The Graduate

By Zainab Khawaja
Tue, 11, 21

Here are some of their suggestions...

The Graduate


You have just stepped out of college, a fresh and fiery graduate ready to make your mark on the world. All those sleepless nights, plethora of assignments, and endless sobbing have led you to success. Now, you cannot wait to get a job and astound everyone with your finesse and innovative ideas. And then finally, after numerous interviews and rejections, you get a job and dive into a new chapter of your life: adulting.

When I first got a job as a high school teacher, two conflicting emotions were brewing inside me, namely confidence and nervousness. I was confident because I knew I could transform my classroom into an exotic place where students from all over the world would feel safe and have their voices heard. I wanted to be the ‘cool’ English teacher who would make a difference in her students’ lives. But nervousness had an equal say in my mind. As someone who does not speak much and has her nose in a book all the time, would I really be able to make a difference or was it wishful thinking? Would I be able to craft lessons so engaging that students would not doze off? Even after all my courses and field experience, I felt like I did not know anything. Does that sound familiar?

Despite the anxiety, I was determined to give it my all. Reading stories that were culturally relevant to students and discussing different concepts in my humanities class brought me immense joy. Not only was I a teacher, I was also a learner. On the flip side, I was wearing myself out. Decorating my classroom with glossy posters, books and hand-made items was a lot of fun. But organising, creating attractive lessons and a comfortable atmosphere took long hours. After explanations and discussions, I would float around helping anyone who needed individual attention. My 25-minute break flew by and I would forget to eat, usually busy grading or lesson planning. The exhaustion had started to affect my work. I missed spending time with my loved ones. I missed cherishing sleep instead of dreading when the alarm would ring.

It was my family members and colleagues who advised me to take a deep breath, pause and reflect upon my mental and physical health. All of them have been working in their respective fields for years and their wise words led me to think about how I could change my situation. Here are some of their suggestions:

Accept the issue: A colleague once told me that when he first stepped into the world of education, he would work for about eighteen hours a day for years, fuelled by energy drinks and coffee. Long story short, he started to burn out and felt like he was going to become seriously ill. That is when he took a step back and evaluated himself.

Inhale and Exhale: Accept that you have been overworking and that something needs to be done. Yes, you are passionate about your work and you want to show your team what you are capable of. But if it has started to take a toll on your physical and mental health, you should start to think about where things are going wrong. Do you isolate yourself from your family and type away nonstop on your laptop? Do you feel anxious and unproductive even on your days off? The first step is to acknowledge the problem and then try to solve it.

Take time for reflection: After working for nine hours, you come home and the only thing that seems delightful to you is your bed. You want to sleep but there are a million things whirling in your mind. Stop. Sit. Relax. Make some time for reflection. Meditation, taking invigorating walks and reading are some examples. For me, the best form of self-reflection is journaling. I scribble everything that is going on in my mind: the good and the bad. Penning everything down will make you feel as if a huge burden has been lifted off your shoulders. It will not solve all your issues but it will calm down the annoying voice in your head telling you to work consistently.

Play is important: If you keep working at this speed, imagine what would happen fifteen years from now. You would probably have reached dizzying heights and money would not be an issue for you. But would your mind be at peace with the fact that you have no happy memories to look back on? During my first two months, I worked and overworked and did not make time for anything else. At that point, I had even started to dream about meetings and undone assignments. A veteran teacher told me to enjoy my work but also make time for the things I value. I reflected upon this and realised what I was missing out on. I no longer watched psychological thrillers on a Friday night. I no longer went out with my family and friends. If I did have some time off, all I wanted to do was stay in bed. But the teacher’s advice motivated me to take time to rejuvenate. I still give my profession my 100 per cent, but I have also learned to enjoy activities to take my mind off work.

Involve family: Is there a loved one who has a career path similar to yours? You could brainstorm together, share trailblazing ideas, and help each other out. For example, my mother is a seventh grade science teacher. After more than twenty years of exposure to the world of education, she always has witty advice preserved for me, while I have creative and new strategies that I learned during my field experience to share with her.

Being enthusiastic about your new job is natural and even pivotal. But it is important that your career does not start to overshadow the other aspects of your life. Graduate, give yourself a pat on the back! You have achieved a lot, and you will accomplish more. However, do not forget to nourish your soul as you take one step at a time.

The writer is a major in Secondary English Education and works as an English teacher at a high school in Indianapolis, USA.