Thursday, June 5, 2008

Staying Positive When Teaching Gets Tough

Why Teaching is Tough

What makes teaching tough is the sheer amount of things that demand your time, your attention, and your energy. Teaching is not just about lesson planning, teaching the lesson, and grading papers.

Teaching is about teaching the lesson five times a day (equivalent to making a big presentation five times a day), managing the classroom and meting out discipline; it’s about managing your homeroom, your extracurricular activity (for me, planning prom), and attending school events. It’s about staying after school to meet with students, department chairs, parents, and administrators. It’s about meeting standards, keeping up with the curriculum, and trying to make everyone else happy while still accomplishing your own objectives.

Add to these overwhelming tasks a classroom full of apathetic students. You can begin to feel like what you do every day doesn’t matter and even worse, that you don’t matter.

Getting Frustrated

Staying positive can be difficult when you’re faced with the huge teaching demands and multiple classrooms of apathetic students. My first go-around as a teacher was like riding a massive emotional roller coaster. I went into the classroom with huge expectations and an idealistic outlook – I was going to connect with the students, challenge them, and mold them into creative and energetic adults.

Talk about a reality check when entering the classroom! In general, teenagers appear to be a self-centered, easily distracted, unthinking group. I kept getting so frustrated when I couldn’t get through to them, when I couldn’t even get them to pay attention to me. I let it get to me and I quit teaching after five years.

Staying Positive

In my second time as a new teacher, I made some adjustments. I abandoned most (but not all) of my idealism and I made a conscious decision not to let the kids get to me. I would say to myself, “It’s just not worth worrying about. Let it go.” When I go home at night, I leave the kids behind. It’s tough to do, but it’s totally worth doing!

Another trick I use to is to remember the individual good days that I have had, either by writing it down or sharing it as a story with someone else. I also keep a file of positive notes written to me by students, telling me how much they enjoyed my class or that they really like some particular activity. When I’m feeling bummed after a lousy day of teaching, I call up the memories or open up my file and remember when I did something well, and I let myself feel good about it.

One final trick I use is to connect with another teacher whom you can consider a friend. One of my best friends is an elementary school teacher and we get together regularly for coffee or dinner to share the ups and downs of our week. Having another “teacher friend” is great, because he/she is the best person to sympathize with your frustrations and offer suggestions to help get you through the rough times.


Dana Huff said...

Your "good notes" file is such a good idea. I have notes, printed e-mails, and cards (and a nice photo one class took of themselves at Walden Pond because we had studied Thoreau together, and I couldn't go on the trip) pinned to a corkboard by my desk so I can glance over when I'm stressed, frustrated, or sad, and they never fail to cheer me up.

SCMorgan said...

Your blog is a wonderful idea. We find we never have enough time to mentor "new" teachers, whether they are new or returning to the classroom. I have to smile at your comment about leaving the worry at school. After more than 25 years in the classroom or administration, I still have sleepless nights. I was up last night, unable to sleep as I mulled over yesterday's meeting. Ah well.

Sally Kilpatrick said...

I'd like to add here that I have bought an annual for each year that I taught, and I let me students write in it. The messages that they left behind range from "See, Ms. Kil, I can't live without my cell phone." to "You're a great teacher and a great person; I want to be more like you." The best of the messages warm the heart, and even my "bad" classes actually refrained from writing anything negative because I asked them to--probably because they knew just how much I was trusting them. I really recommend that all teachers pay the exorbitant price to have a yearbook and let the kids sign it.

Matt Graham said...


Excellent idea for a blog! However, it's a bit too late, as I just finished my first year teaching 9th graders. I can definitely relate to a lot of what you said. I found myself going through cycles throughout the year. Some days would be great, and then I would have weeks wondering why I spent four years learning to do this. Before teaching, my job including selling a service that people came to us because they wanted it. It is difficult now trying to sell something (education) that most of them will do anything not to get.

Now that the school year is done, I find myself missing most of my kids, even ones that I thought I never wanted to see again. What do you do during your school year to make yourself think positively about that extra special kid that seems to make your life a nightmare. Generally there is a reason for his or behavior that is far worse and sad than we could imagine. What do you do to help yourself empathize with these children?


Mrs. Ampersand said...

I have a folder of "Happy Things" for rainy days. I thought I thought of that! At least I know now that I shouldn't be ashamed of it...there are more like me out there...