Knockout! How to Teach with a Concussion

teacher self care | teach with concussion | work with concussion

This week we have a special treat, Michelle from Teach Think Talk is sharing with us her story of everything going wrong. As a drama teacher I can totally sympathize with her struggles, tech week is no joke!

Knockout! How to Teach With a Concussion

This past week has caused a major shift in the way I think about my life and work. On Friday night, March 16th, I got home later than usual because we had our last Musical Rehearsal before starting Tech Week the next day…I go to do the first thing I always do when I get home…

Let my dogs out.

It happened before I could prevent it, 2 of my 5 dogs got in a fight. Now, these dogs have never fought before and have been around each other for awhile. This was not your average spat between dog siblings, blood was drawn, wounds were created and at one point I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to break them apart. Of course, I was home alone.

To make a long story short, my dogs were pretty much okay, just some scratches. But, I ended up in the ER that night with a black eye, cuts and bruises everywhere, and a concussion.

If you have been keeping up with sports news, you know that concussions are a much bigger deal now than they were when I was in High School. Whenever one of my students gets a concussion, a whole plan has to be put into place to allow the proper amount of rest for their brain to heal.

Newsflash: that rule applies when the teacher gets a concussion as well.

This couldn’t have happened at a worse time. It was the night before tech week (theater people I know you understand this), 2 weeks before Spring Break (end of units) and I was placed under the following restrictions:

  1. No driving for 48 hours

  2. No screens (phone, tv, computer) for 1 week

  3. No reading for 1 week

  4. Limit physical activity for 1 week

  5. Avoid bright lights for 1 week

What!!!???!! You might as well tell me not to breath! I hear my own voice telling my students, “Don’t play around with this, it is your brain we’re talking about. Your brain controls your whole body, you need to let it heal.”

Following my restrictions was challenging being I’m an English Teacher and it was Tech Week for a musical for which I was in charge of set construction. But guess what, I didn’t really have a choice. I had to re-evaluate my priorities so that my brain could heal properly and with few lasting side-effects.

This has led me to re-evaluate my priorities in general because I was beginning to let my job dictate my life. I know all teachers are guilty of this because it is in our nature to put everyone else’s needs above our own. The reality is (this is hard to swallow), we are replaceable. Just let that sink in.

The job we sink our heart and souls into will continue to exist whether or not we occupy that role. The world continues to turn, and in my case this week…the show had to go on. So why do we put so much pressure on ourselves and neglect our own well being?

Psychologists could have a field day with this one. I’ll save you the psycho-analysis and, instead, present you with the method I am going to try to use again, so I can prioritize my health and sanity over my job(s). I will only have 3 things to use to prioritize because anything more than that gets unmanageable.

  1. Plan- Nothing can make your day worse than a poorly planned lesson. Additionally, a poorly planned unit creates more work for you because you start to fill time with activities that may not accomplish your goal, but still creates work for you to grade. I have been trying to plan a month in advance. I don’t mean the lesson plans I have to submit to please my administration, I mean my own plan of what I want my students to do and when I want them to do it. I try to give my students this schedule too, so they know what will be expected of them. This helps me not get buried in work because I can see when assignments are due and try to plan other things to give me time to assess. This also gives me a prep calendar so I know when I need to have instructional materials ready and where I am going to make them accessible (online, photocopies etc).

  2. Administrative Duties- These duties encompass the things we don’t necessarily want to do, but have to do, but they don’t directly affect us in the classroom with our students. Things like progress reports, entering grades, contacting parents, department obligations etc. These are the items that keep the school running, and often our completion of them allows someone else to do their job.

  3. Grade/Assess- It is so hard to put this last, because we end up ignoring stacks of student work that we have the impulse to grade before we do anything else. Grading is important, because it gives us a sense of where are students are in terms of progress and it allows us to plan things to support student weaknesses. But it has to be last. This means your students (like mine) may have to wait an extra week to get that essay back, but guess what? If it takes you an extra day to grade something, the world still goes on! If you are worried about student understanding, skim a sampling of 2-3 assignments as your measuring stick and move-on…remember planning first!

So how will I make this list work for me? On Monday mornings, in my planner, I do a brainstorm of everything I need to take care of during the week. This can also include appointments and family time. Then I label each item with a 1, 2 or 3 based on the above system. Next, I look at my schedule for each day, I fill in my classes and meetings since that is time that is already reserved. I fill in any appointments or plans I have in my personal life. Then, in my open time-slots, I start to fill in everything labeled with a “1,” throughout the week. I try not to do more than 2 planning things a day, because they are the most tiring. Next a I go through and schedule the “2’s.” Again, placing them in open time slots throughout the week. I end with scheduling my time to grade and assess. I schedule this time like an appointment I need to show up for so I am committed to using that time for grading.

As a I complete things, I put a check mark next to them. If they don’t get completed, I place a arrow to carry them over to another day and time.

The last few weeks I had stopped using this system and that is when work started to feel chaotic and unmanageable. The idea of work-life balance became non-existent, and for what? I was unable to grade at all this past week, and guess what…everything is okay. Sometimes the pressure we put on ourselves is far greater than the external pressure.

Moral of the story? You have to take care of yourself or you will be no good at taking care of others.

— Michelle is a High School and College English Teacher who is making the jump to become a “teacher-preneur.” Her blog is titled “Teach, Think, Talk” where she shares her experiments, tips and tricks in the classroom, along with some resources to help her fellow teachers reduce the burden of teaching. —

Hey, Sarah again! My biggest takeaway from Michelle’s story is to listen to your body’s needs. Even though we think we have to power through, that’s not always the best option in the long run.

How about you? Do you tend to take it easy, or try to power through?



One thought on “Knockout! How to Teach with a Concussion

  1. Oh my goodness, Michelle! What a nightmare. This happened to two of my dogs when I was in high school. I heard barking, growling, and yipping and ran downstairs to help my mom and fainted! I hope you and your dogs are okay.

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