So I've been thinking about this post for a while. It all started a few weeks ago on Facebook. I am part of a few different groups for teachers and since school has started I've noticed a lot of posts that look and sound like these:
"Anyone else feeling overwhelmed?"
"I've never felt like a failure as much as I do this year."
"This is my most difficult year with students."
"Not sure I can make it through the year."
These posts just break my heart and not because it is only September. These posts break my heart because its almost like moments, days, weeks, or years like this extinguish a little bit of that teacher passion.
I think we've all been there at one time or another. So if this is you right now, I hope the rest of this post really encourages you.
1. It Takes a Special Person to be a Teacher - No really it does! Even on your worst days think about what you do. In just the first 5-10 minutes you take 20 (sometimes many more) children that aren't yours and you get them to assemble in a somewhat orderly manner. Just that in itself is a feat. Don't believe me - think about your significant other, neighbor, or friend who is not a teacher trying to do that. Many people I know would bail during that first 5-10 minutes. Still don't believe me - just ask one of those people if they would trade you jobs for just one day. Most people wouldn't even have to think about your offer. You are likely to hear a quick "NO!" Not everyone can do what you do. You are special and talented.
2. What You Are Doing Makes a Difference! I know that it doesn't always feel like you are making a difference. I know in the day to day grind of teaching parts of speech, or filling out the never ending stack of paperwork making a difference is the last thing you feel like you are doing. But you are! You are building our future one child, one day at a time. You spend more waking moments with the kids in your class than they do with their own parents. Yes, you teach them academics, but you teach them so much more too. You teach them how to be kind, caring human beings. You help develop their character and mold them into the people they will become. Have no doubt - you play a major role in creating our future. And if that doesn't make a difference I don't know what does.
3. Not Everything Fits Neatly into a Teaching Standard! It's OK! I've felt the frustration of ever increasing state demands and the stress of "the test" that leads to sleepless nights. I know all too well the time constraints that are felt when there is so much to do and not enough time. But sometimes, it's necessary to teach something that is not on the lesson plans. As a kindergarten teacher, much of what I taught at the beginning of the year did not fit neatly into the teaching standards. But you know what, it still needed to be taught. The legislators who drafted the standards just don't get it sometimes. Someone has to teach 5 year olds how to walk in a line and why it is important and even necessary. Someone has to teach the kindergarteners how to sit on the carpet, listen, wait their turn, hold their pencil, use scissors safely and how to work with others. Those things don't always fit neatly into a teaching standard but are very necessary. If you teacher 1st - 12th grades I'm sure you will agree that these are skills you like your students to have, yet someone had to teach them.
Then there are those days when a student is upset, scared, nervous or anxious. Teaching a student how to express their feelings, process their feelings and take appropriate action on their feelings just isn't found in the teaching standards - but yet again, it is necessary. Give yourself permission to take advantage of those teachable moments even if they don't fit into a teaching standard. Don't beat yourself up if you don't get to everything that was on the lesson plans. More often than not, those off the lesson plan lessons are the most important ones.
4. It's Okay to Take Time for Yourself. No - actually it's not just okay - it's necessary! For many years I felt guilty when I took even the smallest amount of time for myself. Most teachers I know are constantly putting other first. Your students, your family, other teachers - First! No that is not a bad thing but neither is taking some time for yourself. A few years ago I got a gift certificate for a massage and realized after my one hour of "me" time that I felt amazingly different. It had less to do with the massage (although that was amazing) and a lot more to do with an hour that I gave myself to just rest and rejuvenate. After that I made some financial sacrifices and started treating myself to a massage each month. It was amazing what a little hour did for my mood, motivation, and ability to help others. About 18 months ago, I took a leap into taking even more time for myself. I began a journey toward a healthier lifestyle. It absolutely took time for me to commit to making healthy meals and working out, but each and every minute I spent doing that had a great effect. I lost over 100 pounds and found lots of energy. Energy that I now use as a better wife, mom and teacher. You see, I learned that not only is taking time for myself okay, it actually makes me a better person. I only wish I would have learned this years ago! Does taking time for yourself have to be expensive - absolutely not. Find a good book and a quite spot. Go for a long walk. Spend some time on a hobby or activity you enjoy. Make healthy meals. Exercise. Sing. Dance. Just do something for you!
5. The Beginning of the School Year Won't Last Forever! Take Time to Find Your Groove! Yes, it is definitely a tough time of the year especially if you are a new teacher, teaching a new grade level, or at a new school. You've got new students, new expectations from your administrators, new plans for yourself. It's a time that is crazy busy with preparation, and probably not enough sleep (see #4 above). And no - this time does not magically end after the first day of school. Depending on the age of your students, this period of time can last anywhere from a few days to weeks.
I distinctly remember my first year of teaching. I taught middle school dyslexia reading classes. We took a couple days at the beginning of the year getting to know each other and the procedures for our class - then we got to work. Fast forward to my first year teaching third grade. By the end of the first week I was so frustrated with myself. I had followed my same procedures, and after a couple days jumped into teaching and didn't understand why my classroom procedures weren't working. I felt rushed and unorganized and so did my students. But I just knew that I should be teaching so I rushed through everything else. Big mistake! The best thing I did was give myself permission to go back, take time to really teach the procedures of our classroom, and not jump right into the hard core academics. It made all the difference!
Fast forward a few years to my first year teaching kindergarten. I knew that it was going to take a few weeks getting into the groove because I had learned that with third grade. In fact, I usually found that we hit our groove in third grade about week 4. Now picture me at week 4 highly frustrated, feeling like a complete failure and totally doubting my ability to teach kindergarten. We finished week 4 and we were no where near hitting our groove. I didn't take into account the fact that 5 year olds, many of who had never been in a school setting before, would need longer than 8 year olds, who needed longer than 12 year olds. I found myself yet again, taking a step back.
You may find that you can hit your groove faster than me and that is great. But the important thing to remember is to take the time you need in the beginning to build the relationships, put the procedures into place, and create a comfortable, safe learning environment. When you do these things, you too will hit your groove and you'll find that the rest of the year will be smoother because of it. Now my beginning of the year mantra is "BABYSTEPS!" That's my reminder that I need to slow down. A mentor teacher once told me "it pays to go slow at the beginning so you can go fast later." Those words are so very true and ones that I remind myself of every year.
If you haven't hit your groove yet, just know you are not alone. Allow yourself and your students the time you need to find your groove. It might take longer than previous years and that is okay because you have a new class, new personalities and new needs. Don't rush it. Nurture the process and it will pay off in the long run. If you feel like you rushed it and that is why your feeling a little out of control, it's not too late to take a couple steps back. The best is yet to come!
Do you have an encouraging word for a struggling teacher? How about an idea to help kick of the year to a great start? Share it in the comments. We can all use the encouragement at some time.