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Putting the “Happy” in Happy New Year

Jordan Catapano


As we return to class after celebrating the holidays and enjoying a few weeks off, there are a few pestering elements that welcome us back to school: It’s still cold and dark outside. The year is only halfway over. The problems we said goodbye to in December are waiting for us in January. The grading, stress, planning, training, and other typical busyness returns to our lives with all the gusto of a tidal wave crashing onto shore.

We say “Happy New Year,” but how do we actually be happy during this time? Here are a few ideas to make your return to school – and the rest of the year – a happy time for yourself and your students.

1. Keep it light. You might have had opportunity over the break to make big plans for 2014. Many teachers tend to think of more ideas, projects, and activities to do than they actually have time for. But one way to stay positive and sane throughout 2014 is to keep it light. Don’t come charging out of the gate with all the rampage of a race horse. Come trotting into 2014 with the positivity, reasonableness, and goal-orientedness of the tortoise who won the race. Remember that “more” rarely means “better.”

2. Focus on the positives. Don’t look at the aspects of your teaching day as the things you “have to do.” Instead, remind yourself that these are blessings that you “get to do.” Also, avoid gossip, negative conversations, or problem-focused challenges. Focus on what you can control, and smile.

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3. Do something new. Could your write tomorrow’s diary entry today? How boring! Instead of teaching the same thing in the same way as all those other years, try something new. Throw out the rule book and get your hands dirty with something you haven’t done with your students before.

4. Take time for yourself. Teaching is a profession dedicated to serving other people – but this easily wears us down. Figure out how, when, and where you’re going to take time for yourself each day with no interruptions. Walk around the track for exercise, sneak into the music area to bash your fingers on the piano keys, or reserve that comfy chair in the library for some reading time. Put yourself first at least once during your day – no matter how busy you may feel!

5. Get ahead and reward yourself. Here’s a trick you can try: work hard for two or three days to completely clear your upcoming schedule. Do all of your grading, your planning, your meeting, your phone calls, your copies, everything all in advance. Then, when you’re not teaching you can put your feet up at school and at home. Find fun ways to reward yourself for your diligence too, like going off-campus for some coffee, tackling a personal project, or just watching some Youtube when you’re not encumbered by anything else.

6. Make one goal a day. Keep your life positive by keeping it simple. Before you go to bed each night, think to yourself, “Tomorrow, I just want to accomplish _____________.” Make your goal reasonable, and then devote your time and attention to accomplishing just that one thing. You’ll feel very accomplished by doing this simple goal each day!

7. Get inspired. What really lights your fire? What gets your blood pumping and your mind thinking? Who inspires you? Do what you can to surround yourself with this inspirational motivation. Read what you need to, listen what you need to, follow around who you need to. This can be personal or professional in nature, but when you’re focused on what gets you enthusiastic, then you’re a happier, more positive, more inspiring person overall!

So what will you do to have a blast during 2014 and stay positive all the way through? The dead of winter is a challenging time to be a positive person when the remainder of the school year is staring you down and the regular stresses and challenges await you. But follow any– or all – of the tips listed above, and you’ll find that keeping your “Happy New Year” truly happy is not too difficult after all.

What will you do to be happy in 2014? Tell us some of the positive things you’re doing and inspire us to do the same! Let us know in the comments below.

Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also sits as the District Leader for the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website

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