On April 21, 2020 at 7:54 PM Alexander Westenbroek <shmalex2423@kidmail.com> wrote:

Hey Mr. Alex,

I just wanted to send a quick note to ask for some help. I’m really struggling over here. If you had asked me a month ago if I’d like to just stay in my house and never leave or have to talk to anyone, I would have been like, great. I’m an introvert. That sounds dandy. 

But I can’t handle the lack of structure. And I’m finding out I’m not as introverted as I thought I was. Like. I miss giving my friend a high-five. How ridiculous is that? I miss seeing my students’ faces. 

I think the hardest part of all of this for me is that I feel a total loss of control. I didn’t choose this or want this. I chose a profession where I get to see and interact with people on a daily basis. I didn’t choose a cubicle life, and I’m realizing it was for a reason.

And I feel utterly overwhelmed by having to put together a schedule and structure my whole day without anyone telling me how to do it or where to start. Can someone just explain to me, in small steps, what to do and in what order to do it in?

I feel like I need a teacher. Someone to just guide me through the work bit by bit and keep reminding me that I’m doing a good job. It’s crazy I’m supposed to be the one teaching.

How can I claim to help anyone if I can barely help myself?

Thank you for all that you do,

Al Pal


On April 22, 2020 at 9:32 AM Alexander Westenbroek <mr.alex.w@teachermail.org> wrote:


Thank you for reaching out. 

Your senses never lie. If this feels hard, then it’s hard. It is for all of us. 

My advice is this: help yourself first. 

I’m brought back to your subject line, where you mentioned a “forced choice.” It’s a strategy we use on first graders, sure, but it works on everyone. You might say, “I need to put real clothes on, not just sweatpants.” Try this instead: “do you want to wear the blue cardigan or the green cardigan today?” 

“Do you want to eat salad or curry for lunch?”

“Do you want to take a shower in the morning or afternoon?”

“Do you want to answer emails first or write treatment notes first?”

“Do you want to listen to The Mountain Goats or Rage Against the Machine?”

Give yourself the choice. It’s a trick (we both know this), but it’s a good trick. We can buy in to the feeling of having at least some control over our worlds. And this is critical. 

You have no real control of what happens outside with this virus. The control is inside. In your mind. In your daily choices. You can choose to log on every day or to lie in bed until they fire you. You can choose to help your kids a little or not to help at all. 

Keep your thoughts fixed on the choices that remain for yourself. There’s power in that. 

We say that we must hold the needs of our students paramount. But we must also hold the needs of our own bodies and psyches paramount. I can hold both of these ideas in my head.

You may find that the best teacher you have right now is yourself. Break it down for yourself. Set boundaries for yourself. Show yourself the same level of compassion that you show for your students. 

Talk to yourself. Listen to your body. You are a teacher for many; you may also be a teacher for you. 

This isn’t a proclamation that you need to bootstrap yourself into happiness. It’s an urge to take care of yourself. 

In partnership,

Mr. Alex

1 Comment

  1. Kyric Koning

    We can only give what we have, so yes, it is important to help yourself. A lesson we all so often forget.

    Stay well.


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