EP17: When the reality of teaching doesn’t match what you envisioned at the start of your career, it’s easy to lose sight of reason why you chose this profession. In this episode, I’ll share 3 specific strategies for reconnecting with your initial motivation and the inherently rewarding moments in education. Learn how to be truly present in your classroom by celebrating your accomplishments, focusing on the kids you’re making a real difference for, and reframing your work to recognize and appreciate the magnitude of what you do.
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.
So I recently released my fourth book, called Unshakeable: 20 Ways To Enjoy Teaching Every Day…No Matter What. And today I want to adapt an excerpt from the book for you. Most of the book is practical classroom strategies and habits you can put into place today to start enjoying your work more. But there’s a lot of motivational stuff mixed in there, too. And when I was writing this section, I remember thinking to myself, oh, I am totally going to turn this into a Truth for Teachers episode, because I think it’s powerful, and it’s something that I think is not just worth reading, but also hearing spoken over you and your life. That’s what I want to do today.
As a teacher, it’s very easy to lose sight of the reason why you entered the profession. There are so many things we do on a daily basis that just aren’t what we signed for. Some of those things are systemic problems, and others are just tasks that…well, things that you would never have believed were a reality until you became a teacher. A teacher’s entire day is just filled with unbelievable moments where you’re like, Did that really come of my mouth? Am I really dealing with this right now? Is this reality? Some of those moments are depressing, and some are kind of comical. But all of them are something…different than what you envisioned. Your vision of what you thought teaching was going to be doesn’t usually match your reality.
Presumably, you became a teacher because you care about kids, you want to make a difference in their lives, you want to instill a love for your subject matter in your students, you want to change the world…some variation of a lofty, big goal that you can easily lose sight of in the minutiae of your daily tasks.
So here are some ways you can get back in touch with the reason you became a teacher when there are so many mundane tasks and paperwork that have nothing to do with your vision for teaching.
First off: celebrate your small moments of accomplishment. Every day of being a teacher is filled with moments of potential joy and satisfaction. I use the word “potential” because you have to pay close attention and really be present if you want to grab onto those small, beautiful moments.
There were many, many days when I was distracted and completely missed them because I was in such a hurry to get to the next thing. I never took time to stop mentally for even a second and revel in what my students and I had achieved.
You have to train your brain to find and dwell on those moments of accomplishment. Don’t mentally replay the moment when a student disrespected you, or a colleague was condescending: return your mind to the instant when you finally entered all that data into the computer, or cleared out your email inbox, or finished the lesson plans for the week.
You worked hard for those accomplishments! Don’t skip over them and hurry on to the next item on your to‐do list. Celebrate yourself. Give yourself the encouragement and praise you would give a student: Yes, you did it! You’re on fire today. Look how much you got done! You didn’t want to do that task, but you pushed through it, anyway. Good job.
As you do these things, stay in the present moment. Don’t let the joy of watching kids learn get muddled by the off‐task behavior of another child nearby. Redirect as needed, but keep your thoughts centered on the good stuff that’s happening right in front of you.
When you leave school at the end of the day, think back on those light bulb moments. Treasure them and use them to inspire you to go back into the classroom the next day and give it your all once again.
Another strategy is to choose to focus on the students you made a difference for. If there is even one child in your class who cared about what you taught and made an effort to learn it, you have done something worthwhile. Use that student to motivate you to get up in the morning. Look over at him or her when you start to feel discouraged during a lesson. Press on toward more light bulb moments with that child and everyone else.
A third strategy is to reframe your work to recognize and appreciate the magnitude of what you do. And this happens when you are truly present in the classroom.
In those moments of full presence, you will start noticing all the small wins and celebrating the light bulb moments. You’ll find yourself getting back in touch with the reason why you entered this profession in the first place. You’ll start to realize what a tremendously important job you are doing every single minute of the day. And then you’ll be able to reframe how you view your work.
Do you think you spent the last 15 minutes tying shoes and zipping coats? No. You smiled at each of your students as you bundled them up to protect them from the cold. That might be the most loving, nurturing gesture some of those kids got all day.
Do you think you just wasted an entire afternoon in a data chat meeting? No. You got to step back and look at all the hard work you did compiling and analyzing information over the past week. You got to see all the evidence of just how well you really know your students, and you got to learn even more information that is going to empower you to take your kids to the next level tomorrow. Who cares if someone else in the meeting had a bad attitude and made the meeting miserable? Look at what you did! Look how ready you are to meet your students’ needs because of your hard work! Don’t let anyone take that away from you!
Do you think you just taught a developmentally inappropriate learning standard that less than half the class truly understood? No. You helped 12 kids meet an incredibly difficult objective. 12 different kids, all at the same time! And you planted a seed for another dozen kids who are now a few steps closer to understanding the concept when you re-teach tomorrow.
This is not overly optimistic thinking — this is realistic thinking. It’s reality. This is exactly what you did.
You show up, day after day, and work these little miracles all day long without even realizing you’re doing it. You’re probably so focused on everything you didn’t do that you don’t realize how much you’ve actually accomplished. I am urging you — stop for a moment. Be present. See what you are doing. Really, truly, see it.
Your work is important. Ultimately, whether someone else tells you that or not is irrelevant. You must choose to perceive your own work as something meaningful and valuable, because it is. Be present in every moment of it. It all matters, and it’s all worth it.
Next week: Vicki Davis’ truth for teachers
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