By Teachers, For Teachers
I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. Some days I feel just like the little engine that could, encouraging myself to keep pushing through and make it to the top. It is only mid-October and I am beginning to feel my get up and go has gotten up and left! This is definitely not me. I am usually quite motivated (and I know how to motivate students), eager to get started, and full of enthusiasm for the day. Why the change?
This year I have “that” class. You know the one, challenging behaviorally but full of bright, eager to learn students. The class that keeps you on your toes from the very first “Good morning” until the last “ See you tomorrow, Mrs. Conway.” The class that has you searching various teacher sites for that one behavioral plan that will work its magic and turn them into perfect little angels (OK, I know such a plan doesn't exist but I can dream).
By the end of the day I am mentally and physically exhausted. I have lost my spark. What can I do to keep myself from derailing?
For starters, I need to take a deep breath and remember why I started teaching in the first place. I need to rekindle the passion, so to speak. I became a teacher because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to share my love of learning and inspire others to be successful in all that they do. I never wanted to be anything else. For me, that “a-ha” moment makes all the other moments worth it. It drives me to push for greater “a-ha” moments. When I see a student who struggles to grasp a concept, finally begin to understand and feel confident, I share in his/her success. It fills me with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Then I need to remember teaching is not all stickers and smiley faces. When I was young and played school with my stuffed animals, my idea of teaching was quite the fantasy. I imagined teachers had fun all day reading stories, handing out stickers, coloring pages, and adding little smiley faces to classwork. When I played, this is what I did. My stuffed animals were covered in stickers.
When I went off to college to “learn” how to be a teacher, I still had this fantasy of what it would be like. Sure, I no longer thought it was stickers and smiley faces, but certainly the classroom described by my professor was not the classroom I have had and have. The imagined classroom was bright, colorful, full of excitement and learning. A place where the teacher walks in (perfectly dressed, mind you) to students smiling and happy to see her. Projects and activities were done in order and students sat obediently waiting for the next lesson. Classroom behavior consisted of a cute little chart that filled daily with stickers. The teacher knew how to motivate students. HA!
Teaching is hard. That is the reality of the profession. It is a day-to-day challenge to know how motivate students to learn, especially when competing with everything in our world that “entertains” them. Classrooms are filled with students who need more than just a teacher. You are not taught how to “be a teacher.” You are left to figure things out along the way, hoping to make a difference. Through time and experience, you simply become a teacher.
Do I regret my professional choice? Not at all. I just feel as much as we motivate our students and strive to encourage them to succeed, we forget to motivate and encourage ourselves and each other. It is easy to see how teachers can become burnt out and discouraged.
It would also help to be in the moment, to teach day by day. I don't need to be thinking about the goals of the class long-term, but simply a day at a time. What do I want to accomplish for this day? I will seek to achieve that goal. Some days my goal may simply be to keep Johnny in his seat during math so all are staying on task. Other days it may be to set up and complete a science lab. Some days you can totally go off lesson plans, I will allow myself to be flexible and willing to go with the teaching moment. By simplifying my daily goals, I can reduce the amount of stress I feel. Less stress makes for a happier teacher and happier students.
Just like the little engine needed encouragement and support from others, I need not be afraid to ask for help. As a seasoned teacher, I sometimes feel I should be able to control any class, any situation, any task. That I shouldn't need ask for help.
Not true. Even seasoned teachers need a little help. Sometimes other seasoned teachers or even new teachers have ideas that have worked and can offer just the right words to keep you going. It is OK to let off a little steam, to talk about your frustrations, just don't dwell in the negative. Release the frustration and move forward.
Lastly, I am going to reward myself. Even the smallest step toward a goal is an accomplishment. If I make it through math class, I am going to be excited and celebrate with that piece of chocolate! Tomorrow may not be as easy, but for today, I was able to engage Johnny enough to stay in his seat.
The little engine did make it over the hill and was able to bask in the sunlight and praise of others. I will also make it over this hill. I will look back and bask in the light of my students and their accomplishment. I will no longer say, “I think I can” but “ I knew I could.”