardest to assume positive intent with everyone I come into contact with. I have come to accept the fact that this job can be a monster at times..a big giant 3 headed beast of a monster and if I’m honest with you, it’s a job I both love and hate at the same time. But at the end of the day, the payoffs of working with children who need me and what I have to bring to the table FAR outweigh the overwhelm.

So there you have it…. My tips and tricks on how to deal with overwhelm as a special education teacher. My hope is that you internalize my words and can with any luck you find some peace in this crazy profession and this even crazier school year. But believe me...you are stronger than you know and you will get through these tough times.

Whether you are a brand new teacher or one that has doing this for multiple decades like I have, these tough times will pass. They’ll come around again in the future but you’ll have a better handle on how to deal with the overwhelm.

If you enjoyed this post and think your teacher friends will, too, please share it on your favorite social media platform.

P.S.  Need help learning how to build a relationship with your paraprofessionals? Get the free 10 Steps to Building a Cohesive Special Education Department

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