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.
This month, a high school teacher from Texas named Rebecca shares her story and how she keeps from being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the job ahead of her.
1. Tell us about where/what you teach, and how many years you’ve been in the classroom.
I was born and raised in Central Texas and it just made sense that I would come back here to teach after college. I am currently teaching in Belton, Texas at Belton High School. It’s a rather large high school, we have just over 2600+ students on campus. I am currently teaching Functional Academics School Studies and Co-Teaching US History. I have been teaching for 9 years. I started out teaching 4 year olds in a private pre-school, did a stint teaching Health and History in middle school for 3 years, and have been in my current position for 5 years now.
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?
I LOVE my students and I LOVE what I teach. I spend half of my day teaching high school students who read on a very low elementary level but they are required to learn the same content as the 11th grade students I spend the other half of my day with. My students make me laugh, they make me cry. Their accomplishments are mine and their disappointments get me too. I am so invested in making them successful human beings that I love having that opportunity every day. They might not learn all the facts of World War II, but they will be good citizens that care for one another. And that’s my mission that keeps me walking in the door every day. I want my students to know that I love them and I’ll be their biggest cheerleader and their toughest critic.
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?
Luckily, I have always had the mindset that “this too shall pass.” Life’s too short to stress over the little things and tomorrow is a new opportunity to make a difference in a kids life. There will always be bad days, but the good ones way outnumber the bad ones.
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?
This is the toughest one for me. Some of the students I teach have overcome more in their short lives than I have ever imagined facing. Some of them have struggles that I know would break me. I make it a point to make sure they know I’m glad they are here everyday, that I love them, and life will get better. I try not to take it home, but you always have your favorites and the ones that tug at your heart strings. I cheer them on, and let them know I’m here, but try not to let it take away time from my family too.
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?
I hate state testing. I think its crazy to condense all the successes we have in our classrooms each year based on how the students do on one paper and pencil test in May. But that’s life. I knew about testing when I got into this field. It’s how we are measured. And as a Special Education teacher, I probably deal with more paperwork than most and less time to complete it in. But when that student in my classroom finally has that “ah-ha” moment and finally gets that concept you have been teaching them, all the bureaucratic issues don’t seem that important after all.
6. How do you balance the demands of work with the demands of your family and your own personal life?
I never never ever work on school work on Saturdays. And when my niece and nephews have events, I’m there. I never want to put other people’s children in front of the ones that I am helping to raise. That being said, there are many many Sundays that I am working on curriculum. I even completed IEP paperwork on Spring Break, but my family always comes first. The paperwork will be there tomorrow, but before you know it, the kids are going off to college and you’re wondering where the time went.
7. What helps you maintain your enthusiasm over the years and keeps you from getting jaded or stuck in a rut?
I like challenging myself. In my nine years, my teaching assignments have changed. I started off with 4 year olds teaching them everything I could, moved onto teaching health and Texas history while coaching 7th & 8th grade girls. Decided I wanted to teach the kids who need me the most, and became an Social Studies Inclusion teacher, dabbled in co-teaching last year when my school moved from an inclusion model to a co-teach one. Finally, went back into my own classroom this year half the day to make my own curriculum and teach the subject I love to kids who need me the most and I spend the other half of my day co-teaching with a colleague that I feel I learn from everyday probably more than the kids do. The secret is that if you don’t love your teaching assignment this year, its not set in stone. Try something new.
8. What advice would you give a teacher who is feeling burned out but wants to love his or her job again?
Remember why you became a teacher in the first place. It really is about the kids. Pick a student out that needs that little extra attention and watch them blossom under your guidance. Get back to the basics. Concentrate on being that amazing teacher that inspired you into this profession. Not one of us became a teacher because of the money. I wanted to save the world. I wanted to give people knowledge. I want my kids to fall in love with history and want to learn more about it. Find that kid you can help and start there. By focusing on being amazing for one, it will transition into being amazing for all.
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?
Don’t forget to take care of you. The day Christmas break started after my first semester of teaching, I treated myself to a massage. I was so proud of myself for surviving, that I felt I had earned it. I still reward myself with time with my best friends, pedicures, and lazy days. Don’t forget to take care of the person that takes care of everyone else. Teachers as a whole, have a hard time saying no. But take the time to take care of you and all the stressful stuff becomes more manageable.
Any questions for Rebecca? 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!