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Back to School Ideas: Begin the Year with the Right Frame of Mind

Meghan Mathis


Experts who study why some people survive traumatic events like a plane crash or being lost in the woods for an extended period of time report that often the people who seem most likely to walk away from the event don’t, while those individuals who do not seem to have the needed survival skills (i.e. young children, people with no survival training, etc.) are the ones who are found alive.

After research, they’ve discovered that more than any other trait or quality, a survivor’s mindset, seems to be the most essential quality each person possessed. Survivors do not give up, they do not lose hope. Survivors accept setbacks and continue to move ahead, all while knowing in their hearts that they will make it through their current situation alive.

Why am I bringing this up in an article about facing a new school year and formulating back to school ideas?  I certainly don’t plan on getting lost in the woods or stuck in an avalanche anytime in the near future and I hope you don’t either!

But I think we both know we are going to be going through some traumatic, stressful, and challenging situations this school year. These situations that will beat us down and burn us out if we don’t face them with the right mindset. New students with unique challenges, over-involved or under-involved parents, Common Core, school safety, state testing, limited budgets, creating innovative back to school ideas and more are all sure to weigh us down as we try to instill a love of learning in another class of young learners.

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So what can we do to ensure that our mindsets remain positive and able to survive the negative aspects of our jobs so that we can focus on the parts of being a teacher that we love?

Many survivors report that they had something: A thought or a phrase that they repeated to themselves, over and over again throughout their ordeal. I will get out of here, I will get out of here. Or, This is not the last chapter in my book. Or even, I’ve never seen St. Lucia, I’ve never seen St. Lucia.

They repeat something simple and focused that kept them from just lying down and giving up.  With that in mind, below are some thoughts for you to keep in mind during the difficult times we all know we’re going to encounter this year. As you read through them, notice that they are all positive, motivating and inspirational. These are mantras that are just as useful when your teaching day is going well as when it isn’t. When you’re having a wonderful day, state your mantra to yourself proudly and celebrate your moment.

As teachers, we often have to be our own cheerleaders, so promise yourself that this year, you’ll pat yourself on the back when the moments occur. When you’re having a less-than-wonderful day, take a breath and repeat your mantra. Remind yourself why you love teaching and how these bumps are just that: Bumps on the long road of your journey as an excellent and inspired educator.

It doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. This is a great one for those perfectionist teachers out there, but it’s a wonderful message for all of us. Our students don’t need us to be perfect – they need us to be there for them. They need us to try, to care, and to be willing to show them that we’re not going to give up on them. When something doesn’t turn out the way you thought it would this year, remember this one.

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires” – William Arthur Ward. It’s always a good idea to include time in our day to reflect on what we are doing in our lessons. Are we demonstrating or just telling? Do our lessons include moments of inspiration, or are we just trying to get through the required material? It isn’t a mantra meant to pick us up when we’re feeling down so much as one that asks if we are being all that we can be.

Try. Fail. Try Again. It’s uncomfortable to admit, but if we’re being honest we know that we are going to fail this year. Not at everything!  But some of our lessons are going to fall flat, we aren’t going to reach all of the students we try to work with, a new initiative or requirement is going to confuse or frustrate us and leave us feeling defeated. When those moments arrive it can be helpful to have this mantra to remind us to pick ourselves up and give it another try.

I’m in competition with no one but myself.  With administration asking more and more of teachers every year, it can begin to feel like we are constantly being evaluated and told we need to do more, be better, produce higher scores, create better back to school ideas. When those moments arise, it is important to remind ourselves that we are professional educators. We know what we are doing and we are good at it. Remind yourself that you can do what you can do, you can give it your best, and that is more than enough.

“I have chosen to be happy because it is good for my health” – Voltaire. Let’s face it, sometimes the day just doesn’t go our way.  An angry parent phone call, a student we thought we were getting through to gives attitude for no reason, a lesson we were sure was going to have the students at the edge of their seats was met with nothing but yawns. At these times, it is important to remember that – no matter what – we choose our attitudes. Choosing to be happy not only will make us feel better than choosing to be angry or sad, but as Voltaire said, it’s healthy too!

I hope that you have a positive, healthy, and enjoyable new school year!

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