The great perk of our job is that we have a redirection and refueling over the summer. We begin the new school year empowered, ready to start a new year, and feeling another year’s growth as a teacher. As the weeks pass, you can see each teacher on campus begin to feel the overwhelming pressure of accomplishing a year’s progress for each student and it begins weighing them down. Slowly, their daily tasks can no longer be completed daily and are being put on a never ending to-do list . Teachers feel the overwhelming pressure of grades and start to juggle responsibility balls (RTI, conferences, professional developments, testing, etc). Lately, I have been slammed with articles magically appearing for me to read about the frustrations of teachers after those first few months of school. As a new coach several principals had told me I would see it in October. October came and went with very little push back – I wondered if they were ALL wrong. But then November hit. Teachers began expressing frustrations, sharing tears in my office, and the absentee list began to grow. All I could think about was how do we reverse the “give up” feeling to get back on track? It is different for each one of us, but I hope in some small way I can spark your thinking with some humble suggestions.
I read a great book several years ago, suggested by my school librarian and Dave Ramsey titled Boundaries. I suggest each and every one of you read it. From that book I began looking at my lifestyle and reflecting on my own boundaries. Probably the most powerful change I made from reading that book was to draw a line in the sand about my work hours. At my school at that time we had an after school YMCA program which supervised children for working parents. The “Y” required that all students were picked up by 6:30 pm. One evening while walking out of the building well after 7:30pm and thinking about my current read, “Boundaries”, something struck me. If my students had to leave school by 6:30 pm because of the restrictions of the “Y”, maybe that rule should apply to me. And a boundary was formed that I still uphold, for the most part, today. I gave myself permission to create a stopping point. No matter how much work I had, I was leaving by 6:30 pm. I no longer felt guilty, I seemed to prioritize my to-do list, and for the first time in my teaching career I began letting go of “things” that were not related to the direct instruction of my students. Decide a time when you will go home to your family or friends no matter how much work you have. This will create some balance in your life.
The “letting go” part was very hard. How do we decide what can be “let go”? I began self reflecting and documenting my time at the end of every day. I would ask myself – What did you do today that directly affected the learning of students? Anything on that list that did not answer that question, I began to abandon. An example of this would be “craft” like projects. Although I loved these activities, I realized that they were for my parents and not my students. I had to change my mentality that parent popularity did not mean I was a good teacher. My new goal was 100% centered on student feedback. If I saw growth with my students as readers and writers then I knew my time was well spent. I suggest that you keep an hour by hour log of what you do during your day and carefully think about your students and their progress. Better yet, have discussions with your students on what activities you are doing in the classroom that provide them with what they feel is their best learning. Then take all of that information and make some hard decisions on what is most important. What is helping your students grow academically in the best possible way? This will make the “letting go” easy.
My last suggestion is attitude. I know that sounds over simplified and I don’t mean it to be that way. However, every single day we have two choices – we can rejoice or we can complain. Each of us needs to find something in our life that brings us joy. The influences in our life that make us complain need to be weeded out or we need to go down a different path. Not everyone is meant to be a teacher, just like we are not all meant to be engineers. My heart breaks when anyone begins to question their ability to be a teacher. I want to hug them and magically make their fears and doubts go away. However, I also have to realize that we all have to select our path to happiness. So this last piece of advice is decide what your path to happiness will be. I never remember “hating” teaching. I remember some resentful feelings about working late into the night/early morning. I remember being frustrated because all of my hard work was negated by the next grade level – or so it seemed and looked that way. I remember feeling like I spent more money on my students then I ever did on myself. But I never hated my job. For each frustration I had in the classroom, I searched for a solution. That solution might have been a form to organize data or a book to read about leveling my library. I spoke with my administration for suggestions and other teachers I admired. I collaborated with my coach. I looked to books and videos. Most importantly, I listened to others celebrate what was going on in their classrooms. Those solutions provided me with an empowering feeling and pride in my work. That pride gave me a great attitude. For every step back, I took two forward. Think about what makes you happy or unhappy as a teacher. Celebrate that happy list and brainstorm ways to wash away the stumbling blocks.
There are lots of other solutions, but we each have to find our own. My solution for a positive attitude came through several realizations. I love children. I love collaborating. I love data – yeah I said it. I love professional development. But most of all I love the outcome. The fact that each child that walks down our hallways has the potential to find their greatness overwhelms me with happiness. The work we do is hard. It just is. Take some time for yourself, your family, and your friends and then celebrate the love of teaching on Monday morning.
MAKE IT A READING AND WRITING –TASTIC WEEK!