All teachers feel some sense of discouragement at some point in their careers, whether due to lessening administration support, increasing class sizes, or overwhelming stacks of homework to grade. This does not even include dynamics with students and other faculty members, let alone school politics. Whether we mean to or not, the stress outside the classroom can worsen the stress in the classroom, depleting us and compromising our effectiveness with students. How do we stay positive and enjoy our profession despite the difficulties?
Know your limits.
Remember that what will be best for you can also be best for your students. If you do not have the energy to sit through hours of grading papers, assign something shorter or alternate between light and heavy assignments. There are definite curriculum standards to meet, but finding a balance, like doing intervals on a treadmill, helps everyone do their best over time instead of expecting a marathon sprint.
Accept the unknown.
Every day that we stand in front of our students or step on a school campus, we are facing the unknown. All human beings do, in fact, but we teachers are constantly trying to plan for the best case scenarios (or the worst) and our plans are rarely executed the way we intended. When I first started teaching in the classroom, I was so terrified of running out of material to cover that I wrote an extensive script for each class to avoid that awkward moment of silence that judgmentally says, “Well, what now?”
This intensive screenplay was inevitably problematic because I was rigidly bound to my agenda and left no room for the unexpected. I was ready to sacrifice the students’ needs and practicalities for my “known” – I would stick to an activity or assignment even if my kids were staring blankly at their papers or starting to fidget. It was the principle of the thing, after all. As a result, I found myself in constant, tacit grapples with the students and hated my job. However, once I began to accept that my scripts could not save me and started to trust that the right idea or inspiration would be there when I really needed it, my classes were more laid back and enjoyable. I could use my imagination and improvise while my students could feel understood.
Now, I do not go into classes with no idea what we need to cove that day, but I have backup materials in case the energy is not quite right for my original goals. I still do my research, but I know I can outline what I think will be a great lesson, only to find something even better right before the students file in. This is faith, to trust that what I need will be there when I need it.
Tell your students you believe in them.
This is at the heart of our job as educators – to encourage and prepare our students for the difficulties ahead of them, which will be criticism more often than academic struggles. Our kids will encounter plenty of people who will try to tear them down in their lifetimes, so we can counterbalance that negativity while we have them and build them up as much as we can. This does not mean ignoring weaknesses and allowing subpar performance, but it looks like challenging students and telling them out loud, over and over, that you believe in them and their abilities.
Kids respond to this positivity and can surprise us with their willingness. The best part is that, even if we are short on confidence when we start telling students that we believe in them, we start to believe the things we say. When we truly believe that our kids can rise to the occasions we present, they meet our expectations.
Overall, we might lose sight of the rewards in teaching, at times, and this profession is hard enough without losing that vision of hope and purpose. If we set ourselves up for success, our students benefit, as well.