What is “normal”? A hazy path of returning to a semblance of normalcy as a teacher

You can listen to the podcast version of this blog post here.

My hands gripped the bare rims of the toilet bowl, as nausea overtook me, rocking me back and forth. The beige tiles felt unnaturally cool under my bare feet.

A caged volcanic mess coursed through my esophagus and pushed through the tunnels of my throat. The foul stench of an hour old’s dinner of beef stir fry and thousand egg rice porridge filled the empty gleams of the white ceramic beneath me.

Was it the stress?

Was it the lack of sleep?

Was it morning sickness?

Was I burning out?

It was food poisoning.

I made a goal for myself to try to write and post on my blog and/or my podcast every one to two weeks, and I have been keeping up with the goal. Unofficially, I tried to be more ambitious by posting something every Friday. However, the last two weeks had been rough. For the first time in my short, almost-five-year teaching career, I took two sick days off in a row. Currently, I have taken a total of three sick days for this school year. I prided myself in only taking one official sick day off my first year of teaching, and one official sick day off my third year. I don’t remember if I every took a sick day during my second year.

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However, I have to ask myself, as I write this, is it healthy or “normal” to feel such pride for overworking myself? Looking at the past five years of sick day data, it seems like my sick days have grown “exponentially.” Is this a sign to slow down?

When I first stepped foot into the working world, I never thought of ever taking “sick days.” I told myself that I need to get “perfect attendance;” that if I took a sick day, students’ behavior would worsen when I came back; that my classroom would be in a mess; that there’s too much paperwork to fill out; that I would become behind in my lessons and students would waste time; that I would also be burdening other teachers to sub for me when there is already a shortage of substitutes.

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I don’t know if there are other professions out there that would feel so much anxiety in taking a “sick day.” Normally, taking a sick day is supposed to relieve anxiety, not create more of it.

I had only experienced such intense nausea once when I was traveling to China many years ago, but I had recovered in one night. So, I would say this was the worst I had ever felt in my life, physically. I eventually informed my mom, who is a registered nurse, about my nonstop nausea. It was the first time in about a year that I communicated with my mom back and forth multiple times throughout the day. Ever since I got married last June and moved out from my parents’ home, I hardly talked this much with my mom. As my nausea subsided the next day, I started dreaming that I was back home, living with my mom.

Is this normal?

I told myself that I need to get “perfect attendance;” that if I took a sick day, students’ behavior would worsen when I came back; that my classroom would be in a mess; that there’s too much paperwork to fill out; that I would become behind in my lessons and students would waste time; that I would also be burdening other teachers to sub for me when there is already a shortage of substitutes.

Though I know I did not recover fully, I was well enough to step back into the classroom to end the week on a Friday. When lunch rolled around, I planned on eating just crackers, but my mom delivered some soft, fluffy mini sponge cakes, barbeque pork buns, and Yocool Yogurt. This meal was a breath of fresh air from the monotony of cold homemade sandwiches and pre-packaged salads that I usually ate for lunch. In these quiet moments of recovery, I realized my mom knew more of what I needed that I did, and I yearned for my mom’s gentle love.

My stomach would feel strange and weak the whole time I was with my students. The day was full of tenuous tides of anxiety, calm, laughter, and a little bit of, normalcy.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

But really, what is “normal” as a public school teacher?

A couple months back, a staff member commented about how “school should be back to normal next year.”

I asked her, “What do you mean by “normal”?

“Oh you know, no more COVID procedures.”

I playfully said back, “But it never feels normal.”

Every year, there was always some big change that was going on: the bell schedules, adopting new curriculum, getting new students, losing old students, getting new teachers, losing old teachers, going through WASC accreditation, staring a Magnet program, etc.

So, I don’t really know if our school would ever be “normal.”

Is it really normal to always feel high stress as a teacher every day, every week, every month, every year?

Unfortunately, I do not have an answer to that.

C.S. Lewis once said in The Problem of Pain, “There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven; but more often I find myself wonder whether; in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else.”

Perhaps, I’m yearning for some ideal world where teaching will no longer be stressful, where everything is “normal,” where teachers and students can live and learn in stability and peace. Maybe what I’m yearning for is not really “normal.”


Thank you for stopping by Haunting Comforts, where I share teaching, faith, and life through stories, reflections, and analyses. Subscribe & follow me on Instagram for more updates!

6 thoughts on “What is “normal”? A hazy path of returning to a semblance of normalcy as a teacher

Add yours

  1. Just like how you commented on ‘privilege’ on one of my posts, so too am I going to comment on ‘normal’. Like you, I find it super interesting how different our definitions can be. And in terms of the pandemic and social protocols, I don’t really know what’s normal anymore. But I do wonder sometimes if we’re actually searching for heaven, or for the strength to go through any hell. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    1. Yes, what is normal?! Thatโ€™s an interesting way to put it, searching for heaven or finding the strength to go through any hell, almost like the half cup full cup analogy. Itโ€™s funny you mention searching for heaven since I ended with the quote from C.S. Lewis on the problem of pain ๐Ÿ˜€, where it does seem like people are searching for heaven amidst all the pain in this chaotic world.

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