Secrets of teachers who love their jobs: always be a learner

A few weeks ago, I published an article called 7 ways for teachers to beat the Sunday blues. It was shared over 12,000 times on Facebook, which gives you an idea of how many teachers can relate to that feeling of work-related anxiety on the weekends.

But a handful of teachers on social media commented that they don’t experience this phenomenon. And that got me wondering: what is their secret? As much as I loved teaching, I wasn’t always excited about the prospect of facing Monday morning, and I had many days when I couldn’t wait for 3 pm to arrive.  So I put out a call in the Encouraging Teachers Facebook group: How many of you genuinely love your job everyday and can’t wait to get to work? And–more importantly–Are you willing to share the mindset that makes that possible?

I was blown away by the number of teachers who volunteered to share how they maintain their enthusiasm for our profession. In fact, I’m getting so many responses that I’ve created a new monthly post series called Secrets of teachers who love their jobs. Some respondents are answering a Q&A I developed, while others are just sharing their stories free form.

Sometimes I feel like my blog and the web in general are filled with posts that only address how challenging teaching is, and neglect the fact that it’s also incredibly rewarding and enjoyable. I want to spread the word to discouraged teachers: there is still hope for you in this profession. So, this monthly post series will provide a positive and uplifting set of tips you can replicate in your own school in order to love teaching more and stay focused on the aspects of our work that really matter.

A middle school special education teacher named Janel is up first. Since she commented that professional development helps her stay enthusiastic about her work, I titled her post “always be a learner.” Though it may seem counter-intuitive, I agree that self-directed PD can be a great way to re-energize. Here are Janel’s thoughts.

Teachers must always be learners

1. Tell us about where/what you teach, and how many years you’ve been in the classroom.
I’m Janel, and I teach in a suburban middle school. We have approximately 1200 6th-8th grade students. I teach 7th grade Reading in a mild/moderate classroom. I am the 7th grade Reading RtI interventionist. This is my 14th year to teach.

2. What goes through your mind on Sunday nights when many teachers are feeling anxious or a sense of dread about facing Monday morning? What is your secret to being excited about going to work each day?

It is exciting to know I get a fresh start to a new week. I pump up some of my favorite jams and I take time to reflect on the previous week’s lessons. I evaluate what worked, what didn’t work, and what I need to change. I also use Remind 101 and send an encouraging quote or message to my kids. Before Monday morning, my kids know our goals for the week and that we are working on together to achieve together.

3. There are so many little things that make teaching more difficult than it has to be, and it’s easy for educators to get bogged down and discouraged. When something disappointing, stressful, or annoying happens during the school day, how do you keep it from affecting your motivation and attitude?

As I reflect on this question, several strategies come to mind. I give myself permission to shut my door, turn up my music, and dive myself into my fun work. I sponsor Friends of Rachel and giving back always makes me feel better. I enjoy planning for them. I also might leave with a co-worker on our plan and go get a Sonic drink or a sweet desert from our local bakery. I also have an amazing principal who practices an open door policy. Several times her office has just been my quiet timeout, a place to vent or cry, or just get another view point on an issue. Lastly, I think it is important to have a “go-to” person on campus. I am blessed enough to have two people I can turn to. At anytime I can walk in their room and sit and observe, write a note, or pull them in the hallway for a 30 second vent. At the end of the day, even in what I think is the worst day, I am usually met by a student in the hallway or in my room who gives me a hug or tells me to have a good day and all that negative stuff just melts away.

4. A lot of teachers would say that today’s students come to school with more issues than ever before, and each year, they are harder to reach. Would you agree with that? How do you keep from becoming overwhelmed by your students’ needs?

I do think, over the years, my kids have been coming to school with more intense, various issues but it hasn’t necessarily made it harder to reach them. After all, they are just kids and deserve everything I have to offer them. I strive to build positive relationships with my kids before learning about their issues-those come to light because I have built the relationship and the students share them with me. I don’t become overwhelmed because I use the resources my school has. We have a great backpack program through our Parent Club, access to various counseling resources, and parent connection activities. Building those relationships with parents and the community has helped immensely.

5. What’s your strategy for dealing with bureaucratic issues, like excessive/meaningless paperwork, micromanaging of classroom structure, and unfair teacher evaluations? How do you keep the demands of the school system from weighing on you?

As a special education teacher, I understand how overwhelming paperwork can be. What works for me is staying organized. I keep a planner, to-do lists, and send reminder e-mails to myself. I have also given myself permission to leave my work at school. What gets done, gets done and if it doesn’t I can wait until the next day. If it is pressing, of course, I will bring it home or go in early to meet any kind of deadline. As long as I stay on top of things and organized it doesn’t become weighing on me. I don’t have to finish everything in one day; I am able to chunk my work and that works for me.

6. How do you balance the demands of work with the demands of your family and your own personal life?

I make time for me and I workout. We have dinner together every night at the dinner table. Every weekend we do something together as a family, whether it is movies or walking in the park. Schoolwork stays at work. If I do bring it home, I will do my homework while my daughter does her homework. Another option is to wait until they go to bed and complete anything I need to do.

7. What helps you maintain your enthusiasm over the years and keeps you from getting jaded or stuck in a rut?

Professional Development! I am so lucky to have a principal who knows the best workshops and supports us in attending! It is the same at the district level! Our expectations have not changed at my school the six years I have been there, but the way we achieve them have because our students have changed, state expectations have changed, and professional development has changed. I’m always learning and wanting to try new things so I can be the best for my kids. Most of my professional development I complete in the summertime because I don’t like to lose any time from my kids in the classroom.

8. What advice would you give a teacher who is feeling burned out but wants to love his or her job again?

First, I would encourage the teacher to make a list of reasons why they feel burned out. The advice I would give would depend on those reasons. Maybe the teacher needs peer encouragement. I would encourage the teacher to visit other classrooms and watch their peers teach. Also, it might be beneficial to have a peer come watch them teach. What praises and pushes can be given from that observation? I would always encourage professional development. It could be local professional development or a big conference in state or out of state! Maybe it just needs to be a grade or subject change for the next year! In the end, the most beneficial advice is being around proactive, positive educators who will listen and support the teacher. Take every opportunity to light that teaching fire again!

9. What’s one practice or mindset shift you would recommend that other teachers try today in order to increase their sense of motivation, purpose, and enthusiasm?

Build those positive relationships with kids and always do what is right by them. By doing so, everything will follow. The learning will come, lessons will come full circle, and the classroom will be a safe, inviting place for students. There will be rough days, but the good days will outnumber them. You will question yourself, but that’s what makes us so fabulous at what we do! Trust, high expectations, and learning goals are achieved as a result of positive relationships and doing what is right by kids. That is what teaching is about!

Any questions for Janel? What questions would you like to see other teachers answer in this post series? And, if you’re a teacher who LOVES your job and you want to share how you maintain your enthusiasm, please email me!

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Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience and 7 years experience as an instructional coach. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has created printable curriculum resources, 4 books, 3 online courses, the Truth for Teachers podcast, and The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Subscribe via email to get her best content sent to your inbox!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Cathy Sosnowski February 21, 2014 at 6:06 pm

There is no place I’d rather be than in a classroom. After 29 years in the classroom, I am an administrator who gets into classes to model as much as I can. How do I maintain my zest? I set parameters for emails – nothing after 7pm. That time belongs to my family. On weekends, I ‘ll check it Sunday afternoon. I remember a tired brain doesn’t work as well as a rested one and give myself permission to put papers down when I hit the wall. Regular exercise to burn off stress and reflect on my day help me take care of myself so I can take care of my kids. I remind myself every day the classroom is sacred,the most important place in the building and in the district. Period. That work is the only thing that matters.

As an administrator, I help my staff to set parameters and take care of themselves, to step away from the papers and work on being people beyond the papers. That may be the best lesson we teach.

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