Staying motivated at the end of the school year can be tough. I hope this latest post from the teachers who love their jobs series will provide some inspiration! Fifth grade teacher Angela Kiser joins us today to share her tips for enjoying teaching. Thank you, Angela, for taking the time to impart such beautiful, wise words.
1. Tell us about where/what you teach, and how many years you’ve been in the classroom.
For the past nine years, I have been teaching 5th grade at Moss Bluff Elementary in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Until last year, I taught both math and ELA. Now I teach four sections (97 students) of ELA. Before my position in the 5th grade, I spent some time in the 2nd grade. I have spent 14 years total in the classroom.
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?
What doesn’t go through my head on a Sunday night? I know many teachers know that feeling and know the mental checklist or sometimes an actual piece of paper riddled with a long list of tasks to remember, coffee stains, and check marks. My Sunday evenings are spent with that list. It gives me peace of mind to run through that list. I also update my weekly announcement and the “Week at a Glance” on my Blackboard page for my parents and students. But, it helps me, as well, to focus on what assignments and activities are ahead for my students and me for the week. I love seeing what we are doing. It gets me excited for the things my students might be discovering and exploring.
I think what keeps me excited about going to work each day is seeing the learning process in action. I have always loved the learning process and the spark that ignites when just one student finally makes a connection. I love hearing the discussions, the peer tutoring, and even the soft sound of the pencil scraping across paper when they really get down to work. Even though I’ve been teaching for fourteen years, I am still in awe of little minds growing and expanding. When I step out of my car each morning, I quietly wish to see something amazing happen.
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?
I won’t deny that I can get pretty stressed over curriculum changes or just a bad day in general, but I try not to let the disappointments and the stress sink in too deep. When something does present itself, I know I can rely on my fellow fifth grade colleagues and other friends in the teaching profession to just listen and offer support. Sometimes just venting is great therapy. I know there are things we cannot change and things we must endure, but having colleagues who truly understand listening and nodding can relieve those negative moments.
I also have an end of the day ritual that helps me stay motivated. At the end of each day, I find five things to appreciate. It could be anything, a moment, or a realization. I really try to focus on the smallest of details like a quick hug around the waist or watching my students laugh. My five things can truly change my attitude and any negative energy that might have crept into my brain. I want to remember the day in a positive light no matter what has happened.
And when all else fails, the best medicine for those discouraging things that can bring a teacher down is stepping into my classroom, closing the door, and spending time with my students. It’s feels like I’m closing off the negativity. I know I will find something in that room to change my attitude instantly.
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?
To some degree, I can agree with the opinion that students are coming to school with more issues. I have seen the dynamics in their home life is different and I am battling for space in their brains when there is so much they are exposed to and the tremendous amount of technology that is available to them. There have been some very challenging years from time to time, but those years have taught me some valuable lessons on how to reach my students.
However, what has not changed is the fact that they are still children. They are children who need and yearn for consistency and normalcy (whatever that is). It has always been my goal to provide that consistency to each student who walks through the door. It can be a struggle at first, but it doesn’t take long for my students understand that the procedures and rules don’t change for anyone. We are all on equal ground once the school day starts.
And once again, I rely on my colleagues to consult and assist me when times get overwhelming. I have to say I feel very blessed to work among the teachers in my hall. Every teacher has his or her challenging students that make others wonder how he or she manages each day. Challenges remind me that we are placed in these students’ lives for a reason. It is true divine intervention that we have these children for nine months and I strive to embrace that thought when times get overwhelming. I strive to ask myself what the student needs from me that another teacher possibly cannot provide.
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 really try to take all the demands that are placed on me in stride. The paperwork will get done in time. The government will fight over what they think is best for a profession they will never understand. People will change the curriculum I teach when they think they have found something that they assume is far better than what was far better than what they gave me last year. And let’s not get started on how half of my evaluation can be based on a test. There is a saying, “It is what it is.”
And yes, I complain and vent when I need that release of frustration. My husband is a great listener and reminds me that I can handle anything that comes my way. With all this weighing on me, I remind myself that I had a calling to this profession and in the end all that matters is that I am working for each little soul that is placed in those desks. That thought keeps me motivated to rise above the issues and strive to be the best educator I can be for my students. And me, it is as simple as closing that door and teaching.
6. How do you balance the demands of work with the demands of your family and your own personal life?
For me, it is all about planning, communicating, and maintaining an accurate, constantly changing calendar. I am so thankful for technology that helps my husband and I share a calendar. We put everything on that calendar from his business trips to my conferences. We are both completely aware of what is coming up with each other and our boys.
My boys are older now (a sophomore in high school and a freshmen in college) so it’s a little easier to work on school related things at “normal” hours. However, it wasn’t long ago when we all sat at the table working together. A combination of grading papers and helping with homework, before racing off to a practice was the norm. There were many late night hours, but we did it all and survived. I am proud to say that I never missed a field trip, a football game, or band performance. And I maintain that even now, I am a firm believer that we only get one shot at this parenting thing, so I want their activities to be a priority in my life as well.
During each work day, my ELA partner and I really try to maximize our planning time with each other. She and I divide up tasks like making copies, putting literacy stations together, or finding the materials we need. It helps alleviate the work load when we share the tasks.
7. What helps you maintain your enthusiasm over the years and keeps you from getting jaded or stuck in a rut?
There are so many things that keep me loving what I do. I love the groans of disappointing when I tell my students that it’s time to switch classes. I love watching my students attack the literacy tasks and stations I provide for them each week. I love hearing them tutor each other and problem solve with each other. I love the moments when they are all gathered on the floor in front of the Promethean board. My list is extensive. As I leave my classroom at the end of the day, I always look at the empty desks and feel accomplished that some fantastic learning happened in that room. I may not have seen or heard everything that occurred, but what I did witness will keep me going for days.
For me, teaching with technology helps just as much. Many years ago, my school district provided a grant to teachers who used quality technology based lessons. The grant provided technology based professional development, computers, and other devices. I was feeling the need to grow as a teacher, so I submitted my grant proposal and soon became an ITEC model classroom teacher. Being a part of the ITEC team as awarded me the opportunity to meet the needs of my “digital natives” and I also learn in the process which excites me.
8. What advice would you give a teacher who is feeling burned out but wants to love his or her job again?
The best advice I could give a fellow teacher is walk into your classroom, shut the door, and do what you love. There is a reason you chose this profession. It’s still there. You just have to dig through the ashes. It won’t happen instantly, but over time it can be found. Search your day for the smallest of moments. I trained myself to be hypersensitive to those moments and now they come so easily.
It happened just a week ago. I was having a particularly rough morning and I was slowly developing a case of the negatives. As I walked toward my classroom, a teacher on my team boasted about the rubric one of my classes had developed for a project for her class. She bragged about the terms and requirements they used. She urged me to see their thinking that was written on her board. I walked into her classroom and was overwhelmed by the sheer pride I felt radiating from them. She continued to explain what they deemed important came from what they had learned in my room. She had no idea how that morning had started or how she had turned it all around for me.
We all get bogged down by the mounting paperwork to sift through and the obstacle course that is education these days, but there is always room for the positive things that happen each day. Fall back on those moments. It truly helps me get through the muck.
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?
One practice any teacher can do today to change his or her thoughts and attitude is to walk away from the negative. Negativity can consume us and loves company. The world of education changes constantly and we bear the burden of the change we cannot control, but we can control how we look at it. As I said previously, we all have a reason we chose to be a teacher. We need to make that the forefront of our thoughts each day.
For me, it’s the complete joy of seeing the learning process in action. When the negatives want to creep in, I engulf myself in my students. I watch, I listen, and I sit among my students. Their energy can be addictive when they are onto something that intrigues them. It encourages me to develop lessons that continue the energy. I know that not every day can be the best, but I can try really hard to make it pretty close to the best when I find the positive in the smallest of moments.
Any questions for Angela? 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!