I know that October can be a really tough month for teachers, even though that’s not really talked about much. My fabulous and hilarious friend Roxanna Elden, who’s a high school teacher in Miami and author of the book See Me After Class, was one of the first people I’ve heard address what she calls The October Blues. (Check out this 8 minute podcast and transcript from when she was an NPR guest: How Teachers Can Avoid the October Blues.)
Roxanna made me realize that teachers do face a low point in October sometimes, and this is something we should be talking about. I want to spread the word: if you’re feeling completely discouraged right now and don’t know how you can possibly make it until June, that is completely NORMAL.
3 reasons why October can be a challenging month for teachers
1) The optimism that comes from having a fresh start at back to school has faded.
Hopes ran high over the summer when you were dreaming about your classroom and new group of students, but reality has come crashing down on you now. October is the period of disillusionment: The beautiful supplies you spent your own money on are broken or lost or disorganized. The community and rapport-building exercises you planned got pushed back so many times due to lack of time that you’re not even sure if they’re worth implementing now, even if the class isn’t getting along the way you like. You’re at a place where you’re afraid to try something new and throw the kids off, but it’s becoming glaringly obvious that the way things are going now isn’t great.
2) There are a lot of full workweeks between now and the holidays.
There are several 3 and 4-day weeks at the beginning of the school year which help us ease into the back-to-school routine, but by mid-October, we’ve got a grueling 5-day week schedule ahead of us until Thanksgiving, and no other breaks after that until Christmas and winter break.
People who aren’t teachers may think we’re whining if we complain about this, but what they don’t realize is that teachers depend on those days off to catch up on grading and lesson planning. A bunch of 5 day weeks in a row is good because we can really establish routines with kids and get into a flow, but it also produces a tremendous backlog of paperwork and planning and assessment with too little time to handle any of it.
3) The end of the school year seems impossibly far away.
In October, it starts to hit you that the obnoxious student behavior which is currently driving you crazy five minutes into the school day could be part of your reality everyday for eight more months. You start questioning your stamina: Can I really keep doing this until June? I’m this tired and it’s only a few weeks into the school year? What have I gotten myself into?
If that’s how you’re feeling right now–once again, it’s normal. But normal doesn’t mean healthy. And normal doesn’t mean required. You can change your perception of the situation so it feels less stressful and overwhelming.
3 strategies to help you beat the beat the October blues
1) Start by recognizing that you’re thinking way too far ahead.
You’re already anticipating the stress of things that won’t happen for many more weeks, and trying to figure out how you’re going to have energy to do something that’s months away. That means you are creating your own stress by anticipating problems that haven’t actually happened yet. You’re worrying about how you THINK the year will unfold, instead of focusing on today.
You don’t need the strength for 185 days of school right now. All you need is strength for today. And if even THAT feels overwhelming, break it down even further. You really only need strength for this very moment, right here in the present. Can you make it through the next ten seconds? Yes, you can. Then make it through the next ten seconds. When the panic starts to fade, take it ten minutes at a time. Can you make it through the next ten minutes? The next hour? Stop living in the future. Don’t let your mind race ahead and try to solve problems that haven’t even happened yet.
Stop living in the future. Don’t let your mind race ahead and try to solve problems that haven’t even happened yet.
I wrote in my book Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching about research showing that 92% of the things we worry about never come to pass. Yes, 92%.
That kid who’s driving you nuts might transfer to another school in a few days, or another student might transfer into your class and shift the whole dynamic in ways you never thought possible.
That test you feel positive a student can never pass might actually be attainable for him or her in a few more months.
That parent you assume is going to give you a hard time could very well back off or even become more supportive as the year progresses.
Remind yourself: These are not real problems for me to face right now. The only thing I need to deal with right now is the tasks that are in front of me, and my circumstances right in this moment. I can do this. Keep bringing your mind back to the present moment.
2) Stop comparing your present reality to what you had hoped this school year would be like.
Let go of that idealized version of teaching that you dreamed about over the summer and embrace what is actually happening. Every teacher gets thrown a bunch of curve balls: we end up teaching a different grade level or in a different classroom than we thought, we get new students added to the roster at the last minute, and we have changes sprung on us overnight. That is par for the course in teaching, so we can’t hold on too tightly to what we want our work to look like.
Flexibility and resilience are not optional character traits for teachers: flexibility and resilience are crucial elements of our success. Embrace those little –and big– annoyances that cause you to learn how to be flexible and that give you the opportunity to practice resilience.
3) Actively look for ways to find and emphasize the good stuff
Find an experienced teacher in your building who is just unshakeable: nothing seems to throw him or her off, because that person has seen everything and is done riding the emotional rollercoaster. When you start to get overwhelmed, go hang around that teacher. If there’s no teacher in your building like that, find one online through Twitter chats or Facebook groups or teacher blogs. Surround yourself with people who are determined to love teaching no matter what, and who will encourage you to keep going during tough times. You’ll feel a lot better if you spend your evenings celebrating the good stuff and looking for new ways to make the next day better instead of rehashing problems.
You’ll feel a lot better if you spend your evenings celebrating the good stuff and looking for new ways to make the next day better instead of rehashing problems.
Even though it sounds like a cliche, you MUST stay focused on the positive. Complaining and focusing on the negative will wear you down. So use your interactions with other teachers to talk about SOLUTIONS, rather than seeking out people to vent with you.
You are not alone. And it’s going to get better in the months to come. The hardest weeks of the school year are behind you. Look at what you have accomplished already! Celebrate every little success, not only in your mind when you’re tempted to replay your endless to-do list but also out loud with children.
Don’t get distracted by the documentation and paperwork and meetings –-handle your business, but always, always, keep your heart and mind focused on the kids. They’re the best part of this job, and it’s only going to get better with them from here on out.
Next week: Lisa Dabb’s truth: Thriving–not surviving–with support from a virtual mentor
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