Teachers are some of the most dedicated and overworked people on the planet. Often they are up early to feed their own families and get them off to school before arriving early in their own buildings to prepare the way for learning in their classrooms. Days are intense with having to wear so many hats – teacher, nurse, parent, problem-solver, fundraiser, shoe-tier, pet feeder, counselor, first line of defense, liaison, analyst. . . and the list does go on and on. A teacher is moving and interacting on many levels every day over long days, and the work does not end at school.
People outside the profession do not really understand the teacher’s life when they say things like, “I wish I got my summers off like you do!” Many teachers use this time out of the classroom to plan their next school year, study new curriculum, earn higher degrees in order to benefit their students and colleagues, or to study new innovations a school district may be implementing for the coming year. There is more than a tacit understanding that teachers are continually improving themselves, and summer and weekends can disappear quite quickly in pursuit of continuing education. It is no wonder that new teachers leave the business early on in their careers.
So where’s the love in all of this duty and busyness? The following are a few areas of focus to help teachers reconnect with their sense of purpose as humans and educators.
- Take care of yourself first. Often, teachers make themselves an afterthought. The responsibility is so great, students need immediate attention, administrators have immediate demands, and that sense of wanting to be all things to all people may have been ingrained early in the teacher’s childhood. When you are worn out, your family is suffering for your over-attention to work details, and you are likely forgetting to take care of you. Develop discipline around grading papers late into the evening. Get the sleep you need, eat meals that nourish your body, and take time to enjoy them. Move your body in unique and energetic ways to maintain an interest in exercise. Engage in hobbies you enjoy that have nothing directly to do with teaching, but are enriching and give you moments to free yourself from duty. You have already worked the teacher muscles, so balance your life by exercising something else.
- Cultivate collegial relationships on and off school grounds. Teachers reach out to students throughout the day; do the same with other staff members. Treat each other with respect and interest. Note the accomplishments of others, and the special things that teachers do without expecting to have them noticed. You will lift the spirits of yourself and another professional and begin to build a spirit of trust and appreciation, qualities present in all schools of cooperation. Avoid toxic conversation, and think in terms of solution-focused processing. Observe teachers teaching, especially those who have a reputation for excellence. Be interested in your new teachers, who will need support even when they won’t ask for it.
- In the workplace and within the community, become active with parents (PTA), the teacher’s union, community outreach projects. Since it may be a requirement to serve on committees, join those that are aligned with your values and include others of like minds. Find the things that you love and volunteer when you feel that the time you have for the extras is enough to keep your life joyful. Don’t really care for movie night once a month? Perhaps reading at a book fair or hosting an activity at literacy night is more in line with what you value.
- Lastly, remember that your bottom line is students. Develop your personal philosophy, and let it infuse your classroom. Your authenticity will go a long way in securing the respect of your students. Listen to your students and respond with questions that get them to tell you more. Free yourself from judgment, even when they tell you their hard-to-hear truths. Smile a lot, because children need to know that school is a safe place, full of people who really care about them. Once they feel safe, they are open learning vessels that will surprise you with their excitement about what you need to teach them. This is the love – the love of learning, of being present, of accomplishment, and knowing that you are doing exactly what you were created to do, TEACH.