Welcome back! It’s 2019 and it’s going to be the best end to the school year you’ve ever had because you’re going to make it so! Effective teachers constantly cultivate their mental fitness in order to endure and grow stronger, but every teacher knows the exhaustion that can set-in during the second half of the school year. While you’re feeling somewhat refreshed and ready to tackle the term, I wanted to take advantage of your “new year mindset” and share 5 concrete tips for making this your best end to the school year, ever!
#1 Backwards Plan- Your teacher life
Backwards Plan. The essence of good curriculum planning and teaching. In this case. though, you’re employing backwards planning for your own good. We know that we need to look ahead for our students and where we want them to go before we can decide where to start. The same goes for your own teaching practices. If you look ahead at the school year and know that you have three new units you’d like to create (go you!) then you need to figure out where you need to start for each. If you don’t plan ahead, you’ll find yourself in a bind to create a new unit in November before Thanksgiving and engulfed in burn out. You can be sure theunit you’re going to create is rushed, lacking in energy and draining whatever energy you had left. Instead, look ahead to see that you have times of inspiration and productivity as a teacher and your lesson planning should happen during those times as much as possible. Get going over the summer, in the first few weeks of school, and pick back up again after winter break. Set a realistic pace and stick to it. Backwards Plan for your own sake.
#2 Find the Flow
Our minds work best when we set aside blocks of time to effectively tune out the rest of the world and focus solely on the task at hand. This doesn’t mean sit in front of your computer to grade on Turnitin.com while simultaneously keeping the tab open to Facebook and your cell phone on your desk to answer text messages. You have to find blocks of time as a teacher to set aside to work in your “flow”. Perhaps you have a prep period each day where you know you’ll have 55 minutes to accomplish a task. Close your classroom door, turn on relaxing music and grade essays for a solid 50 minutes. It will take you a few minutes to get into the rhythm and then you’ll be able to power through 15 essays with clear direction instead of distractedly grading 3. I know that prep periods are a sacred time. Some days you just need a break. But I have found that the more focus I pour into those moments of flow during the “downtime,” the more relaxed and refreshed I feel in general because so much more work has been completed before the day is done.
In essence, don’t become overwhelmed with the thoughts of “how much work you have to do” and dive into the work. Get to school a half hour early. Use your prep period. Close your door for 45 minutes after school. You’ll leave at the end of the day with more work accomplished, rather than attempting to muster up the energy at 8:00 p.m. to do “just a little bit more.”
#3 Charge Up with a little HEALTHY competition
We’ve all been there, you have a rough group of students and each day feels like a battle and you talk to a colleague down the hall who seems to be loving their group. She seems well-rested and energetic, while you struggled to put your shoes on the right feet this morning.
Do you find yourself asking these questions:
-What is she doing that I am not?
-Is she better at connecting with her students?
-She must be up all night working too much. Her personal life must be suffering, no?
-Or perhaps, she doesn’t work hard enough. Does she even get her kids to do anything or just have fun all block?
The list goes on and on. These questionscan lead us down a toxic, unhealthy path of comparison. But if we recognize these feelings of comparison and discomfort they can instead fuel us when we’re running out of steam.
Instead, think about:
-What is it that I am envious about?
-What insight might she be able to give me to try something new?
-Maybe her group is really challenging, but she’s choosing to look at it in a different way.
-What do I sense they’re doing better than me?
-Has she figured out a better work-life balance that fuels her up during the day?
Whatever it is, let it charge you up to find the next solution or temporary remedy. A short conversation with them might leave you feeling inspired to try a new technique in your room. A little competitive streak can guide you in the direction to becoming the best teacher you can be. Just don’t let yourself stew in the comparison game without action.
#4 Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
In the book How Bad Do You Want it? Mastering the Psychology of Mind Over Muscle, by Matt Fitzgerald, he discusses what it takes to become an ultimate athlete, yet the same psychology applies to teaching today. He says, “The more discomfort a [teacher] expects, the more she can tolerate, and the more she can tolerate, the better she can perform.” Reread that last line one more time. How much truth is there in that statement? If you’re primed to handle an insane level of discomfort, the issues themselves become easier to handle.
Think of all of the different types of discomfort you must tolerate as a teacher; student attitudes, short lunch breaks, disgruntled co-workers, challenging students, bothered parents, piles of ungraded work and the list goes on. The more you work towards handling discomfort, rather than shying away from it, the stronger you’ll become. The happier you’ll become.
If you’re dissatisfied with any portion of your teaching career, there is a good chance that there is some level of comfort that is feeding this toxic wasteland. If you’re bored with the curriculum you’ve taught for the past six semesters, blame the comfort you’ve found in having the lesson plan already completed, in its outdated state. When we’re comfortable with the material, we can walk into our classroom on any given day and teach without having to put forth a whole lot of foresight. Don’t get me wrong, these comfortable moments can be magical and they can provide a sense of normalcy and reprieve in the non-stop world of teaching. But great lessons aren’t bred in these moments. It’s when we push past the discomfort of trying something new or tweaking that excellent unit to be current and relevant, that our own excitement is ignited and we make great things happen.
So I challenge you, look back on the past few weeks, days, and think about any time you were dissatisfied with the current state and see if there weren’t some lazy choices that were behind them. Maybe you taught the same-old-lesson from years ago simply to make it to winter break (I don’t blame you). Or instead of coming up with a better hook to your unit, you chose to veg-out on Instagram during your prep. As my husband’s aunt would say, “Choices have consequences.” We have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Take chances writing new units. Sign up for the GoFundMe to raise enough money to buy the books you want to teach, not the ones you have to teach. It might be hard, and it will definitely involve more work, but the happier, recharged teacher will thank you for it, as will your students.
Great teachers are willing to do what mediocre teachers aren’t, and that’s going the extra mile and taking on a little discomfort along the way.
#5 Want It
You have to want this school year to be the best one yet. There’s no denying that each and every year you will come up against many obstacles that will break you down and crush your spirit at times, but you have to want the happiness on the other side more. Maybe there is an incredibly negative partner on your team that has a tendency to bring every meeting down, always point out the obstacles. So be it. Let them complain. And then kindly remark something positive in their wake, close your door, and do what you have to do.
Hopefully your school is chock-full of great leadership that is hell-bent on creating a positive culture amongst your faculty, but unfortunately, I think that’s rather rare. What’s a teacher to do? Become a victim of the system? You don’t have to be. I don’t have to be. I can become a leader amongst those around me through my own attitude and drive. I can want it more.
So bring it, 2019. With some determination and hard work, this will be the best school year yet!