EP08: Don’t let the hard parts of teaching steal your sense of accomplishment and keep you from recognizing the magnitude of the awesome work you’re doing. Learn how to push through the fear of failure and constant distractions to experience the adventure of watching your students learn and grow.
This post is based on the latest episode of my weekly podcast, Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers. A podcast is essentially a talk radio show that you can listen to online or download and take with you wherever you go. I release a new episode each Sunday and feature it here on the blog to help you get energized and motivated for the week ahead. Learn more about the podcast, view blog posts for all past episodes, or subscribe in iTunes to get new episodes right away.
A big thank you to this episode’s sponsor, SnapLearning. SnapLearning is a provider of fantastic digital reading resources, including materials for close reading. You can get a free demo of the product at snaplearning.co.
But this is a message I’m really passionate about sharing, particularly after I do professional development in a school or speak at a conference. That’s because those tend to be moments when teachers are on a bit of an emotional high. When you’ve just heard a really inspirational message or have a lot of new ideas to take into the classroom, you get really fired up and you feel ready for anything. I hope you feel that away sometimes after listening to certain episodes of this podcast.
But here’s what happens afterwards. You step foot back into your classroom on Monday morning and reality comes crashing down on you. Your work starts to feel monotonous or unrewarding again, or you start feeling discouraged and overwhelmed when another new problem crops up. Everything you learned and everything that motivated you goes right out the window and you slip back into survival mode and those same old habits.
Here’s what I want you to do when any of that stuff happens. I want you to think of teaching as an adventure.
What is an adventure, to you personally? Skydiving? Exploring a new city you’ve never been to before? Showing up to an outlet mall with $100?
There are three elements of adventure that I want you to remember. The first is that every adventure involves the unknown. There is no adventure without an uncertain outcome–by very definition, you can’t be certain about what’s going to happen during an adventure. That’s what makes them so exciting and fun. If your work in the classroom is feeling monotonous and boring, that probably means you’re not taking any risks.
A feeling of monotony is a sign that you are embracing only the known and attempting to avoid the unfamiliar and uncomfortable at all costs. You’re sticking to the same old teaching strategies and getting the same old results and it feels boring after awhile. It’s time to shake things up, take a risk, try something new and unknown.
Or maybe your problem isn’t monotony, it’s frustration. Maybe you’re showing up to school with your game face on and then five minutes into your day, you’re discouraged again. That means you’re letting the unexpected knock you off your game. So again, you need to embrace the unpredictable and unknown.
Everything that happens to you in school, no matter how frustrating or time-consuming or seemingly pointless, can actually be an opportunity to work toward your vision, to learn something new, to improve your teaching practice and your relationships with students.
So every adventure involves risk-taking and the unknown. The secret to making teaching feel like an adventure is to embrace that risk and the unpredictability of it all, and view that as part of the adventure of being a teacher.
The second aspect of adventures is that they also involve the possibility of failure. There is a good chance things will not turn out the way you planned. They might be better, they might be worse. Woody Allen said, “If you’re not failing every now and then, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”
Don’t be afraid to try something and have it fail spectacularly and blow up in your face. It is GOOD for your students to see your mistakes AND how you learn from them. Model for students how to embrace unexpected change and new challenges, how to rebound from failures, how to learn from the things that didn’t go right. Have a positive attitude about it: failure is how we learn.
The third aspect of adventures that I want to share with you is this: every adventure involves something that is not fun. You might have to save up money for it, you might be really really tired afterward, or have to travel a long way to get there.
My mom always asks me how I can stand to fly so much to speak to teachers. I’m like, “Mom, no one likes flying. I don’t like flying.” I like being in awesome places. It’s worth it to be uncomfortable for a little while in order to experience something really cool.
There are parts of the process that you just endure because you want the adventure. In teaching, you’ve gotta endure the paperwork and the testing and behavioral issues and meetings and all of that not fun stuff to get to the adventure of seeing your students learn and grow. You just buckle down and get through the rest because you know on the other side of it is something worth all the effort and expense and inconvenience and discomfort.
Watching kids learn is one of the greatest adventures you’ll ever have. You have the privilege of seeing light bulb moments on a daily basis. You get to see emotional breakthroughs that kids make, and watch them experience developmental milestones. You get to leave work each day knowing that there are children whose lives are better now than they were this morning, knowing that there are kids who are smarter now than they were a few hours ago, who are becoming better readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, and more all because of the hard work that you put in.
Don’t let the hard parts of the job steal your sense of accomplishment and keep you from recognizing the magnitude of the job you’re doing. Don’t let fear of the unknown shake your confidence–we never know what’s going to come out of a kid’s mouth, or what’s going to happen each day in the classroom, and that’s not a problem, that’s part of what makes it fun!
Never be afraid to go on the adventure of helping kids learn and grow. Your failures and theirs are an important part of the journey.
I’d like to leave you with a motivational quote for the week ahead that I call the Takeaway Truth. This week’s quote is from Roberto Assagioli, who said: “There is no certainty; there is only adventure.”
You never know what’s going to happen when you walk into your classroom in the morning. And rather than try to control every variable and create certainty where it’s impossible, I encourage you to embrace the adventure. Embrace the unknown, embrace the possibility of failure, embrace parts that aren’t fun, and choose to view teaching as an adventure.
Next week: How to avoid discouragement in a thankless job
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