How to turn back-to-school anxiety into real enthusiasm

Have the back-to-school nightmares started for you yet? Oh what, you thought it was just YOU that tosses and turns all night long, dipping in and out of dreams that feature you managing 165 kids in one classroom, or finding out you got moved to a new grade level in the middle of the first day of school, or losing your carefully-crafted lesson plans and materials and having no clue what you’re doing while The Worst Class Ever taunts you and runs wild around the classroom?

Nope. That’s not just you. Back to school nightmares and anxious, sleepless nights are par for the course for just about every teacher, even the veterans who are on their 32nd first day of school. It’s very normal.

And you know what else is normal? Experiencing that anxiety during the daytime, coupled with a little touch of dread for pretty much the entire three weeks leading up to the new school year.

But, just because something is normal doesn’t mean that’s the way it has to be all the time. Let’s face it, being stressed out and super busy and sleep-deprived is pretty normal in our society these days, and that’s really not okay. Just because something’s normal doesn’t mean it’s healthy or admirable. We can choose a better path for ourselves and a more fulfilling and purposeful way to live. And when it comes to back to school stuff, we can channel the anxiety into excitement by changing our focus.

How to turn back-to-school anxiety into real enthusiasm

Let’s start by making one important distinction: no one is excited about the loss of their free time and family time.

Most people don’t say, “Woo-hoo! I’m going to barely see my own kids and spouse for the next 10 months! Yay–I love neglecting my Netflix queue and not getting a moment to relax!” No one says, “I can’t wait to hear that 4:30 am alarm clock go off and only be able to use the bathroom at 10:17 am and 1:28 pm! Yayyyy, back to school I go!”

It’s fine to mourn the loss of the time you have to relax and pursue other projects. You don’t have to be excited about the increasing demands on your time and energy that naturally accompany the new school year.

The key is not to dwell on what you’re losing in the new year, but to focus on what you’re gaining. 

How to turn back-to-school anxiety into real enthusiasm

Here are 3 awesome things you’ll be gaining with the new school year:

1. More opportunities to be creative.

There’s nothing like having a blank slate in August. The possibilities for how you set up your classroom and decorate are wide open. You can create new systems, new procedures, new routines for anything you want. You can introduce your students to apps and web tools you meant to try last year and just never got around to. You can try out a completely different style of activity with students who have no preconceived idea of how you normally teach your lesson.

So few people get a completely fresh start in their jobs once a year. There’s something really special about that, so take advantage of the opportunity to envision your dream classroom and brainstorm ways to bring that vision to reality.

2. More opportunities to get to know amazing colleagues, kids, and parents.

Don’t focus on the people who bring you down. There will always be discouraging people and interactions, but your mental energy has to be channeled toward the ones that lift you up.

Think about those coworkers that inspire and encourage you. How awesome is it going to be to see them every day again?

And the new students you’re going to meet–you know some of them are going to steal your heart. They’re going to make you laugh with all the crazy stuff that comes out of their mouths. They’re going to make you smile wistfully with their innocence or wit. You’re going to gain so much from having the opportunity to interact with them on a daily basis for the next ten months–think of how much satisfaction and you’ll going to get from watching them learn and grow. Getting to know a whole new group of students, and uncovering their skills and talents and passions? That’s one of the most rewarding adventures in teaching.

And some of your students parents are going to be amazing. They’re going to let you know what a huge impact that you’re having on their kids. You’re going to see the gratitude in their eyes when you share ways they can help their kids, and when you talk about the progress their children are making. Your life is about to intersect with some truly special people who will remind you of the huge impact your work makes on the lives of others.

3. More opportunities to change the lives of children forever.

No one entered the field of teaching because they love attending meetings, analyzing data, filling out paperwork, or doing cafeteria duty. We’re educators because we believe that what we do every day in schools has the power to change lives and impact the future of our nation. At the core of our jobs, we do some of the most meaningful work on the planet. Stay focused on that.

How to turn back-to-school anxiety into real enthusiasm

When you experience that sense of dread over losing your free time or that anxiety that surfaces through back-to-school nightmares, don’t beat yourself up over those thoughts, and don’t dwell on them.

Acknowledge that you’re feeling some anxiety and that’s it normal, and then tell yourself:

I’m choosing to focus on what I’m gaining this school year. This is going to be my best year yet! I have more opportunities to be creative and try out new things in the classroom that get me excited about my job.

I have more opportunities to get to know amazing colleagues, kids, and parents. I’m about to meet people and have conversations and experiences that will change my life, and make me into a better teacher, and a better person.

I’m about to have more opportunities to change the lives of children forever. The things I do in the next 10 months will empower the next generation of kids to do great things. I’m going to build my students up and help them uncover their talents and unleash their passions. I’m going to cultivate the skills they need to be successful in school and their jobs and in life.

Even on my worst day in the classroom, I am still some child’s best hope, best advocate, best possible chance of success. These kids are counting on ME. I am making a difference in their lives that will go far beyond what I will ever see or know. And I’m ready. I can do this. Let’s start the adventure.

 This post is based on the latest episode of my weekly podcast, Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers. A podcast is like a free talk radio show you can listen to online, or download and take with you wherever you go. I release a new 10-15 minute episode each Sunday and feature it here on the blog to help you get energized and motivated for the week ahead. I’d love to hear your thoughts below in the comment section!

Next week: 7 beliefs about teaching routines that will cause you to lose your mind

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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!

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 katherine August 2, 2015 at 10:15 pm

Thank you!!! We start school on 17 August and I am all over the place with my emotions. I know I need to slow down and focus but I just had an amazing summer and don’t want it to end. Thank you for the reminder of why I am a teacher!

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2 Angela Watson August 19, 2015 at 12:17 pm

I’m so glad this is helpful. Hope your school year is off to a great start!

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3 Alicia August 2, 2015 at 11:32 pm

Thanks for the encouragement-it was exactly what I needed tonight. Looking forward to many more episodes!

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4 Angela Watson August 19, 2015 at 12:17 pm

You’re welcome! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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5 Robin August 6, 2015 at 11:47 pm

Thanks for the uplifting blog… I work in a toxic environment/department and I needed to be reminded why I am a teacher and why I love my job. I go back on Monday and you helped re-frame my perspective…. Thanks!!!

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6 Angela Watson August 19, 2015 at 12:17 pm

I have been there, Robin! You are smart to seek out people and resources that inspire you, since you don’t have them in your school. You can do this–have a great year!

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7 Raye August 9, 2015 at 1:00 pm

Oh my goodness….I laughed out loud when you talked about no one going “woo hoo, I only get to use the bathroom at 10:17″. How true is that?? :)

I have had a really difficult time the last two years with a very negative colleague who berates everything about teaching (thankfully he finally retired so that won’t be an issue this year). Of course no one loves the things we miss out on when we don’t have our free time, but it comes with the job. I love teaching and I am determined to be as positive and upbeat about what I CAN control every single day.

Thank you, Angela, for your positivity and encouragement. I know you hear it a lot (I’ve been part of your book clubs!) but you need to hear it again. It’s refreshing to have other voices out there who say “no, this is not okay and you really don’t have to stand for it” without being anti-teaching or anti-education. You rock :)

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8 Angela Watson August 19, 2015 at 12:20 pm

Raye, I appreciate that encouragement so much! Thank you for that. I agree that teachers really need to hear more voices saying that we don’t have to accept things that are bad for us and kids…but we can’t let it it turn into a complaining session or school system bashing, which helps no one. It’s a fine line that I try to balance.

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9 Tracy August 16, 2015 at 3:34 am

Thank you so much for this podcast! I am returning to my 2nd year of teaching in a few days, and it was so encouraging to hear that the anxiety I’ve been experiencing is normal… Also, your description of the things we have to look forward to rang so true, it brought tears to my eyes, and more importantly reminded me of the profound and meaningful moments I had last year amidst all of the chaos… This year will be even better! :)

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10 Angela Watson August 19, 2015 at 12:20 pm

Hi, Tracy! Yes, it’s perfectly normal! Have a wonderful year with your new group of kiddos!

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11 Jeannie July 27, 2016 at 5:34 pm

Thank you, Angela! What an inspiring post! I love that you’re so realistic. I am excited about my new teaching position at a new school, but I will miss my free time. Thank you for your encouragement! (P.S. I wish you were my neighbor!) lol!

Jeannie ????

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12 Sandy August 5, 2016 at 3:31 pm

My anxiety comes from the fact that I am in a new position this year. For the first time in 20+ years as a classroom teacher, I will be teaching Computer Tech. While I am really pretty excited, and LOVE the idea, I am still a bit apprehensive about the change.

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