Teaching Transformations Podcast Episode 14: Dealing with Loneliness and Isolation

Teaching Transformations

Dealing with Loneliness and Isolation

How do you respond to solitude? Today, the boys discuss the importance of interactions in the workplace and the differences between joining communities in person and online with technology like Zoom. 

The Teaching Transformations Podcast. Join Tim Desmond Ryan Wooley as they help teachers in their late forties or fifties to design a post-academic life.

Seize the Day!


Tim  0:01  

Welcome to Teaching Transformations: Designing Your Post-Career Life with Tim Desmond and Ryan Wooley.

Ryan  0:12  

You look energized today.

Tim  0:15  

It’s new lighting.

Ryan  0:16  

Is it?

Tim  0:17  

I’m upgrading my video, so I got a new camcorder I’m using as a webcam, I’ve got new lighting. I’m not quite done with it yet, but I’m trying to up my game and video.

Ryan  0:29  

You know people from this podcast can’t see, right?

Tim  0:34  

Well, I had a session right before this one, and I have one right after this one, so I gotta leave the whole rig up.

Ryan  0:40  

Oh, okay.

Tim  0:43  

I just want to be pretty for you, man.

Ryan  0:44  

I figured. I appreciate that. You do always look kind of relaxed and energized, and it’s a bit of a contrast. I was thinking about it. I was in a meeting yesterday morning with a group of teachers, and man, they all just looked haggard. I mean, no offense, but like, I just think it’s late in the year. It’s been a really rough year, people are burned out, and the bags under people’s eyes were so obvious.

Tim  1:21  

Yeah. How does it compare? I know April and May are tough to get through especially at the high school level where you have kids who are halfway out the door and not focused, but how does this compare to other years?

Ryan  1:39  

It’s been a rough one. I think people really feel burned out because a normal year is hard to keep up with during the school year, but with COVID and all the remote and hybrid learning scenarios and all the extra little tasks that people have to do… In our lower school, they’re doing lunches in the classrooms, so the teachers are having to set up partitions, sanitize everything before and after, you know, it’s a whole nother thing that’s happening in their classrooms that they have to keep managing every day, and yeah, people are tired for sure.

Tim  2:25  

Yeah. I think too, the summer wasn’t very restful. This is all a carryover from last academic year, so it’s sort of a double whammy. I am hoping a lot of teachers, for their own benefit, get some time away this summer because I’m hearing that not just from you, but I’m hearing that in other places that teachers are just really tired at this point.

Ryan  2:52  

Yeah. Well, you shared that article with me, that NPR article that was just posted recently, I think, that describes the burnout that people are feeling this year and the need to nurture and take care of themselves. The line that stuck out to me as being funny was that teachers are seeing self care as like one more thing they have to do. It makes them even more stressed.

Tim  3:25  


Ryan  3:26  

I mean, it’s not funny, but it’s like, wow, I’ve seen that.

Tim  3:32  

Yep. It’s no surprise, either. It might be a surprise to our listeners who are not in education, but teaching usually ranks right behind nursing as one of the most stressful, low paying, relatively speaking occupations, like it is incredibly demanding, emotional work without the compensation that should go along with it. Typically, nurses are at the top, and teachers are usually right behind them.

Ryan  4:02  

Yeah, and the compensation piece we’ve talked about, I don’t think that’s a big motivator for people, but it has an impact on certain things. Many of us don’t have the income to hire house cleaners, and other folks to sort of help us get through our day. We have all that stuff. After we’re done with our days, usually we’re catching up on the weekends, you know, getting our houses in order and all that which everybody has to do. I mean, that’s not unique to teachers, but I do think there’s a place where that income makes a difference. We’ve talked about, like, I do a lot more car work than I probably really want to, but it saves me a few bucks.

Tim  5:02  

Can’t you just wait until summer because you have summers off? Teachers love hearing that one, don’t they?

Ryan  5:10  

Yep, yeah.

Tim  5:13  

It’s a total myth by the way. That’s sort of the inside joke. I remember one time, this was very early on in my teaching career, one of my family members made that comment to me. Something about well, what do you care, you have summers off. I remember I went and I broke down how much it costs and what the cost structure was based on hours and how many hours I was spending, and then I took it back to the family member. I’m like, okay, so if you want me to take care of your kid, here’s what it would cost you, and it was some ridiculous figure, like $130,000 a year or something. The whole idea of having summers off is kind of funny too because your typical teacher doesn’t work an eight-hour day. They’re probably working a ten or eleven or twelve-hour plus day for nine months or ten months of the year. We know that, but it’s good to remind or inform people who might not be in the profession.

Ryan  6:14  

Yeah. That article got me thinking about all the layers that have been added over the years of new things to be responsible for, you know, even just the trainings. When we catalog our yearly trainings, I mean, we now have got to be in the double digits. I’m talking about like yearly blood borne pathogen training, child abuse, recognition, training, harassment recognition, active shooter drills, technology security training, all of that stuff. Pedagogy keeps evolving, too. I think people who are really trying to keep up with their teaching game are, you know, there’s new tools coming out all the time. People are trying to build toward personalized learning, blended learning, mastery learning. In public settings, just in terms of addressing standards, it’s a lot. I give people credit in the profession. I still think it’s a really noble profession. I appreciate the level of workload that a lot of my colleagues are carrying.

Tim  7:34  

It’s not easy.

Ryan  7:35  

Yeah. I want to pivot a little bit, still kind of on this topic of self care, but I want to get into talking about people who find some sort of transition to the next stage again, whether that’s conventional or more accelerated. One thing I’ve noticed, you know, I’ve been in the profession long enough to see a lot of my good friends and colleagues retire, and first of all, I have to just admit up front, I’m not the best at keeping in touch even with people that I really respect and really feel a friendship with. It’s just not something I’m good at, so I find myself thinking about them and wondering how they’re doing, wondering how connected they feel, but I gotta imagine that that has to be something that’s hard. Not hard, but just to stay connected because I think about the communities that we have in academia. That’s one of the big benefits. I mean, we have great communities that we’re part of, and a lot of us don’t take that for granted, but when we transition away from the daily connection to those communities, I imagine that could be lonely, it could be isolating. Given your transition, even though it was a-conventional and a little more accelerated, did you experience that kind of stuff? If so, what did you do about it?

Tim  9:24  

Yeah, I’m still dealing with it. I think I always will be. I’m coming up on four years now of being retired from teaching, and I’ve certainly built a community and joined communities in this publishing industry that I’ve been in, but even before the pandemic, that developed through online relationships. Now, some of those spilled over into real life, and we talked about Authors on a Train and how I’ve done writing retreats and events and have met some of my friends in real life, but it started remotely, and those remote communities are not the same. They’re better in some ways, but in some ways they’re lacking. The other element to this that’s kind of tricky, and this might be different for people who are not teachers, although I could see this happening in the medical field or nonprofits, but when you are working in a school, you are tightly bonded to other people in the best interests of someone other than yourself. You are there to create quality children. It’s not a mission statement, it’s a mission, right, and that’s different, and you get really tight with those people because you really believe in what you’re doing. It’s extremely important, and it’s beyond your own scope of importance. Because of that, I feel like teachers especially develop very tight relationships. However, once you remove the mission, I feel like the relationships don’t always hold up. At least for me, they don’t hold up very often. I have past colleagues who I email occasionally, that’s about it. Now, to be fair, I have colleagues I worked with in Tennessee and New Jersey and New York, and I live in Ohio, so I’m not in the local community. But even here, four years out in greater Cleveland, you’re really the only person that I routinely talk to from the school. I think it’s because I’m now one level removed from that mission. It’s not a conscious thing, I wasn’t ostracized or banished, I just simply don’t have the alignment that I did. That’s hard because there’s an emotional component to that. That’s challenging because my kids don’t understand that and my wife doesn’t understand it. I mean, they know I’m removed, but they’re not teachers, they weren’t in that situation, so they don’t know what that feels like. Then you add on to that that my kids are teenagers, they’re doing their own thing, my wife has a job, she’s doing her own thing. It’s not like I’m retired and now I’m spending all my time with my family, like they have their lives, so it’s been tough. I can’t really say, oh, I’ve got this lichter, all you do is this. Whenever you transition out of a career, that’s a reality you’re gonna have to face as it goes for everybody.

Ryan  12:54  

Yeah. Well, you are self-proclaimed introvert, as am I, and it may impact introverts differently than extroverts, but I think regardless of where we are on that spectrum, we’re just used to the constant connections that are all around you that you don’t even have to work on, they’re just there every day. When that goes away or when you step away from that, do you need to fill that in? I’m convinced that you hear people say things like you always want what you don’t have, the grass is always greener, right? I think that’s somewhat true. It’s really a reflection of our need for balance. If you’re dealing with kids and people stuff all day long, even if you enjoy it and are good at it, you’re bound to sort of feel like you need some space away, right? But when you have lots of space away and you don’t have a lot of that daily interaction with several groups of people, then you probably want more of that. I don’t know if this is me just speculating, but I certainly would seek that kind of balance. I think the word I was searching for was solitude. I don’t get much solitude right now, and there are times when I wish I could sit or lay somewhere and think my own thoughts and not be bothered for a while, but I know if I had a ton of that, it would drive me crazy. I don’t know how you intentionally attend to that, and some things are out of your control. Some things go with the environment that you’ve chosen, and if you’re working out of your home, that’s just gonna come at you one way, right?

Tim  15:19  

Yeah. I felt like I was getting better at it before the pandemic hit. I felt like I was starting to get a handle on ways that I could strike that balance because I’m like you. I am an introvert, I recharge from time alone. It doesn’t mean I hate people or I’m shy, it just means I need time away from people to recharge, but it doesn’t mean I don’t like people. I get by design, I have as much solitude as I want, and that’s good to a degree. Let’s say I carve out three days to work on a writing project. Those three days are pretty much me in this room by myself working on a computer, like I really love that, I love being able to dig into that. By the end of the third day, I’m sort of craving some interaction, and I can’t even imagine what that must be like for an extrovert or someone who recharges by being around people. That’s going to be a challenge. Before the pandemic, I was building into my schedule coffees with friends. I have several author friends who live in or near Cleveland, so every couple weeks I’d meet up for coffee or meet somebody for lunch, and up until the pandemic started, I felt like I was really getting a handle on that sense of balance. Then, everything for everyone kind of went off the rails over the past year, and I’m starting to rebuild that, but it’s not the same. I think a lot of it I took for granted, and I’ll bet a lot of teachers do as well. You don’t have to create that connection when you’re a teacher, and it’s not even just your friends, it’s the whole environment, it’s the administrative assistant who sits at the front desk. Seeing that person every day is a social connection everyone takes for granted, or the custodian who cleans up the hall or the chef at lunch. It’s all of that for everybody, and when you are self employed, you don’t have any of that. You have to create all of it, and you’re not in a place where everyone is in that same position. You don’t have a centralized life, you’re sort of compartmentalizing different aspects of it, and it takes a lot of work. I’m not complaining by any means, but as people transition to retirement, whether that’s conventional retirement or a third act or a second act or whatever you want to call it, that is a component that must be addressed, because it is a reality for everybody.

Ryan  18:04  

So, you have sought out local people who are plugged into some of the same interests and professional pursuits, right?

Tim  18:15  

Yeah, and hobbies, too. Again, this kind of took a backburner for the pandemic, but since I’ve moved to Cleveland, I’ve been in two bands, and I’m not very active right now, but even having band practice once a week, that’s a great way of getting the social connection that I needed. It could be related to professional work or it could be hobbies or just pure friendships, too.

Ryan  18:41  

Yeah. I know you said they’re not the same, but I would imagine your online communities help some as well.

Tim  18:51  

They totally do. They’re a really important part of my life, and a lot of my best friends right now are people who I interact with predominantly online. I have met a lot of them in real life, but one of my best friends lives in Bath in England, I have another good friend who lives in Costa Rica, Zach lives in Nashville. These are not people I’m just gonna pop in and have a coffee with, so I think that’s something that requires a little extra work, too. You can have these online communities, and you can make them what you want them to be, and I think you can invest in as much or as little as you want, and you’re going to get that kind of return from them.

Ryan  19:44  

Well, I’m wondering about, you know, we’re connected right here. We joked at the beginning, we’re seeing each other’s faces as we’re having this conversation, and that’s important. We communicate with our faces as much as through what we say, so I think it’s helpful to see people’s eyes to see the body language. Just thinking about the culture of Zoom that has been established during this pandemic, I think video chat is obviously something the majority of the world had to become comfortable with over the past year, and I wonder if that’s gonna carry forward and become a way to have a little bit stronger personal connections like we have right here.

Tim  20:40  

Yeah, absolutely. It’s anecdotal. You’re talking to one guy, but I can tell you that the difference in just people’s willingness to video chat is completely different than it was pre-pandemic. Now, when I book guests, for the Writers, Ink. podcast, there’s never any question. It used to be, okay, well, how do you guys do this? And I would say, there’s the Zoom, I’ll send you a link. I don’t have to do any of that anymore. I just say, okay, here’s the Zoom link, and people know. That’s really strange because Skype has been around for a long time yet it took the pandemic and Zoom to make it video chat ubiquitous. Even though we’re not using Zoom to do this, it’s that sort of idea. The other thing, too, that I think I’ve noticed in the past year or so of doing interviews is just how important that video is. For the Writers, Ink., we don’t post the video anywhere, but I tell everyone I interview, please have your webcam on. It makes all the difference. I can’t control that, and there are some guests who don’t. It’s so much harder for me to conduct the interview when I can’t see the person’s face. It’s tremendously difficult, and I think it’s why once the technology surpassed what was available on the telephone, the people stopped using it. Making phone calls is not what it used to be, and part of that is because the culture has sort of evolved in its communication methods. Part of that has been the ease of use of video chat and the differences we’re talking about. For me, like picking up a phone now, I will avoid that at all costs.

Ryan  22:36  

Yeah, I have always avoided that at all costs. I hate being on the phone. It’s funny, I see it when we meet with our head of school. We have a weekly meeting as a group with him in, and we talk strategy, and we talk about what’s going on. A lot of times, he flows ideas past us, and he wants to get a reaction, and you can see him looking around the boxes, you know, it’s kind of like the Brady Bunch type of thing, but he’s really watching to see, do you agree? What are you thinking? So when people have their video turned off, it just cuts that off. He’s basically expressed that he really wants us to have it on unless we need to have it off, and I totally get that.

Tim  23:25  

Yeah, it completely makes a difference. There’s no question about it.

Ryan  23:32  

So, aside from using tech, how can we help our listeners start to think about ways that they can be proactive and intentional even if it’s far out on the horizon? What kinds of communities can they start to build as a bridge that will be an important part of their post-career life?

Tim  23:59  

I’ve been thinking about this. I’m not a fan of giving advice. I just like to share what my experience has been, and I think what worked for me, and again, I have to get better at it, but right now, when retirement seems like it’s close but it’s not right in your face, or you’re thinking like, I’ve got to get this unit plan done. Now, I’m not thinking about retirement, like it’s not even on my radar. Now is the time to start exploring communities that are passion-based or are connected to hobbies that you have or interests that you share with other people. I don’t think you necessarily need to go into LinkedIn and find other groups of teachers and do teacher talk. It wouldn’t be what I would do. If I were in the trenches right now and teaching, I would start looking for what do I like to do? Is it music or art or dance or photography or gardening? Whatever it happens to be. I would start maybe looking for those online communities. I don’t know what it’s like in your community. I think the County Library System is pretty good about offering workshops and classes whether it’s Community College, local high schools, libraries, or library annexes, but those are great opportunities to start to build relationships with people who are outside of your workplace but aren’t necessarily tied to any sort of monetary gain. There’s no pressure involved there. You can certainly get involved in a professional community if you know that’s where you want to go. If you know you want to be writing in retirement, then getting involved in a writer community now is certainly a good idea, but I would take the pressure off and just say, what are the hobbies? What are the interests? And start dabbling there.

Ryan  26:06  

Well, it might take a while to find the right community because there are a lot out there, and you just don’t know necessarily what’s going to fit you well. I think that’s partly what we’re trying to help people see is that this could take a while. You can really work on this over time and start long before you get to that cliff, right?

Tim  26:32  

Yeah, and your interests change. Maybe three or four years from now you’ll be in a different group based on what you’re into at that time, and that’s all right.

Ryan  26:43  

If you were to start your own community, how do you do that?

Tim  26:51  

Oh, that’s a good question.

Ryan  26:52  

Maybe that’s a whole different episode,

Tim  26:54  

It might be because it’s sort of like a level two. You have to have a certain organizational skill set, I think is the best way I can put it, like you have to be able to be a good project manager and also a good people manager because if you start a community, just by default, people are going to look to you as the leader of it, and that carries some responsibilities. Some of that can feel like work depending on how you’re doing it. It might be worth leaving that as a phase two because you’re also going to learn how communities are run by being in them, so it might be better if you’re sort of staging the process to get into a group and see how other people run it and take some mental notes. What do you like? What’s challenging? What are they doing? Where are the gaps? When you decide to start a community, then you’ll be a little better informed about what to avoid or what you need to do.

Ryan  28:01  

Yeah, that makes sense. I think I look forward to when I have more time in my life, reconnecting in higher ed a little bit. I worked in higher ed for ten years before coming back to K 12, and I’ve always loved the feel of it. I met a lot of people during my time at higher ed who were taking classes. A lot of universities offer classes for free to people of a certain age, so I think that’s a benefit people can pursue, but there’s also just a lot of activities around. Actually, not even just higher ed, in K 12. Plays, Speaker Series, we have all those things here, too, but when I think about some of the amazing speakers that we had on our campus when I worked at a university, it was all free, and all I had to do was show up, but I would have paid good money to go see a lot of those speakers. A lot of that kind of stuff happens, so I think there’s a lot of opportunity there as well.

Tim  29:20  

Yeah, definitely, and a lot of those, like you said, are open to the general public, too. If you’re a lifelong learner, those are the kinds of things that you really enjoy, and communities can be built around that. I mean, there are some very passionate people in certain disciplines that would love to sit around a table and talk about it once a week over a cup of coffee or some tea or something.

Ryan  29:45  

Yeah, I think academics are comfortable and academic environments.

Tim  29:50  

Yes, for sure.

Tim  29:52  

Thanks for listening. Go to teachingtransformations.com and get instant access to Transformations, the free weekly email with the best personally curated resources to help those in their late 40s or 50s to design a post-career life.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai


‘We Need To Be Nurtured, Too’: Many Teachers Say They’re Reaching A Breaking Point – https://www.npr.org/2021/04/19/988211478/we-need-to-be-nurtured-too-many-teachers-say-theyre-reaching-a-breaking-point 

Transformations – The free weekly email with the best personally curated resources to help teachers in their late forties or fifties to design a post-academic life. – https://teachingtransformations.com/ 

Teaching Transformations Podcast – https://teachingtransformations.com/podcast/ 

Intro and outro music by Penthouses. “Come to Ohio” from The Weatherman album available on most music platforms.

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