As many of you are already teaching in the new year, attending professional developments, or soaking in the last minutes of the sun, it is imperative to reflect and progress for the 2015-2016 school year. It is no secret that teaching as one, if not the top, profession for burnout rate. In a piece for THE Journal, Cheryl Scott Williams writes, "They start out intending to make teaching a lifelong profession. However, according to the report, young teachers leave the profession at a rate 51 percent higher than older teachers and transfer to a different school at a rate 91 percent higher than their older colleagues. Studies also show that the national teacher-turnover rate costs school districts approximately $7 billion annually.(Read more at http://thejournal.com/articles/2011/11/03/teacher-burnout.aspx#SrAzU5m040D0p5YX.99). Let's begin this year anew and reflect on some thoughts and practices to push past those emotions and stressful points.
1. Rainy Day Box
Begin the year reflecting on the students you've helped. It should be a mandatory practice, one I've conveyed with all student teachers, to keep a rainy day box. I a box where you put cards and letters from students, parents, and staff. I also tell them to take pictures of kids learning and growing to add to these artifacts of happiness. I usually spend the opening minutes of the first day with kids flipping through these and I feel invigorated by how I've helped so many children already in my career. If you have students write and turn in a reflection of you as teacher at the end of the previous year, reread these. I often find that the writing reflects the positions: we all start the year stressed, figuring out how to grow thirty-five students in six different periods, but end up a family as the year ends. The train ride may be long, full of stops, and numerous challenges, but the destination, a child succeeding in this world is worth it. Review those memories. Keep that box, because rainy days will come.
2. A Big Heart
Remember that your students are not just test scores, data points, and gradebooks, they are people and more importantly, children. During summer readings and training, we focus so much on the how and what to teach that we forget the why and who to teach, are starting points for becoming teachers. Remember that all students are different, have different levels of skills and interests, but more importantly background. Some times, those backgrounds are more important and more demanding that learning puns. Throughout my career, it still doesn't amaze me the amount of issues students face by thirteen or fourteen that most in the country have only thought as of fictional. Drug problems, abuse problems, family problems, and so on. Have a big heart and not a big stick. Remember that a student's psychological and emotional growth can sometimes trump the lesson.
3. Love the Challenge
Be as excited as students are to return. Teaching is not a job, it is not a profession, it is a lifestyle. If you look at this profession in the context how others view the traditional job/profession, you will be swamped with all of the paperwork and meetings and planning, etc. Choose to find every challenge exciting and alter your thinking. A challenging student with numerous disciplinary points and emotional disorders should be welcomes because you (Yes you! Teacher barely getting the posters up and rushing through your seating charts and nights of dreams filled with your worst thoughts manifesting) will change that student's life. We teach our students to love challenges and that they can't grow without facing new challenges and new ideas. We must follow suit and love and be positive about our challenges and welcome a challenging student. Those challenging students are the best thing for us as teacher professionals and as human begins. We can't grow without them, so welcome them so that we can grow.
4. Find Your Rock
A professor at Penn State, who was involved in public education for over thirty-five years, as asked by a student my sophomore year: "How do you deal with all the stress and emotions of teaching?" His answer, a rock. Early in his career, he became overwhelmed and his home life was suffering from bringing the stress and worry home with him. One afternoon, after a day of challenging students and then arguing with his girlfriend, he picked up a large rock and went to throw it and stopped. He felt all his emotions and thoughts flood through him and into his rock. The next day, he took this rock to his desk and began a new practice. At the end of the day and before walking out the door, he touched the rock, holding it for ten seconds. He placed all his emotional stress and worry into the rock before leaving. He took work home and graded papers, but didn't bring the emotional valleys and downtrodden thoughts to his home. The next morning, he placed his hand on the rock for ten seconds and retrieved those worry, if needed. Teachers cannot become robots and remove the heartache that goes with knowing so much about 200 or more students (high school teachers) a year. We feel, we cry, we dive through the darkness with our students, but to remain a caring rock for our students, we must find a place to hold those thoughts so that we don't become overwhelmed.