What a diagnosis of mono taught me

In my 17th year of teaching, I was diagnosed with mononucleosis.  Yes, an adult can actually get mono.  Who knew?  I was exhausted, moody, and thought something may be seriously wrong with me. The positive blood test for mono was a surprise, but in hindsight it should have been obvious.

I worked every day through the fatigue, but after relapsing two months after the diagnosis, something occurred to me.  With my knowledge, albeit limited, of Latin roots I remembered that mono, the shortened name for mononucleosis, means one, single, alone.

This caused some reflection. I think of myself as a one-man show. I don’t like to rely on others. Instead of asking for help, I would rather just do it myself. I’m a ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ and get on with it kind of girl. It is my fatal flaw.

I think this might have something to do with why I got sick. Yes, I know medically speaking that mononucleosis comes from the Epstein-Barr virus.  I also know that several kids at our school were diagnosed with mono; I try not to picture the floating particle of saliva that must have landed on me at some point.  Nevertheless, I think I was susceptible to the illness because I have a ‘mono’ temperament.

Teacher leaders are largely susceptible to this ‘mono’ point of view.  We take on more work, more sections, more tutoring, more committees. But why? Do we do it because no one else will or because we think that no one else can do the necessary work the way we would have it done?

As someone recovering from mono (in both senses of the word), here is my prescription:

Say NO

Just say No! Well, Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No!” campaign during the 1980’s war on drugs may have been overly simplistic, but it is sometimes applicable for teacher leaders.  We can’t say no in many cases. I would love to say no to anything that does not directly add value to my classroom instruction or classroom culture: proctoring state exams, participating in professional development that is not applicable to my subject or my students, and filling up my Teacher Performance Evaluation Documentation binder. However, these are the things that we are required to do in order to be compliant, responsible members of our faculty. Nevertheless, there are times when we can say no.

Just because you are required to serve on a committee this does not mean that you have to be the chairman.  Offer to assist or support another teacher in a leadership role within the school committee structure; always having to be the teacher leader out in front is not a sustainable role.  Learn to delegate within your leadership roles and departments. Loosen the grips of control.


Just say no and yes? Paradoxical? Maybe. The truth? You bet. People who value and support you will often offer to help you in various ways.  This offer may come from someone at work or at home.  It could be small gestures such as offering to watch your class so you can make a phone call to a parent, making copies for you, or washing the dishes at home so you can have twenty extra minutes to yourself.  Don’t shrug a voluntary wing-man off. Don’t dismiss the opportunity to have something taken off your plate or the opportunity to collaborate.  Accept their help and be thankful.

Have a work wife

I’m fortunate to have several work wives; in this case professional polygamy has real benefits. I have a great team of colleagues in my ELA department that I can rely on to help me out whenever I need it. Whenever one of us is unexpectedly absent, we can rest assured that things will be taken care of at work. They are colleagues who I vent to–and that vulnerability strengthens our professional relationships.  They understand my day-to-day existence in the classroom. As a bonus, they are fun to hang out with outside of work too.  They make me a better teacher.  I have not always had this in my professional life, and I am so grateful.

The virus that causes mononucleosis actually remains dormant in your system for the rest of your life. I believe the ‘mono’ temperament still remains rooted in all of us who try to do everything ourselves, but we can combat the symptoms by taking the first step towards recovery.

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