Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Changing Careers

From Wikipedia:

Compassion fatigue, also known as a Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a term that refers to a gradual lessening of compassion over time. It is common among victims of trauma and individuals that work directly with victims of trauma. It was first diagnosed in nurses in the 1950s. [1] Sufferers can exhibit several symptoms including hopelessness, a decrease in experiences of pleasure, constant stress and anxiety, and a pervasive negative attitude. This can have detrimental effects on individuals, both professionally and personally, including a decrease in productivity, the inability to focus, and the development of new feelings of incompetency and self doubt.[2]

So, after reading that definition, do you think a public school teacher of 18 years would naturally adopt this condition? I don't fit the exact profile: I don't have hopelessness about everything; I don't have constant anxiety, and I don't think I have a pervasive negative attitude. I prefer to think of my attitude as "practical" and "real."

I began thinking about this yesterday, after I was assaulted at school for the second time this year. It's really about time for it, too--the last time I was under attack was in 1993, when gang members shot my bus.

Does it surprise you to learn that I speak in terms of expectation when also talking about assault? As a public school teacher, I'm not alone. I know many, many folks who think the same way. And as far as compassion fatigue goes, I didn't even know the term until a friend on Facebook (hey! Friend me on Facebook!), a school social worker, no less, told me about it. She called it a "treatable condition."

So I looked it up on Wikipedia, which is good enough for me. It cites sources which I'm not repeating here, as I am a rogue blogger who does as she pleases. I looked it up, because I made the comment on Facebook that I'm, "tired of being compassionate."

The reason I said it is this: I was assaulted yesterday. In my line of work, I must continue to be compassionate and maintain an air of professionalism, even when a student chucks a book at my head from 4 feet away. Don't worry. My catlike reflexes are intact--I deflected it with my hand, if you can believe it. It left three red marks across my hand, which faded. I'm okay.

But that's the big point--I have to say, "I'm okay." In my line of work, it's not okay for me to call the kid a jerk, or a more colorful label. I have to say, "Yeah, that kid's got issues," and "The other kids need to see me show up the next day, I can't take a day off." I have to continue to be stronger than everyone else, and calmer and cooler and unruffled.

This takes its toll. This is my 18th year in this job. I've been shot at, had furniture shoved into my hip, and had a book thrown at my head, among myriad other things. Isn't it okay to think that it's time for a change?

Teachers have to ask that question. We aren't allowed by society to consider it. "You can't leave! Think of the children!"

Thinking of the children is what has caused my compassion fatigue. What do you suppose is an effective treatment?


  1. (((Amy)))

    I don't know if there's a treatment. I know that soooo many teachers I know and love feel this way. So I'm thinking of you. Lots.

  2. I am really sorry to hear all that has happened to you, it's shocking. I don't mean that in a mild way even though that's how it reads.
    I don't blame you at all for looking for another career, I honestly don't know how you have survived 18 years!
    Take care of you, you're the only Amy like you on this planet and we need you

  3. Compassion Fatigue. Yes, I knew this term a little too well. It was a "hot topic" word in New Orleans. After Katrina, survivors around here had it in large doses. It's not a fun thing to have. Not at all, so I really feel for you.

    I'm so sorry you were attacked at school. My Mom is a teacher as well and it scares me what she goes through at the school. (Also one of the many reasons I didn't follow in her footsteps.)