Right now I’m about halfway through my winter break. I had a little bit of schoolwork to do, but I finished it up on the first Monday so I could spend my time doing all the things I never seem to have quite enough time to do as I would like to – read for pleasure, play guitar, draw, watch movies, and spend time with family.
It’s also a time when we many of us make New Year’s resolutions in an attempt to get a good start to the year. And while teachers are halfway through the year already, there are some good practices we can put into place to make the rest of the school year go better. They won’t drastically change the way we teach, but they might just make us better teachers.
1. Stop thinking you can get it all done.
Because you can’t. There will always be more to do, and you can suck up all your free time working on schoolwork if you’re not careful.
I am all caught up on grading and have the first week planned out in all my classes. However, I could use my break to plan out the next week, and then the next week after that. I could also fall into the trap of overplanning – going over and over the first week’s lessons to see if I can make any changes that will make the lesson go smoother.
I read a book that talked about the healthy habit of learning when to say that you’ve done enough. If we want to, we can spend all of our evenings and weekends on schoolwork. However, we’ll never get caught up because there’s always something else you can do. Learn to set manageable goals for how much time you’ll spend on schoolwork and you won’t feel so overwhelmed all the time. It will all get done eventually.
One easy way to do this that I learned from Angela Watson is to set an intention for how much you’ll actually work on schoolwork over the weekend and put it in your calendar. If you say “I’m going to grade papers and plan on Sunday from 2 to 4” you avoid the trap of spending the entire weekend on school business.
2. Stop giving too much of yourself.
Remember that teaching is only one of the things you chose to do with your life, and having a healthy, interesting life outside of the classroom is the best thing you can do for your overall well-being. This means interests, hobbies, and other pursuits. Some of the happiest teachers I know are those that are doing something really cool with their time outside of school – rock climbing, playing in a band, or building stuff in a wood shop. It gives them another way to feel success and mastery, which is important for teachers if they are really having a hard time.
Where do these people find the time? They don’t. They make the time. You’ll never find the time for hobbies and interests. You have to make the time, and these teachers are good at budgeting time for the activities that are important to them.
Chances are, there’s something you once enjoyed doing that you no longer feel like you have the time to do. Pick it up again. If it made you happy once, it will again. And the great thing is if you have a bad day at school, you always have your hobbies to give you peace.
Just like with schoolwork, you may have to actually put into your calendar that you’ll play the guitar from 3-3:30 in the afternoon. If you do that, you’re less likely to use that time to do something else. And be selfish with that time. You deserve it.
3. Stop letting other people determine your worth.
As a teacher it’s easy to feel like you’re constantly being judged in ways that you don’t want to. But you’re actually allowed to set the terms.
For one thing, don’t let people you’ll never meet determine your worth. You will never meet any of the politicians whose decisions cause you such despair. Same thing with news reporters who seem to always be spending their time being critical of teachers. Wouldn’t you rather be judged by the people you see face to face?
But what about those people you interact with every day? Kids, administrators, and other people in the building? Some you can avoid: you can choose not to eat lunch with certain teachers because of their negative attitude. But just because you have to interact with your students, parents, and administrators doesn’t mean that you have to hand the remote control of your feelings to these people and say, “here you go. You get to determine how I feel about myself today.” A bad student or a bad interaction with a parent may be discouraging, but it does not make you a bad teacher.
And here’s a bonus one:
Only send out positive messages on social media.
Every year on Facebook I see posts about “The Myths of Summer’s Off,” “Why I Quit Teaching,” or “How Many Hours Teachers Actually Work.” I know that we send those messages out to support each other, but I tend to get really anxious and sad when I see them. I’ve never felt better about my job and more encouraged to do well. They seem positive and supportive, but they really aren’t. And they might actually encourage someone to quit the profession because the odds seem insurmountable.
So make a point to only spread positive messages about our profession. Think before you post or repost: is this likely to make someone have a better day? If it isn’t, leave it alone. Or make it your job to be the teacher who’s above the fray and only posts messages of encouragement. Who knows? You might make someone’s day brighter.
Learning should be fun! Check out my Teachers Pay Teachers store for fun comic resources like those below.