This post/podcast episode is just a little peek into what’s been going on with me over the last few months, and some reflections on what’s to come.

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In case you’re new here (or you simply have other more pressing things to remember than what Angela Watson’s been up to!), I’ll recap so you know exactly what’s been happening. Here’s what I’ll share below:

  • My struggle with depression and anxiety
  • Professional burnout and lack of motivation
  • COVID and the disillusionment of offering solutions for schools when there aren’t any good ones
  • Where my train metaphorically derailed and I lost sight of the destination
  • The choice to cut out non-essential obligations and go offline in December
  • The response (and pushback) to my sabbatical announcement
  • Why I’ve never seen stepping away from work as a weakness
  • How I used my time offline in December
  • Why the sabbatical was not a cure-all and coming back was harder than anticipated
  • The path back: finding the spark of inspiration and nurturing it into a roaring flame

The spring and summer of 2020 were some of the darkest times of my life, personally and professionally. I’ll talk about what was going on professionally in a moment, but let’s begin with the personal stuff. 

My struggle with depression and anxiety

In terms of the personal stuff, I was going to recap some of the hardships my family and I experienced since March, but you know what? A lot of it I have already shared, and it’s sort of irrelevant. I don’t really need to prove or justify my need for a break. 2020 was a tough year for everybody, and for many people, it was far worse than it was for me. Y’all know that.

And those of you who are trying to manage depression and anxiety recognize that those lows can come even if everything in your life is going well. Circumstances are really kind of secondary.

The truth is, I was having more low days than functional days by July and early August of 2020. I had trouble getting out of bed, and doing any kind of work required herculean levels of focus and energy. When I stayed home, I felt depressed, but when I left home, I felt anxious. And this was not just because of COVID — it’s something I’ve grappled with off and on for years in varying degrees.

I was hitting a breaking point, and as I shared in EP211 when I was announcing my sabbatical, I started taking Zoloft in August, and that really helped turn things around.

(I had been on similar medications years ago but went off under doctor supervision when I was trying to get pregnant. Spoiler alert, we did not get pregnant and are no longer trying, as I’m now 42, but it hadn’t occurred to me until this past summer that antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds were once again an option for me. It has been off the table for so long I forgot about it. My understanding now is that many of these meds have been approved now for pregnant women, as an aside, if you are struggling, do talk to a doctor about your options even if you’re trying to conceive.) 

I remember the exact moment I realized I needed to be on medication and there was just no other alternative.

It was a beautiful warm August day, the birds were outside singing, and I was slicing tomatoes for my lunch. And I was thinking to myself, “This is all so pointless. Why am I even doing this, making lunch? I’m just going to have to do it again tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that. The drudgery just never ends. Why even bother?”

And I was just completely fed up with feeling that way. I was tired of waking up every day feeling like everything was pointless and boring and not even wanting to get up. I was tired of getting maybe two good days a week in which I could actually function and get things done, and exhausted from having to cram so many tasks into those two good days to compensate for laying in bed the other five. 

And I just decided, right there at the kitchen counter with the tomato in my hand, that I was going to do a telemedicine appointment with some psychiatrist online and I was going to start medication that day. And I did. 

I found the K Health app, connected with a doctor for $19, and  I had the bottle of $1 generic Zoloft in my hand that evening. (I just realized this sounds like a paid product placement or infomercial–it is not.) I could not believe it was that easy and was sort of in awe that I’d let myself get so accustomed to depression over the years that I hadn’t done this earlier. 

I thought it might take a few months to find just the right medicine or dosage or combination of meds to help me feel better, but about a week after that, I was again standing in the kitchen slicing tomatoes for my lunch, and I remember thinking to myself, “Look at this big, juicy, red tomato. God, I love fresh summer vegetables. This is incredible — the taste and the smell of this tomato that I get to have on my sandwich.”

And I realized, nothing in my circumstances had changed. Still in a pandemic, still going through the mundane task of making lunch every day. But that person who finds delight in the small things in life, who enjoys simple pleasures and is content in her day to day life? That’s the person I really am. And that person was clearly back. 

So if there are no other gifts to be found in this pandemic for me personally — and I could actually name many more — COVID gave me the gift of breaking me down so much emotionally that I went back on medication and my life is so, so much better now.  My lows are not nearly as low, and I feel peaceful and content the vast majority of the time. 

Professional burnout and lack of motivation

However, it took about a month to adjust and work through side effects, and the Zoloft kind of zapped my motivation. I don’t notice any side effects now, but I realize that a lot of my motivation to work was anxiety-driven, and without the anxiety, I was not driven to be productive.

So it was a huge adjustment period this fall — learning who I am without a chemical imbalance, and what I want to spend my time doing if it’s not working. 

Because in addition to the sort of mental/emotional breaking, I was also hitting a breaking point professionally. I’ve experienced professional burnout before, several times, (I talked about that in Season 3, Episode 4, about quitting my teaching job twice), but it had been many years since I felt burned out, probably close to a decade.

So that was another crisis coming to a head this summer — in addition to COVID and our family stuff and health issues and the death of my mother-in-law and my husband being out of work and my depression worsening — was that I was experiencing severe professional burnout. 

When I say I’ve spent every day of my adult life thinking about teaching and learning even on vacation, I really mean it. I remember as a teacher checking out stacks of professional development books from the library and reading them poolside in the summer over my break and creating new activities to do with my kids. 

Even after I left the classroom and started doing instructional coaching, teaching was still my hobby. I kept spending my evenings making games and activities, because what else do people do while they watch TV? I just gave them to the teachers I was coaching and shared them on my blog or put them on TpT, and it became part of how I made a living and supported my family, but making curriculum resources still felt like a hobby. I would spend hours and hours a day on it, and I loved it. 

I’ve attended dozens of education conferences. I’ve spent my free time socializing with other educators and participating in Twitter chats and Facebook groups about teaching. So much of my free time involved doing things related to K-12 education that I enjoyed.

Over the last few years, I felt a small tug away from that, and I’m sure that long-time listeners of the podcast can feel, as my podcast topics have ventured further and further away from the nitty-gritty of instruction and more into the mindset and being intentional with your time and living a fulfilling meaningful life. My focus became broader, I guess.

So I’d been going in that direction anyway — where I knew that there were other things that I was meant to do besides just focusing on classroom practices — but I just wasn’t sure what it was, because I’ve never had a hobby that wasn’t education-related.

Sure, I have other things I like to do, and I don’t work all the time. But stuff related to teaching was my main go-to.

The disillusionment of offering solutions when there aren’t any good ones

COVID hastened the demise of my enthusiasm for doing teaching stuff as a hobby, because suddenly — literally overnight — teaching had become a source of stress and frustration and exhaustion to a level that most of us have never experienced before.

Morale within the profession has obviously been on a decline as teachers’ autonomy and ability to be creative decreased, and as participating in the educational system requires more moral compromise, and giving in on things that we know are not best for teachers and kids. 

But when COVID hit, well, this was no longer teaching at all — what we were calling “school” was nothing that I recognized, nothing any of us had been trained for or prepared for or saw as a way to do the kind of best practices we know. 

And it was not fun to work on teaching things this past spring — not for me, not for most of you, I think. It was frustrating and confusing and so much work for so little impact.

So what do you do when the main thing you do in your free time is tied to a profession that has completely changed and had almost all the joy completely sucked out of it? 

Interacting with teachers was no longer something fun, where I could gather with like-minded folks and talk about things we are passionate about and geek out on pedagogy. Everything to do with schools just felt really depressing and overwhelming and upsetting. 

And when I lost that passion for education, I felt like I lost a part of myself. I know I’m not the only one, because I’ve heard from so many teachers who feel like they are not only burned out — they are disillusioned.

You’re suddenly doing a job that you don’t recognize anymore, and you never signed up to do, that you’re not trained to do, that you’re not able to do well … but suddenly it’s become your whole life, and everything revolves around it.

So to be completely transparent, in the summer of 2020, I felt like I lost sight of what I’m doing in this field. I had a lot of professional moments like that time I was slicing tomatoes in my kitchen — what is the purpose of this? Why bother? What is it all for?

Now during that time, the July 2020 cohort of the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek program was kicking off. If you’re not familiar, this is a yearlong PD that I run which begins every summer. I had already planned to completely revamp the program, anyway, because it’s now five years old and I wanted to do a major update.

So, when COVID hit and I realized teaching was going to look very different, I was prepared to adjust for that. My team and I worked really hard all spring and summer doing everything we could to give teachers answers when their school districts were not. 

But the whole time — and 40 Hour members know this — I was really hoping school would be back to “normal” by fall 2020 in the U.S. as it had been in many other countries.

I was creating resources for virtual and hybrid teaching, but hoping I wouldn’t have to much longer. I hoped schools could just delay their start dates for the 2020-2021 school year for a few weeks, we’d get community transmission levels under control, and the nightmare scenarios of emergency pandemic teaching would be behind us.

But by mid-July, COVID cases were rising in the US exponentially, and it was clear that what I was hoping for — what we were all hoping for — just wasn’t going to happen.

There were no good solutions. There just weren’t.

There was no path forward for schools that I felt was good for teachers and kids.

And when I heard this new “brilliant’ idea of forcing teachers to teach in unsafe classrooms while simultaneously teaching students at home who were watching via live video, it just stunned me. I could not believe that anyone would ever think this was an effective way for kids to learn or an appropriate expectation of teachers. 

Concurrent hybrid learning was a new low in our profession at a time when I didn’t think the expectations on teachers could get any more outrageous.

And like many — if not most, if not all — leaders in the education space this past summer, I was really struggling to have a clear, comprehensive vision for the future of teaching and learning. Again — there were no options that I felt good about promoting. 

Where my train metaphorically derailed and how I lost sight of the destination

One thing to understand about me is that I am a person who is completely motivated by the “why.” If I don’t understand the importance of doing something, I have no motivation to get it done. That’s just my personality type. I don’t do anything just because — just because other people are doing it, just because it’s always been done, just because I’m told to it. I have to dig deep and find a clear and compelling reason for me personally — a worthwhile cause for following through. 

And as someone that others look to for leadership, I HAVE to have a really clear vision of where I want people to follow me. (I have more to say about that minefield in a moment, because I discovered when I announced my sabbatical that some folks have put me up on some kind of pedestal that I really, really don’t want to be on.) 

I feel like I was doing well in the spring when we were still in emergency pandemic teaching. I’m really proud of the podcast episodes I did during that time, and the support I offered to teachers.

But over the summer, when I realized schools were going to try to get back to normal standards for the following school year like nothing at all had changed … I felt like the child-centered, grace-filled, humanity-first train I was aboard had become derailed. 

And I wasn’t sure yet which of the other tracks I wanted to put my train back on. I did not like any of the possible destinations.

I had people looking to me for leadership, and I was not willing to lead them to a place that I was not confident about going.

It’s like my train had been going full speed ahead, but I was no longer connected to the destination. This past summer, I felt like I wasn’t clear on where we were going or why or who was even with me.

And so I felt a responsibility to stop and look at the map, and figure out where it is I’m trying to go. That way I can get myself back on the right track, and invite along the people who want to be on board for that destination.

This is what my sabbatical has been about. It was a chance for me to not just take a break from work, but to take a break from leading, and uncover a vision for the future of my work. 

The choice to cut out non-essential obligations and go offline in December

There was no other option for me — if I didn’t take the time to regroup, I was never going to get myself in the headspace that teachers need me to be.

I am not an employee of any company — I do not get any vacation time, sick days, or holiday leave. I have no summer break (that’s actually the busiest, most stressful time of the year due to the 40 Hour launch and PD requests for back-to-school). I work for myself, so if I don’t choose to take time off, I will work 365 days a year.

For many years now, I have self-selected my time off. And this past fall, I knew it was going to have to be a longer period of time.

I already split the podcast into 2 seasons, with a break in Nov/Dec and June/July, and usually, I have 20 new podcast episodes outlined before the new season even starts because there’s so much I want to talk about.

But this time, in August, I didn’t even think I was going to make it to that normal podcast break. I truly had nothing to say that would be inspiring or encouraging. I just didn’t have it in me.

So I basically cut out any tasks that weren’t absolutely required, and then worked ahead in October and November on everything that WAS necessary to get everything done before December.

I then spent as much time offline in December as I possibly could. That ended up being like 99% of the time, especially in the second half of the month once schools were closed for the holidays and most other people were not really focusing on work, either. 

I announced this time off via email and my podcast. I also told 40 Hour Members and graduates so they would know nothing in the program would be affected, I was simply batching and working ahead to get their December and January materials ready and the rest of the 40 Hour team would keep everything running smoothly while I was offline.

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The response — and pushback — to my sabbatical announcement

In response, I received over 1,500 emails, DMs, and private messages of support — and I think I replied personally to every one of them. Seriously, I did, because they were so incredibly kind. It took me about a week to do it, but I was so touched by the number of you who supported and encouraged me. 

But around email 200, I was really surprised to see some pushback. And that email was not the only one. There were a handful of messages — maybe 6 or 7, in contrast with the 1500 supportive ones —from people who, as it turned out, were BIG mad about my choice to take a sabbatical. 

I was completely unprepared for people to question that decision because, first of all, it’s an extremely personal decision and people who only know me through the Internet do not have the context needed to make a judgment about whether or not I should be doing that or how it should happen. It takes a lot of nerve to email someone who doesn’t know you and try to shame them for taking a break from podcasting and sending a weekly email to a list. I’m not a brain surgeon bailing out on scheduled surgeries here, friends.

I am not an essential worker, and folks can surely live without my online monologues for a couple of weeks. 

At least, that’s what I had assumed.

But there were people who were frankly outraged that I dared to take a break when classroom teachers can’t. I mean, I understand the frustration, and that’s sort of true, even though teachers do have a good portion of December off (which is a major part of why I chose that month for my own break).

But the vitriol and nastiness in some of these messages was really shocking, and unfortunately, I have not been able to shake their words from my head. I had people tell me they didn’t want to hear about my pity party, that they’d lost all respect for me, that this was the most unprofessional thing they’d ever heard, that I should never, ever admit that I’m tired, and to not expect anyone in my audience to still be here when I come back.

All of this hurt me deeply because I had confused followers with friends. And that response reinforced my decision to go offline, because frankly, there are some folks out there who do not realize I am an actual human being and I really need them to see me as one. 

I do not exist solely to be a role model for teachers any more than you all exist solely to be a role model for students. We are all allowed to fall short, disappoint, do less. 

I’ve been saying since day one of this pandemic: this is a time for reimagining, for slowing down, for doing fewer things better, for simplifying, for going inward. Nearly every email and podcast episode since that time has touched on that theme. And the fact that this period of going inward is not possible for many people due to their jobs does not make it any less necessary. 

But more than that, people presumably follow me because they appreciate my relentless emphasis on self-care, work/life balance, and breaking free from the status quo and unreasonable expectations.

These are not just things that I say. I actually live that. I actually do all the things I tell you to do. I refuse to martyr myself for this profession. 

Why I’ve never seen stepping away from work as a weakness 

This is not the first time I’ve had to step away from work.

In my third year of teaching, I had a major depressive episode where there was basically nothing wrong in my life, yet I could not stop crying or get out of bed. I was so weepy all the time and it took so much out of me to put on a happy face for my PreK students that my doctor suggested a medical leave of absence.

I had a substitute cover my class — a good friend, who kept me in the loop about my little ones and sent messages to them from me frequently — for about six weeks in the middle of the school year while I healed and recovered. And then I returned.

That incident was actually the impetus for me to start sharing my teaching resources online, because when I came back, my principal said, “I couldn’t even tell you were gone. The kids knew exactly what to do, and kept up all the routines you taught them.”

I realized that there was something about the way I had structured my classroom to be self-running that was unique — the kids didn’t need me there in order to keep learning, and that’s when I started offering support to other teachers in online message board forums and such to help then create effective routines and procedures.

That entire experience was not the end of my career but rather a stepping stone to the next part of it. 

So, I don’t see it as a weakness or betrayal to take a break, to quit, to walk away temporarily or permanently from an obligation in order to prioritize your own mental health and wellbeing.

My sabbatical in December was a pretty simple choice given that I don’t have students depending on me, but even when I did, I don’t see myself as so important that others cannot possibly go on without me.

If teachers are overworked and exhausted and burning out, it does not help THEM for ME to be overworked and exhausted and burned out, too. That made perfect sense in my mind.

It truly did not occur to me that any of you who heard my sabbatical announcement would be hurt or disappointed or mad about it, and for that, I apologize. That’s something I could have been more sensitive to.

A lot of teachers are drowning right now, and looking for any kind of support or voice of reason. I understand that.

It’s also hard to hear that someone else is taking a break when you yourself cannot, and I don’t think I worded that email about my sabbatical well enough to convey that.

I wasn’t doing anything very well at that time, frankly. I did not have the mental bandwidth or energy to put the necessary effort into communicating carefully and clearly with my audience, hence why I was stepping away.

So if I botched that first announcement of the sabbatical for you, I am sincerely sorry for that. 

I would simply ask that we refocus together on bringing humanity back to how our society operates. Workers are not machines: they are human beings with real needs and feelings. This truth is frequently not honored for you as a teacher, and you deserve better.

I want to always extend that compassion to teachers — that permission to be fully human, not just a “professional” at all times — and I sincerely thank those of you who have extended that same consideration back to me. It’s the only way forward.

I believe that we have an obligation to make sure we are healthy and strong so we can be there for the folks who are depending on us. Everything can’t be “do it for the children” all the time. You matter, too. I matter, too. Self-care is not selfish.

I know from your messages that the vast majority of you saw my sabbatical as an act of leading by example, of practicing what I preach, and/or an inspiration for you to carve out your own break from work over the holidays.

It made me SO happy to hear that lots of you were inspired to unplug over your holiday break, and I plan to do a better job of inviting you into the process and carving out your own time away from work next December. I would love for this to be an annual tradition which those in my online community do in some form or another each year.

Leading by example is always my intention. I don’t adhere to expectations and norms about how I should be using my time. I am able to teach you all how to be free from those expectations because I myself am closer and closer to free. I can teach you how to question the status quo because my entire life is living outside of the status quo. 

And moving forward, I’m about to step even further outside the box. If you thought a sabbatical was too wild of an idea, you may not be on board with the things I have planned next! Some of them have to do with education, and some of them don’t.

But when I talk about reimagining education, reimagining our systems, reimagining our society, reimagining our world, that’s not hyperbole. “Reimagining” has become a word that people have thrown around a lot since the start of the pandemic, but I actually mean it, and I actually spend large amounts of time “freedom dreaming” about what it would look like for all people to be liberated. I always have. And it’s really hard to free and liberate other people when you’re not free yourself. 

The freer that I can be, the more I can help others be free. I have to get closer to the goal so I can come back and show others the way. 

How I used my time offline

So, once I decided back in October that I was going to take the December sabbatical, I began using any time that I wasn’t working to begin figuring out what other things I might like or be interested in that did not involve screen time or the teaching profession.

I discovered moss gardening and moss art, making homemade kombucha and candles, doing puzzles, and getting deeper into yoga and hiking. I started painting and wood-burning and using alcohol inks on tile.

And while I was doing all of this, I listened to at least 30 audiobooks and who knows how many podcasts on history and politics and social justice. (I’ll share some of them on my Instagram in a bit, if you’re interested.) 

Looking back, I realize a lot of these activities were things I’d done before but hadn’t prioritized time for recently. (I was a double major in college actually — early childhood education and art, with a minor in women’s studies — that all fits the trajectory of my journey, right?)

I had always been interested in art and nature and better understanding our world, but my passion for education overshadowed everything else, pushed it all to the back burner.

And so in those few short weeks, I feel like I reconnected to parts of myself I hadn’t explored much in decades, and learned new things about myself as well.

And now that I am back to work, I continue to prioritize those things. I try to shut the laptop in the afternoon and not look at or think about any of it again until morning. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t, but that’s the goal. 

This leaves me the rest of the afternoon and evening to pursue other interests. I don’t have much of a life right now — I’m one of those folks who really doesn’t leave home for very much beyond the grocery store due to COVID — so I have the time to pursue hobbies at home.

It was just a matter of finding those hobbies and prioritizing them. I’m not sure that would have happened if I hadn’t reached that breaking point.

The thing that I realized, though, is that a sabbatical is not a guaranteed solution to burnout. 

The sabbatical was not a cure-all, and coming back was harder than I anticipated

I will be totally honest and say I was not excited to come back online at first. I actually cried on New Years Eve, because I knew that was my last day “off” and I was going to have to show in January with something to say to you all, and I still had no idea what I wanted to say.

I was feeling more balanced and content personally, but I had zero vision of what value I could bring to education or what I could contribute to teachers and kids in the year ahead. 

I also knew that more time away from work was not what I needed. After all, schools aren’t going to look much different in February or March or April as they do now, so if I’m waiting for the circumstances to get more inspiring, it was going to be a long time until I had anything to say.

And, I had people depending on me — folks on my team, and you all. I’d said I would be back in January, and I was determined to find my inspiration again.

It was a slow process over the course of the month of January — mapping out the podcast season, working on the February materials for 40 Hour, planning out some stuff to share via email and social media.

And little by little, I found that I did have some things to share. 

The path back: finding a spark of inspiration and nurturing it into a roaring flame

That might be a takeaway for you if you are experiencing a bit of burnout right now (and I think most teachers are).

I found when I reconnect with things I care about, it got me more excited to work, even when those things weren’t directly tied to the work.

One of the things that really has me fired up right now is combatting the amount of misinformation and harmful propaganda being spread online. Part of why our country is so divided right now is because we have a group of people who are working with alternative facts that are not connected to the reality the rest of us are living in. (For clarity, I am speaking of the Q-Anon folks and other far-right extremists.)

I don’t know if I’m considered by those folks as part of the dreaded “mainstream media” or not, but I do have a platform. My voice is heard by many thousands of teachers. I have the ability to help create the change I want to see in the world.

I have the ability to speak truth — facts, reason, science, evidence, real stuff — to the people listening to me, and that is a powerful way to create ripples of forward progress. (And you have the same, with your own powerful sphere of influence.)

I used that little spark of inspiration to help push me to take action and ease back into work. I found a little bit of my WHY for 2021. I don’t know all the stops on this train, but I’m headed in the right direction, and the train is moving down the track. 

This next phase of my work involves using my platform to help create the change that I want to see in the world.

I will continue to focus on supporting teachers in having the right mindset and staying focused on what’s most important. I’ll focus on teaching self-care and collective self-care (or community care) because these are equity issues. When teachers are stressed and out, they do not respond to students with empathy and care. If you are not in a good headspace and your working conditions are oppressive, you’re just not going to do a great job for kids.

That’s what I’m deeply passionate about — helping teachers show up in the classroom as the best possible version of themselves — and this is going to continue to be my focus. 

I was hoping to come back from my sabbatical with a brand new and very exciting vision for the future, and I did not … not at first.

But the more I dove into the work, the more I thought of other things I wanted to do, and now a couple of weeks into the routines again, I find some really good ideas taking shape.

You might not sense a huge difference in topic or tone of the podcast from last season to this one. But there’s something inside me that has shifted, and as I shared last week, I’m going to stay focused on the destination and no longer concerned about folks who don’t want to board the train. Anyone who has the same or similar vision as I do (or wants to get there) can come along. 

Each time I show up online — be it on social media, or a podcast, or an email, or whatever), there’s a lot of pressure to SAY SOMETHING NEW, ORIGINAL, AND EARTH-SHATTERING. 

To keep from running out of things to say, I HAVE to keep growing, learning, and evolving, both as a person and educator.

And that’s actually the fun part. The stuff I share with you is a reflection of what I’m thinking and feeling, and what’s important to me at any given moment.  I love bringing you along with what I’m learning, and talking about things that make us better humans, not just better at classroom instruction.

Everything you read from me is written BY me, from the heart. And I’m a human with a wide range of feelings and interests.

I’m not trying to be happy and positive and an encourager of teachers 24/7.

I’m trying to be real and self-actualized. I’m trying to be fully human.

I really like the person I’ve grown into over the years. The world’s changing, education’s changing, and I’m changing, too. I am not the same person I was in 2003, or 2010, or 2015, and the person I’ll be a few years from now will be different, too. I hope to like future Angela even more than current Angela, as I let go of the expectations other people place on me and show up more as my authentic self.

So if you’ve been following my work for a while, there’s a good chance that the place my head is at won’t be the same place as yours during some point in our journey together. 

Maybe you’ll get tired of me harping on work/life balance, productivity, mindset, and self-care, and grow frustrated when those topics keep recurring. 

Maybe you’ll only like the individualistic ideas and be annoyed by the systemic and collective changes I’m advocating for a little more now.

Or maybe you’ll be okay with all of those things, but feel like you’ve already gotten the core message of what you need from me, and be ready to move on and follow other folks online. 

All of these things are okay.

It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you OR me. It doesn’t mean either of us needs to change a thing.

I can’t promise to offer exactly what you need, but I CAN promise to keep showing up, keep being myself, and keep sharing ideas with anyone who wants to join me in the journey. 

Thank you for allowing me these weeks to heal, breathe, regroup, and clarify my vision for the year ahead. 

Thank you for your messages, and for encouraging me even though I did not have the strength to encourage you.

Thank you for believing in me and my work. I may have taken a pause, but this work does not end.

The next phase of our journey together starts now. Let’s move forward boldly. 

Truth for Teachers podcast: a weekly 10 minute talk radio show you can download and take with you wherever you go! A new episode is released each Sunday to get you energized and motivated for the week ahead.

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Discussion

44 Comments

  1. Christine

    Angela,
    I just listened to your podcast #213. I’m sorry that you received push back for your brave decision to take a sabbatical. I really appreciate your honesty in all areas that you shared, your personal struggles, your struggle to understand this COVID learning/teaching during this time. I am really struggling to find the balance and in our district there is much blame being targeted on teachers “not wanting to go back to school and/or work” it is really hard to feel this pressure from the “community”. Additionally, I think teachers are surrounded by “helpful” suggestions and evaluations from administrators that have never taught in distance learning. Thank you for making me realize that the struggle is real.

  2. Julie Dwyer

    Angela,
    Thank you for being brave and helping so many teachers give themselves permission to be on the priority list.
    For years you have given me permission to work less than the 80 hours that teaching seemed to require. Thank for for being a strong voice of reason.
    I am now in my first year of retirement, and I feel so guilty. I should be there suffering with my friends since the round the world travel has been hijacked by COVID. I am learning to find life beyond school. I am very glad you are too. The world is big and wonderful; your place is in it.
    Be well and know that the vast majority of us are cheering for your journey. Always honor your true self.

  3. Michelle

    I was so happy to see the email you sent out about your sabbatical. I was very proud of you. You are not superwoman and dont need to be, Youre a regular person just like us- and it was a relief to know that you,too, get worn out and exhausted. I am so sorry you had people getting angry and giving you a hard time over choice you needed to make to protect yourself. I hope you are feeling better.

  4. Nahid

    Thank you for your openness and vulnerability. Your stories help give me, and I’m sure others, the strength to keep going in our professions and also in our lives. Thank you for being human with us so we can feel validated as humans as well. Always here supporting you and your work!

  5. Anita

    Thank you for being real and human. As someone who’s gone multiple rounds with Major Depressive Disorder, I identify with many of the feelings and struggles you shared, and am grateful that you’ve shared your story. I’m also deeply thankful for your 40-hour work week course; I don’t know if I would have made it to Christmas this year without having taken your course. ❤️❤️

  6. Tanya

    Hey Angela!

    I want to let you know how awesome you are. I’m sorry for those in the profession that are so unhappy with their lives that they decided to make your sabbatical all about them and their needs instead of thinking about what you needed most at the time. I’m glad you were able to take the time to regroup and refocus. Blessings to you!

  7. Diana Spera

    I liked your article this week as it explained why you took a leave – and like you said, practice what you preach so it is great that you took the time to regroup as you remind us to do. I hope that you continue to give us help with how to manage our time and tasks in the teaching world as you have in the past. I was a bit upset that you used your platform to get political. I subscribe to your email and look forward to it on Sunday evening as it excites and calms me at the same time for the week in front of me. However, if it becomes too political, it is not what will put me in a good place. I think we can all agree that we want to get along and have peace in our country but pontificating that in your podcast is not what I subscribe to you for. You have always been a source of good advice to making teaching effective, less stressful, and fun. Please continue to do that!

    • Angela Watson

      I can understand that you mostly want to receive teaching advice from me. This was a post specifically about what I’ve been thinking and feeling during my sabbatical. It doesn’t seem fair to read that kind of post and then tell me you’re upset that I shared honestly about all that I was thinking and feeling.

      I’ve discussed current events and the future of education and America frequently over the years–it’s a big part of how I use my blog/podcast. And as I shared in this post, I’m a full human person, not just a creator of teaching resources, and I don’t want to hide all those other parts of myself away. I think about things beyond just teaching and I’d like to share those things. Big stuff is happening in the world, and I’d like to talk about it sometimes.

      I don’t think you have to worry about me talking politics all the time in my emails or my podcasts, as I’m not planning on changing the tone or format of them. But we don’t live or teach in a bubble, and I have a responsibility to address current events that affect teachers and students. If your response to this post is disappointment, then fair warning: you might be disappointed again in the future. I can’t change myself or my mission and values to accommodate every individual’s topic preferences. I hope you’ll stick around but I totally understand if you choose not to.

  8. Sylvia LeRiche

    I commend you for being vulnerable in sharing your journey. And I agree that it is
    important to take care of our own health (emotional, mental and physical). I hope
    for you the best and will keep you in my prayers. Thank you for your heart for children
    and for teachers. Sylvia

  9. Dara

    Thank you for being real. I did look up to you, and that hasn’t changed, I still do. Thanks for always keeping it real. ❤️

  10. Miki Huntington

    Hi Angela,
    Much appreciation for your thoughtful message and focused approach! I’m excited to continue on the journey with you to explore topics of work/life balance, productivity, mindset, and self-care, both individually, and collectively. As an educator in higher ed, I still find much lf what yours share to be relevant, and I imagine the broader focus will offer even more! Thanks for all you do and share!

  11. Eric Lengacher

    Thank you Angela.
    My experience has been much like yours.
    Anxiety, depression, medication, burnout, mental health leave of absence, instructional coaching, the disillusionment of offering solutions when there aren’t any good ones, always learning more about myself.

    You made the correct decision.
    Looking forward to this train ride!

  12. Patricia Trivitt

    I see you! I hear you ! I agree with you! I appreciate you! I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you have done and all you will continue to do for teachers and Education.

    • Cindy Wise

      I agree. Human being first. Also people change and what people need changes. That’s life. We can’t always be on the same train. Instead of reacting, I say lean into the discomfort. Why did it bother me when that person spoke their truth? That’s where growth comes. Thanks Angela for being yourself.

  13. Kathryn

    Sending you so much respect and appreciation! You led by example when you stepped away — we all need to do that more.

    I am excited to see what directions you plan to take. I’ve been thinking a lot about misinformation also, and white privilege, and how I can combat white supremacy and other forms of hate.

    If you stepped away from this work entirely and decided never to write another word about teaching, know that your impact on the professional lives of many, many teachers (including mine!) has been huge and will continue, just from the conversations and reflection you have already enabled, and from the writing and podcasts that you’ve already released into the world.

    You are making a stand for the professional educator who is not a martyr. I am so grateful for you for always saying and showing that it’s possible to be a professional who has a life outside of school, and that I’m not betraying my students if I leave the building some days without taking 10 pounds’ worth of papers to grade. The “it’s for the kids!” rallying cry is currently leading (or forcing) many of our colleagues into danger, and I appreciate that you’ve always made the case that the best way to do our best “for the kids” is for us to be OK, also.

    Wishing you all the best, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for you.

    • Angela Watson

      This is so kind of you–thank you so much.

  14. Lana

    Angela, thanks for this post. It’s been such a challenging year. I love my students and I’m so glad they stuck with me during this crazy ride. Yet, I’m so ready for my summer break. While we may be returning to school in March (which will be a whole new level of stress and work), me and my students have made great progress this year in reading, writing, math, science, social studies, health and resilience. Thank you for giving me the knowledge and courage to stand up for myself as an educator. In doing so, I have become a better teacher who can better serve my students. I appreciate you and I’m glad you took time to care for yourself and your family. As much as I care for my students, me and my family always come first.

  15. Lisa

    Thank you for sharing your story, for modeling and living what you discuss and prioritising self care. I am pleased to hear your time away allowed you to collect your thoughts, think about your why and your vision and give you time to mentally and physically reset. Take care and thank you.

  16. Heather McFarland

    While I do feel like there is a bunch of misinformation spreading, I don’t feel like it’s fair to put all of that on the “far right”. Call out QANON all day if you want to but to bring in right/left just further divides us all as you are insinuating that no one on the far left spreads misinformation.

      • Angela Watson

        I’m surprised there’s confusion here–I specifically said “far-right extremists and Q-Anon folks,” right? I did not say mainline conservatism, Republicans, etc. (Although since you’ve brought it up, I will point out that the vast majority of Republicans in power have not denounced the conspiracy theorists, so if you feel like all conservatives are getting lumped together, let your congressional reps, pastors, community leaders, etc. know you expect them to speak up and make the distinction.)

        The Department of Homeland Security’s 2020 Homeland Security Threat Assessment confirms that “Domestic Violent Extremists present the most persistent and lethal threat.” Their 2021 reports specifically name DVEs motivated by dissatisfaction with election results. So yes, these folks ARE the greatest threat right now, according to Homeland Security.

        EVERYONE should be concerned about Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups who are actively spreading misinformation and recruiting young people to their ranks. And, EVERYONE should be concerned that we just had an attempted coup in our government due to a conspiracy theory about election fraud. We almost lost our democracy due to conspiracy theories perpetuated largely by folks who self-identify as right wing/conservative.

        So yes, I am going to call out those problems specifically and address them on my platform, and that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with my work. I’m not going to spend any further time explaining or defending this choice. As I said in the post, the place I’m at in my journey might not match with yours, and this is okay. I would prefer you go in your own direction rather than try to convince me that I’m being divisive by naming and addressing a very real problem. I took an entire month’s sabbatical to get clear on what I stand for and how I’m going to express myself, and I chose my words in this post carefully. I said exactly what I meant and I stand by it.

  17. Elizabeth

    Your past advice for this challenging year continued to help me during December and January. There were a few times where I had not been given complete information or instructions so I opted to wait and not act or plan yet. You saved me a ton of time. In one significant case, things did change again, so not trying to solve an unsolvable situation saved me a lot of time. Even though you were on sabbatical, you were still helping us. In your podcast tonight, I really enjoyed hearing about your screen-free hobbies.

  18. Lyn

    Thank you being honest and real about everything. Even if we never experience depression, we can now better understand what friends, colleagues, family members, etc. are also experiencing. Your words were brave and helped me as much as your teaching wisdom. Thank you!

  19. Debi Netzly-Lewis

    Thank you, Angela. Finally…some heartfelt honesty about the world and what many are experiencing, And thank you, for not pushing the latest “buy this and all your teaching issues will end” product. Your posts are authentic and always speak to me.

  20. BEATRIZ CRESSER

    It takes a lot of courage to talk about your own mental health challenges. Thank you for inspiring me to stay true to myself and not being afraid of sharing because it might help others. We are only human!

  21. Kel Green

    Thanks for your honesty. I worked at a charter school from Jan-Aug 2020. I was fired for taking a leave of absence to have cancer surgery. I had found your site at the beginning of the year because I was trying to find a way to remain in K12. I’ve since returned to college & are working at a local university. I am completely burned out on teaching K12. Thank you for sharing. Do what’s best for your mental & physical health.

    • Angela Watson

      I’m so sorry you experienced that. Glad you have found a way to teach that is working better for you. Sending you strength and solidarity.

  22. Rachel Weyant

    Angela,

    Thank you for sharing more about what you’ve been working through over the past months. I greatly identify with your challenges. Mental health should be our #1 priority, as it is definitely one of the biggest struggles for many people. But as teachers, we all feel the pressure of being a good leader and someone who has to persevere. The truth is we are all only human and we have our ups and downs. We will make mistakes and we will also triumph at other times. No one should make you feel like less of a person for taking the time away that you did. Those who could not give you grace are unfortunately only struggling as well themselves. Good luck and be well.

    • Angela Watson

      Yes, those who were not able to give me grace are absolutely struggling. They need that time off just as much as I did, and I wish every teacher could have it. I would love to normalize the idea of a sabbatical again, as it used to be fairly common in K-12 and quite common in higher ed. My first school district used to give a year off (unpaid) for every 10 years of service so that teachers and school leaders could take a sabbatical. Just having that option–knowing that the district supports it and is holding your job for you–would be powerful for so many folks.

  23. Dale Kynoch

    From the brain work I have done with my school and outside resources, we should all realize that our brains seek out the negative. We did that, historically, as a matter of survival. We needed to respond immediately to environmental threats and our brains were set up to hyperfocus on what is not right around us. Now, that survival habit is, thankfully, not so necessary! We are also probably are hyperfocused given the Covid threat that surrounds us.

    Hang in there – I tell all around me of your insightful and forward-thinking ideas. You have helped me focus on a 40-hour workweek, and I am able to talk to my administrators in ways that limit their trend to overwork us. The “No” has become easier and truer for me due to your work. So, I deeply thank you for what you have done for me and those I love. You are truly a God-send.

    • Angela Watson

      I appreciate that so much. And you’re correct about our brains seeking about possible danger and problems. That proclivity no longer serves us well in this day and age. I’m constantly having to refocus on the good things that are happening–I have a podcast ep coming out about that soon!

  24. Mimi

    Hang in there, Angela! Behind you 100%.
    Keep the faith.
    MI

  25. Sue Cagley

    I’m so sorry you experienced such vitriol to your being human! God created us to be human beings – not human doings. May the Lord bless you and your doctor in your continuing healing. It takes 2 to go on a guilt trip: one to try to send, and one to go – don’t go on one!

    • Angela Watson

      That’s a good one–haven’t heard that before. Thank you!

  26. Stephanie

    Angela I could have written this podcast myself. Ironically, when I tried to take some time off, which I had plenty of sick time for my Dr. wouldn’t approve my FMLA. I had to be kind of creative, but I too just finished my first week of a 4 week leave of absence and have just starting to heal.

    • Angela Watson

      I’m so sorry to hear your doctor wouldn’t approve your FMLA–so frustrating. But I’m glad you were able to take a leave of absence. I know you are far from the only teacher needing to do so this year. It’s my hope you’ll come back stronger and refreshed. It might take awhile before you are working at your usual levels of productivity, and that’s okay, too.

  27. Kelly McGill

    Hi Angela,
    I’m so sorry you encountered pushback and negativity from some people when you announced your sabbatical – I can appreciate that that would be the last reaction you expected people to have. You’re kind to offer an apology to them for the way you packaged your announcement – for acknowledging that if you had somehow worded things differently, you might not have ruffled those feathers – but I don’t think you owe anyone an apology, nor an explanation. As a new-ish mom, I have heard countless times that I need to take care of myself if I want to do the best job taking care of my family. That advice applies to anyone who supports others. We can’t be there for others if we are broken. And we (you!) matter too. It’s not selfish to take time to give yourself the TLC you need. The stronger you are, the better the support you will be able to give your followers. I think you were incredibly thoughtful and considerate in how you handled your sabbatical – the timing of it, how open and honest you were with your followers – and yet if you hadn’t been able to dig dip like that…if you had had to just disappear for awhile without explanation or all the batch planning and preparation – I wouldn’t have thought less of you. I would have thought you were doing what you needed to do, and you have every right to do that.
    You devote a hella lot of time to supporting a lot of people – good for you for deciding to take a step back and take care of you.
    Your true supporters applaud you, and will always be waiting for you – whenever you’re ready to come back to us 🙂
    🙂
    Kelly

  28. Noreen DeMarco

    Hi Angela,
    I just listened to your podcast #213. Thank you so much for being REAL! I commend you for your bravery to not only take time off to figure things out and step back a bit. I also commend you even more for being open about it. I too, have struggled with anxiety and depression and some days it’s so hard to get out of bed and motivate. I think we ALL need to find ways to step back and take a sabbatical from the monotonous whirlwind of the world we live in. You can’t sustain the hustle and bustle for ever. It’s just not possible. Thank you for your kind heart, your support for us teachers and as people juggling the daily tasks. I’ve appreciated all of your ideas and resources from your 40 hr program and your Grad program. I look forward to joining you on your next journey! Prayers and blessings to you.

  29. Barnett

    I just want to take a minute and thank you for all of your wisdom, kindness, and letting us into a part of your life. It is greatly appreciated and nice to hear we are not alone (although I am sad that you went through all of that). I am sorry that people gave you such a hard time when you took a break. There are too many times that I wish I could do the same, but don’t know how. The teaching world is not what it used to be. And although the support of the community can be amazing, the negative voices of the few will always outweigh the greatness and pride we should be feeling everyday. You do so much for others and help us out. Please know that I, and I am sure many others, are here for you if necessary. Thank you again and have a tremendous 2021!

  30. Elisa Waingort

    Thank you for your honesty, Angela.
    Thank you for sharing your struggle and challenges so openly.
    I applaud you.

  31. shalini sharma

    Thank you for sharing such beautiful article…your way of writing is tremendous

  32. Karla

    Angela,
    I am not a teacher, so I was not very familiar with your resources. I was scrolling Pinterest, and your caption, “The breaking point that led to my sabbatical..,” caught my attention. I am a SLP (public school setting) currently in my last week of a leave due to depression like I have never experienced. I am glad you got the medication right the first time. I am still working that out, adding to my anxiety about returning. I really appreciate you being so open. You pointed out things about depression that many people who have not experienced it may not realize. I did not experience one certain precipitating event but rather several “smaller” circumstances over time in a time of social isolation (thank you COVID). I had been thinking about seeking counseling for some time, and this event has provided me with the impetus to do so. I typically work considerably over 40 hours, so one of the things I am working on is better balance of my time. I will definitely be looking back at your information on the 40 hour week!
    Thank you!
    Karla

    • Angela Watson

      Hi, Karla, thanks for sharing your story here. It always feels good to know we’re not alone in going through this stuff. I hope you are able to right the right med(s) and ease back into work next week. If it helps, I found it easier to work the more I got into it. I was really not feeling ready at first, but with each passing week, I feel more energized. I hope the same will be true for you, even if the transition back is challenging.

  33. Julia Keplinger

    I really like the Angela you are and am so happy that you are taking good care of yourself.
    <3

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