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Reflections on teaching and concussions

By an anonymous teacher

Last fall, an unexpected incident changed my school year dramatically. Up until that point, I was being creative in my classroom, planning workshops, coaching school volleyball, and facilitating at union events. After the incident, I struggled to maintain the life I previously had.


One night, at an ordinary volleyball practice, I was sitting in a chair next to the bench and leaned over to pick up a tracking sheet for our next set. As I did that, the volleyball flew toward the bench. Because I was bent down, I didn’t see it, and I don’t remember if anyone called out a warning. A student dove to get the ball and keep it in play and, unfortunately, my head was in the way. He hit me full force with his body, rolled off me, and returned to the game immediately. I don’t think he realized what had happened until later on.


I knew immediately something was wrong. I vaguely remember getting up, handing my folder of papers over to the team’s co-sponsor, mumbling something about going home, and stumbling my way back to my classroom. I was nauseated the whole way home. By the time I walked in my front door, I was sure I was concussed. The rest of the night is a bit of a blur, but I do know I texted my principal a brief explanation of what had happened and managed to send in a nightmare of a lesson plan for the next day.

I love my job and my students, but teaching with a brain injury is more challenging than I was prepared for.

I saw a well-intentioned nurse practitioner the next day who did not understand the realities of teaching. She agreed that I had a concussion and completed the WorkSafe BC documentation. Her recommendation was to rest over the weekend, work half-days on Monday and Tuesday, then return to work full time on Wednesday. In actuality, it took months to even attempt teaching a full week.


Through WorkSafe BC, I have had access to physiotherapy, occupational therapy, massage therapy, and resilience counselling. It’s now been almost seven months since the event and I’m still struggling.


It’s tough to have a brain injury because no one can see it. I felt like I constantly had to justify myself when I had to do parent-teacher conferences with earplugs and sunglasses on. I feel guilty leaving assemblies early because I’m overwhelmed. I’ve taken so many Friday sick days that I’m worried about getting accused of taking long weekends, even though the reality is that I am so exhausted by the end of the week I can’t think when Friday comes around.


The worst part is my own expectations of myself. My house is a mess because I have nothing left in the tank to complete basic household chores after work. My relationships have suffered because I don’t have the mental capacity to keep up with friends and family every week. Trying not to blame myself for being unable to maintain the life I used to have is a daily struggle.


I’ve been lucky in many ways. My administration has been incredibly supportive throughout this process, knowing that recovering from a concussion is not linear, nor are the effects easy to deal with. There are so many reasons concussions suck, but being a teacher with a concussion can feel like an impossible task. Schools are not designed for brain injuries: the fluorescent lights, high volume of noise, constant stimuli, computer screens, and social-emotional demands of teaching are not easy to navigate.

While this has really challenged me, it’s created new avenues for activism and awareness on my part.  

Before the concussion, I had a long history of depression and anxiety. I was doing really well after several years of medication and was discussing lowering my dose. I felt confident about my ability to maintain my mental health at that point. Now, that confidence has gone out the window. The concussion has disrupted every aspect of my life. I experience misplaced anxiety and have been dealing with depressive thoughts. I don’t find as much joy in activities I used to love. And many of the things I was involved in, like my local executive and a BCTF committee, became afterthoughts that exhausted me to no end.


Balancing my health and work has been so challenging that I’m now left looking into short-term disability options. I love my job and my students, but teaching with a brain injury is more challenging than I was prepared for.


I know I’m not the only one dealing with this, and I hope as education continues around concussions and concussion management, we come up with better ways to support teachers in return-to-work plans and in making our classrooms more accessible for all. I knew there were issues in the system prior to this injury, but I am all the more aware of deficits in our buildings and environments because of this experience.


While this has really challenged me, it’s created new avenues for activism and awareness on my part. It’s also allowed me to better empathize with students who experience brain injuries, and that’s made a huge difference in how I teach. With empathy comes understanding and grace. Now, I’m working on giving myself that same grace. Our role as teachers places so much focus on students’ and families’ well-being that it’s easy to forget that we too deserve time and space to heal, learn, and adapt.


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