At the beginning of the September—before school even began here in Michigan—I wrote about the ten steps I wanted to start and continue making in class this year.
Now that I’m seven weeks in to the new school year, I want to make sure I’m tending not only to my students’ needs by to mine as well. In particular, I want to cultivate strategies to the address areas where my teacher motivation was annihilated last year.
Ugh. It was a mess. [I wrote a little about it here.]
By the spring, I felt like nothing was working in my classroom, and that low efficacy gave me those rough moments of self-doubt: “Am I actually good at this job?”
Let me know if I’m wrong, but this doesn’t happen to just me, right? You’ve all had that question flash through your mind at some point in your career: “Should I consider another profession?”
I was doing everything “right” (or so the instructional research says), yet I couldn’t I even get all of my students to turn in their homework or show some basic self-control. [To clarify, I had a lot of attention-seeking, over-the-line, repetitive noise-makers last year. Really, by high school, this shouldn’t be a classroom management issue, but for this particular group there seemed to be no remedy.]
So why drag up those difficult months last Spring? It’s a new year. A fresh start. A clean slate. I should just be thankful that today in my sixth hour—a class of thirty-three US History students (Crazy class size, I know)—all but three turned in their homework. I am grateful, and I see the shift; however, I still want to work on protecting my own drive, my own motivation for doing this job, especially if I want to keep at it.
So stemming off of my start + continue list from the last post, here’s short list of what I’m going to stop doing this school year:
11. Stop Doing More of the Work than my Students
In our district, we’re supposed to document any and all accommodations or supports we make for students. We have to do this not just for our SPED students but in particular for the kids at risk of failing, in order to document we’ve made the appropriate efforts to help them be successful. Maybe your district requires the same.
Thanks to internal and external pressures, district requirements like this get warped in my brain to say, “If a student fails, it’s all your fault.” I end up spending my should-be-sleeping hours catastrophizing that I haven’t done enough for my students. Anyone else do this?
My job somehow shifts from instructor to bounty-hunter. I spend hours each week chasing a select few students, begging them to stay in at lunch, turn in missing work, or rewrite essays. When it comes to clock hours, I’ve been “punched in” working 10x more than my failing students. I’m not discounting the value of offering late credit, tutoring, or revisions here. I have to see that it’s ridiculous that by the end of the semester even my most troubled student isn’t the one collecting late work, emailing me to set up office hour appointments, and begging for retake opportunities.
If I truly follow a “gradual release of responsibility” instructional model, then I have to speak truth to myself and see that I have informed my students how to seek my support (especially by the end of the term) . Now it’s their turn; they just have to have to do the work.
12. Stop Owning Their Poor Choices
Michael Linsin of Smart Classroom Management, another favorite teacher blog, recently spoke directly to my tired, Springtime teacher heart, revealing why I felt so ineffective:
“The worst cause of teacher stress is trying to convince students to behave. It’s a reliance on your words to get them under control.
It’s the belief that you are the problem, that their bad decisions are because of your inability to push the right buttons. In other words, it’s taking responsibility for their misbehavior.
This approach to managing students manifests itself in the form of lectures, talking-tos, pep-talks, and threats. Intimidation and false praise are also telltale signs.
Not only are these methods remarkably stressful, but they cause misbehavior to worsen over time.”
So whether it’s the sixth grader who makes the constant water drop noise when you turn your back or one of your favorite juniors who got an MIP, we cannot own our students’ decisions. We can certainly be bummed by these adolescent infractions; however, we will lose ourselves and our drive for this profession if we take these behaviors home with us or let them wear on our hearts.
13. Stop Whirlpooling in Teacher Drama
It doesn’t matter whether you teach in a high school or elementary building, there will be drama. There is always something for teachers to gossip about: sometimes it’s within departments, between senior and novice teachers, administers and staff, union members and the Board of Ed.
Regardless of which rumor-filled quicksand I find myself sinking in, I know that spending my prep period blathering with my colleagues will neither clear my endless stack of grading nor will it necessarily solve the world’s problems. Knowing myself, it will only bring me down and make me feel powerless in my position.
Recently, my team and I found ourselves fretting longer than our normal, brief “airing of grievances.” Dave called us out on it: “If we do this for an hour a week, we could lose out on forty hours of work this year.” For the first time, this reminder moved my thoughts beyond the moral rebuke to one of productivity, energy, and stamina. This chatter—like the control and the chase—can drain me and my efficacy in the classroom.
14. Stop Glorifying “Busy”
My teacher evaluation rubric includes the element of Professional Responsibilities. Maybe yours does too.
At twenty-two, in my first year of teaching, I thought this meant that thirteen-hour days were the answer: “They’ll only respect you,” my crazy voice said, “if your car is the last one in the parking lot each night. That’s the only way to prove how hard you’re working.” Volunteer for this committee. Coach that team. Advise another club. Offer an extra hand. This constant pageantry of how busy I was had me beat. And it’s no wonder: I was trying to refuel my self-doubt with the hustle.
Far too many years later, I’ve come to realize that busy isn’t a badge of pride. Busy is a choice. One of my favorite writers Lara Casey, author of Make it Happen puts it this way:
“Busy is the enemy of peace. Busy takes us away from our purpose. Busy is not truly productive in the big picture. Busy means life’s joys and surprises can’t find a way into our lives because we’re moving too fast to see and experience them. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to move so fast that I miss my life.”
Yes, I love my job, and I enjoy working hard; however, I don’t want to do this at the expense of my life, my health, or my relationships. One way that I’m slowing down the hustle is by 1) setting office hours to follow both at school and at home, 2) setting aside my devices in the evening, and 3) not taking on new professional responsibilities without responsibly quitting something else.
15. Stop Holding Myself to a Standard of Perfection
Like the glorification of busy, it took me equally as long to understand the self-destructive powers of perfectionism. I didn’t realize that this endless quest for perfect—top scores on my evaluation, dramatic student growth, lots of followers on Twitter, large audiences at conference sessions—was weakening more than just my classroom practice. Brené Brown, well known for her TED Talks and subsequent books, writes about this unhealthy balance in
“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”
There isn’t a problem with working hard. The issue is when I don’t stop working because I’m not satisfied with “good enough.” Perfectionism is rooted in a bunch of icky places. For me, I have to give myself some grace because I cannot serve anyone well (my students, my colleagues, my family) if I don’t take care of myself and set some limits.
What About You?
As we find ourselves in the midst some start-of-the-year teacher stress, what are you going to do to cope with DEVOLSON? What are you going to start, continue, and stop doing this year? If we want to make in the ever-demanding profession without burning out, what are you going to do to truly take care of yourself?