I’m really lucky. I teach in a small rural school district, with great kids (students, but I always refer to them as my kids). They’re largely well behaved, inquisitive, and their parents are supportive. Most days, I get to go to work, try out new activities, and observe my students thinking and learning. It’s not a bad deal.
Once a month, however, I have to attend a department meeting. And that meeting is where my soul goes to die.
I’m not going to go into detail as to why my department meetings are not brimming with positivity. I know you might be thinking that I should be the leader, that with a gung-ho attitude and can-do-it spirit, I might be able to turn things around! Trust me, I promise, there is no hope. At least until someone retires.
Most teachers have to confront a similar situation. Most of us become teachers because we like working with kids. Sometimes, adults like fellow teachers or cranky administrations can really ruin the experience of teaching. In recent years, I’ve found ways to revive my love for my career and shield myself from the negativity.
1. Find online communities that share your values – When I first started teaching APUSH, I was lost in a sea of confusing acronyms and overwhelmed by the specificity required by the course. Thankfully, I found a facebook group that was made up of teachers who specifically taught APUSH. I can throw out any question regarding the course on that forum and have an answer within minutes. I also get to talk to people who love history and who decorate their classrooms with incredible historical nerdiness. When I added “Hamilton” lyrics to my door this year, I was able to share them photos and gain some positive affirmations from the group.
Those interactions can seem small, but they really matter. I recently started my own facebook group for Middle School Social Studies teachers. This group is also generating the same kind of positivity and support that I’ve experienced in the APUSH group.
2. Find colleagues in your school who renew your spirit – School cultures can thrive on negativity. Sometimes, I need to vent with the best of them. Still, a good colleague will take in your venting, and then spin that with a positive context. Thankfully, the teachers I work with at my grade level are a kind-hearted bunch. We all love seventh graders, and we understand their little quirks. Whenever I need some solace or someone who I can bounce ideas off of them, I know I can go to those colleagues. Most likely you’ve found “your people” in your school district. If you feel that you’re all alone on an island in your school district, maybe find teachers in districts nearby. Meet up locally for coffee and commiseration. One of my closest teacher friends was transferred to another building several years ago. We still get together to talk.
3. Professional Development doesn’t have to be a chore – Yes, there is some horrible professional development out there. I’ve been to many workshops that were an absolute waste of my time. Over the year, however, I’ve become better at sourcing the good ones. When a possible session pops up, I’ll check with my colleagues in online forums or over facebook to make sure it’s worth attending. A great PD session will provide opportunities for instructional and networking growth. You might connect with someone who’s been dealing with a similar frustration in their classroom, and be able to brainstorm possible solutions.
4. Instagram, Instagram, Instagram – For a quick pick-me-up in my daily life as a teacher, I always turn to Instagram. My Instagram account is filled with fellow teachers who are all facing the same daily tasks as myself. It might seem silly, but when I wake up in the dead of winter and drive to work before the sunrises I need a bright spot to start my day. Seeing other teachers’ joy or frustration reminds me that I’m not alone.
As you’re well aware, teaching is difficult. As teachers, we don’t need to place a heavier burden on ourselves by trying to face the experience all alone. Even though it may not seem like it, there are other teachers dealing with the task of “teacher life.” Try your best to find them.