If you’re a female teacher, there’s a fair chance that besides your normal stress on the job, you could be battling a chronic disease too. That’s because according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 76 percent of public school teachers are female, most over the age of 40. And, according to a National Conference of State Legislatures 2015 report, 38 percent of women suffer from one or more chronic diseases or conditions.
How then, do some teachers manage their jobs and chronic health problems too? We spoke with a few recent WGU Teachers College graduates who’ve succeeded at managing severe health issues, working full-time as educators and continuing their professional development.
While their health obstacles vary, they all had one thing in common: self-determination, discipline and an adaptable degree program to their individual needs.
Here’s how they did it:
- Develop an attitude of acceptance and determination.
"I knew my long-term illnesses weren’t just going to go away, I knew I was going to be sick regardless,” said Marie Fitzgerald, who earned her M.S. in Curriculum and Instruction from WGU while battling idiopathic intracranial hypertension and gastroparesis. “So, I allow myself some days to stay in bed but then I pull myself out of that bunk and get some work done.”
- Do your school work whenever you feel well enough to do it.
"When I did feel better, it was tempting to put off my homework and do other things,” said Fitzgerald. “But I knew I couldn't do that. So even if it was using my laptop in bed, I worked as much as I could to compensate for the days I couldn’t.”
- Write EVERYTHING down on a schedule, and make it non-negotiable.
Brenda Bouldin, who earned her M.A. in Mathematics Education, overcame obesity by losing 110 pounds of her body weight while juggling full-time work as Title 1 fourth grade teacher, managing a family, and earning her degree.
In order to accomplish that, she blocked out specific times in a planner and held herself to it unless a true emergency arose. “Otherwise, if I had two hours blocked out for study time and an invitation came for dinner, the answer had to be 'no.' There's a lot of self-discipline with time management,” she said.
- Schedule personal time, not just home, work and study time.
"It made me feel a little better when I took a little time to unwind, or have a little 'me' time before studying, when I couldn’t go out with my friends for dinner,” said Bouldin.
- Ask for support when you’re limited.
“I told my friends, 'I can't do this right now but wait until the future and I'll have a brighter future and more to talk with you about,” said Bouldin. “I told them, ‘stay with me on this.’"
- Plan for the ideal, but have back-up plans.
Cissily Braten’s ideal plan was to graduate with her Bachelor’s in Science Education in good health, but part way through, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and celiac disease, making her energy levels very unpredictable. “I hung up a white board at home with all of my responsibilities and study schedules planned out,” she said. “So when I just didn’t have the physical energy on a given day to do everything I needed to, my family could see on the white board where and when they needed to chip in so I could still study.”
Consensus: Write down your end goal and keep it in mind.
While each student we spoke with had their own ways to manage their health, responsibilities and schedules, they all said staying mentally focused on their career goal to teach kids kept them motivated.
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“When I felt sick, I saw myself in a classroom teaching students, helping students, and because I kept envisioning that, I was able to push forward,” said Braten. “And the times I did struggle, I had a support system, including my student mentor, who would encourage me because they would see my progress and say, ‘you can do this.’ And so, I did. I figured I could do anything for 24 hours and that’s how I did it – I took it just one day at a time.”