Being a teacher means using your free time and money to do your job. I remember going all out with this: I worked 50-to-60-hour weeks (while getting paid for 40), putting in a solid chunk of my paycheck back into my class. I would stock up my room with plastic bugs for bug week, essentially hand my paycheck over to Kinkos to make cookbooks, and even start doing things like buying my own duct tape because the projects we were doing required more than the director wanted to give me.
But that eventually changed. Whether it was because I felt I was in a no-win situation, where I'd give my all for and to my classroom, only to be met with criticism, or it was just part and parcel of burnout in general, but I grew to resent this notion that a teacher needs to invest her own time and money. It got to the point that I couldn't even go to the Dollar Store, because I would see the super-cheap toys for sale and I would instantly be reminded of when I would buy these items by the metric ton for the classroom. I would hear a school director encourage her teachers to stay at school after hours to decorate their classroom for whatever event coming up -- perhaps even coming in on the weekends to decorate a little more -- and I would bite the insides of my cheeks. Every uncompensated minute, every dime from my meager paycheck going back into my job, was just another load of straw to be placed on the camel's back.
You can start seeing why it took me months before I was okay with doing any type of emotional or financial investing in any job ever again. I drained what I had, I drained my reserves, and still kept going, kicking myself for not having it figured out like some of the other teachers did. Like a NAEYC advisor once warned, if you boil all the water out of a pot and still keep the pot on the stove, you just burn the bottom of the pot, making it unusable in the future.
I've been chatting with the owner of the yoga studio I've been teaching tai chi at since the beginning of this year. It's been an interesting transition since the previous studio went out of business. I went from a solid 5 or 6 regulars to two. It's been a rollercoaster ride over the past few months. I've had influxes of people interested, only to drop completely from the radar. I send out countless emails to interested parties, only to have them go no where. Some days I have a whole group of people come in for class; other days I have no one. This Saturday is World Tai Chi Day, and the yoga studio owner suggested doing a free demo class to help drum up interest. I helped set up the listing on the website and scheduled a time in between three other things (because apparently this Saturday is a busy Saturday for me).
I've learned that investment -- of time, money, emotional bandwidth, etc -- only burns you out when you feel that there is no return on that investment. If you put in way more than you are compensated for, only to receive nothing in return -- if you invest and invest and are met with, "Yeah, and what else?" -- then you are essentially that pot of water, the water being boiled away without ever filling back up. It makes every single penny, every single second, excruciating, the same way every single second on that stove becomes torture for the pot.
It's the same reason I drive an hour to Boston just for a go-see, or spend so much free time writing things that might never result in any financial payout. That feeling of investing changes when you have faith on the return.