Teaching is a noble profession, they say. Good teachers spend all their time working, they say. Amazing teachers spend their own money on student supplies and classroom decor, they say. Teachers are selfless, they say.
Are they wrong? As a teacher about 5 years in, I do believe that teachers are some of the most incredible, strong, resilient, giving people I know. We’re used to being told that we’re either noble and selfless or unworthy of adequate pay. It’s a weird dichotomy. It’s almost like American society tells us that we’re such selfless people so that we can be paid less.
We become so used to fighting, fighting, fighting for respect, appropriate funding, and higher pay that we feel we have to prove our worthiness. So we work harder and argue louder. The pressure to prove ourselves leads to burnout as we pile more time and energy into a profession that already takes so much.
Don’t get sucked in. You have nothing to prove. Working more hours doesn’t make you a better teacher. Spending your evenings grading instead of going out with friends doesn’t make you more worthy or noble. The messages of this world are loud and clear- but they’re not true. They’re lies.
I’ve blogged about this many times, but I think it bears repeating. You can be an incredible, outstanding, service-oriented teacher even if you don’t work long hours, spend all your money on your students, and live and breathe your job. Stories of these types of teachers are the ones that make the news. They’re the stories we read about in books and articles. When we read them, we sometimes get sucked in, having doubts about ourselves or feeling justified for the long hours.
Yet it’s not about living up to society’s version of a selfless, Freedom Writers-esque teacher. It’s about serving your students the best way you know how, implementing reflective teaching practices, adopting a spirit of growth, and finding the proper work/life balance that allows you to thrive.
I refuse to see how teachers that are entirely consumed by their jobs can possibly set a good example of a healthy, balanced human being for their students. Sure, teachers can be passionate and giving of themselves. But students also need to have genuine relationships with adults who practice self care. Isn’t that how they learn to prioritize their own health and well being?
As a new teacher, I listened to the lies and spent almost every second of my first year creating meaningful lessons and grading student work. To some degree, every new teacher works more hours their first year than in later years. But I spent ALL my time working, believing it was the only way to be a good teacher. It’s because I’m a perfectionist, I told myself like that was something to brag about rather than a label hiding my fears of inadequacy.
So how do we, as teachers, work towards a healthy, balanced lifestyle? I don’t have all the answers, but I have some places to start. I’ve been on this journey of self-care for a few years now. I believe I’m a better teacher for it.
Check in with yourself daily. This isn’t some woo woo, out there advice. It’s an invitation to pause several times a day (or maybe once a day at first) and ask yourself how you’re feeling. Are you energetic and excited? Are you anxious and tense? Are you sad and frustrated? Are you tired and spent? Ask yourself how you’re doing, notice any tension you carry. Then make a choice that’s right for you in regards to your time. If you’re exhausted, the grading can wait.
Plan ahead and have your own back. If you’re feeling anxious about the coming week’s tasks, write them down. Plan when you’ll complete them. And then complete them when the time comes. Have your own back.
Build time into your daily routine for yourself. For me, it’s 15 minutes in the morning and the hour before I go to bed. I read or chat on the phone with a friend or cuddle with my husband or pray. Whatever I need for the day.
Treat your body with respect. This means getting enough sleep each night. It means drinking lots and lots of water every day. It means moving your body (if you’re able). It means eating things that support your health. After all, a sick teacher isn’t helping anyone.
Rest well. This is a lesson God’s been teaching me just this past week. I’ve been exhausted. And bingeing Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Hulu wasn’t helping. Neither was reading a book per day (hey, it’s summer, people). No, the Lord wanted me to just rest with Him. Do nothing else but pray and be in touch with the Father. Beautiful. Restful.
Want more? Check out my new e-book:
Growing up, I never would have considered myself artistic. Though I enjoyed doodling, my best drawings were glorified stick figures. I never took an art class in high school, preferring yearbook and other digital platforms instead.
When I was recovering from a surgery a few years ago, I discovered to my delight that Bob Ross was now on Netflix. I had fond childhood memories of his show coming on after my favorite cartoons. Using some art supplies my husband had gifted me for Christmas, I decided to paint with Bob. Honestly, I just wanted to see if someone with zero artistic talent could magically turn blobs of paint into gorgeous woodland scenes the way he did on his show. Turns out- she can.
It was new, therapeutic, and a great way to break up my Netflix binges. And anyways, I couldn’t physically do much else. Then, a few years ago the leader of my community group described how she loved to do art with God. I was intrigued. She described letting Him take the wheel with her as she painted.
I gave it a shot, dwelling on the Creator as I created. It’s a powerful, beautiful experience. God is not limited to speaking through Scripture alone. He can speak in profound ways when we open ourselves up to Him and set aside the time.
Anyways, I recently attended a women’s retreat with that same friend. In fact, she co-organizes the entire retreat. She encouraged me to lead other women in the process of connecting with God through art, but this time I would use small slabs of clay instead (easier to transport, set up, clean up).
It was beautiful to witness so many skeptical women having a deep, meaningful time with God. He spoke to them, loved them, affirmed them, challenged them, allowed them to experience His presence.
For their reference, I wrote down the process of manipulating clay with the Creator. I’d like to share it with you all, as well. Give it a chance- you never know what God will want to share with you.
Creating with the Creator can be a powerful experience. If you’ve never done it before, you might have reservations, doubts, or insecurities about creating your art. That’s natural, but unneeded. Remember that nobody will judge your creation. After all, you don’t even have to show it to anyone. It’s all about spending quality time with God and opening up to new and unique ways of connecting with Him.
First, talk to God. As you hold your clay in your hands and begin to work it, pray. This might look different for everyone. You might tell Him your insecurities about this exercise and ask Him to release your fears of judgement or outcome. You might tell God how you’re feeling or what’s going through your mind. You might praise Him and have a time of Thanksgiving. You might ask Him to speak with you as you simply listen, expectantly. A song, an image, a word, a verse, or a shape might pop into your brain. Don’t resist it- God can speak however He chooses.
Second, let your experience with God shape the clay in your hands. Perhaps He wants you to make something specific. Perhaps He wants you to just feel the clay and be with Him. Perhaps your hands will form something you don’t understand- He might even reveal the meaning to you later. When shaping the clay, there’s no right or wrong; there’s no good or bad. There’s just connecting with the Father and opening yourself to an experience with Him.
1. What did God communicate to me through this experience? How did it feel?
2. What did this experience tell me about the nature, character, or qualities of God?
Verses to Consider:
“Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” -Genesis 2:7
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” -Ephesians 2:10
First of all, congratulations to all of the new teachers out there who just graduated their credential programs and found out they’ve been hired for next school year! You’ve worked hard, gotten your feet wet, and are likely a mixture of extreme excitement and debilitating fear. If you’re the latter, head on over to my last blog post for some encouragement.
Although I wholeheartedly believe that teachers should thoroughly enjoy their summers off, I also know that if you put in a little time now, it’ll make a big difference once school begins. So, here are a few practices I employ every summer to make my future life just a bit easier.
Strategy #1: Use Pinterest for decorating & organizing inspo. You know, once all your friends have full time jobs, the summer can get a little…boring (after awhile). Certainly not at first, but give it a month. Use some of that free time to get inspired. Scrolling through Pinterest and creating inspiration boards is a productive use of your time. You can create boards on organization, classroom decor, lessons, personal finance, meal prep, etc. It’s an excellent place to keep all of your ideas because it’s easy to access. Anything can be found on Pinterest- consider it research!
Strategy #2: Keep an eye out for sales and deals on school supplies or classroom decor. When you’re window shopping at Michael’s or visiting Target for the 3rd time this week, check out the sales and clearance sections. See what you can get on the cheap to help you decorate your classroom or create excellent organization systems. Thinking these things out ahead of time will save much heartache once the school year begins.
Strategy #3: Start building out a rough sketch of your units. I’ve done a longer series on my exact process for this, but just know that if you look at the standards and create a road map for yourself, it’ll keep your units balanced and your stress level reduced.
Strategy #4: Write your ideas down as you have them. An excellent lesson idea pops into your head. A genius method for organizing files runs through your mind. Write it down!! I keep a small notebook with me where I keep track of these brilliant ideas and they save me so much time later on.
Strategy #5: Rest well to prepare yourself for the year. Actually rest and take it seriously. Once the school year begins, you’ll be hustling, friend. Really, truly hustling. Teaching is a wild ride, especially that first year. So prepare yourself. Take care of yourself. You (and your students) will thank you later.
You’ve trained for this. You’ve studied, passed the state required tests, secured the credential, survived your year of student teaching. And yet…And yet…the questions swim through your brain, unbidden, unwelcome, ever present.
Can I do this? Do I know enough? Will the kids like me? Am I too young? Should I be strict? Easygoing? Do I have enough life experience to teach teenagers? What if I don’t know what to do? What if I don’t know the answer to a question a kid asks? What if a kid moons my class through the door window? (Oh, that last one actually happened to me when student teaching. Cringe.)
I have been there. Every once in a awhile, 5 years in, I’m still there. Because teaching is a wild, miraculous, scary, wonderful journey. It will challenge you, force you to grow, adapt, learn. And some days it feels beautiful like we’re Marie from the Sound of Music and other times…it’s the worst. Truly.
When we sign up to teach for the first time, in a new school, with new students, it’s always scary. Exciting, yet profoundly frightening. I believe that’s normal. And I also believe it’s good to let the fear fuel your preparedness. To a point. We, as teachers, must walk that fine line between allowing a little fear to fuel us rather than allowing it to become debilitating, all consuming.
And there is a balance. A healthy amount of fear allows you to imagine a few scenarios you might want to address and think through ahead of time. Debilitating fear shuts you down and makes your mind seem like a scene straight out of Alice in Wonderland.
Today, I want to address some of the less healthy fears, the scenarios you can’t prepare your way around. They’re unavoidable. So let’s face them straight on and allow peace to replace that unhealthy fear.
Scenario #1: What if I look too young and students won’t accept me as an authority? Oh friend, I get this fear. I mean, I really get it. As someone who looks like a high school student at 27 years old, I get comments from parents, adults, random strangers who ask me what I do. It’s almost always their first response: “how can you teach teenagers when you look like one?” Now, a few years in, I can laugh it off. Because as it turns out…teenagers don’t really care. Sure, they might talk about your youthful appearance here and there. They might be surprised the first day of school. But after the first week, they’ll get used to it. Seriously. They will. Often, they even like having a young teacher because they feel like you can relate to them. And that’s a gift. So don’t waste your time worrying about this one- it’s not something you can change. Embrace it and let it work to your advantage. More here.
Scenario #2: What if I don’t know enough about the topics I teach and students ask questions I can’t answer? You know, I majored in history. I was on the quarter system so I took a ton of different classes. And yet…somehow I was still completely unprepared to teach the content of World History my first year. I scrambled every week to keep just a day ahead of my students content-wise. I read the textbook and created lessons once I understood the material. I sometimes googled the topic 5 minutes before class just to make sure I understood. So I’ve been there. It’s not always a fun place to be. But here’s the dirty little secret: it’s where we all start. Almost every teacher started off not knowing their subject matter all that well. But you learn it. And if a kid asks a question you don’t know the answer to…google it. Or have the kid google it. Tell them it’s an amazing question and you can’t wait to learn alongside them. It’s okay. You’re learning too.
Scenario #3: What if I’m not a “good” teacher? To address this, let me ask you something. What is a good teacher? Think of 5 good teachers you’ve had. I’m guessing they were all different in their styles, personalities, and methods. Being a good teacher looks different to everyone. I think that at their core, good teachers are always reflecting, growing, and learning. Are you willing to try, fail, learn, and try again? If so, you’re probably a good teacher. It’s not about doing a certain amount of simulations or fun activities. It’s about growth that comes from honest reflection. So if you’re willing to do that…let this fear go. It’s not worth your time, especially if you’re comparing yourself to strangers on the internet that seem to have “ideal” classrooms with “perfect” students.
I know you might be wrestling with more thoughts or fears. That’s normal. But I also want you to know there are plenty of resources for you.
As we begin to wrap up the school year (finally), I love to strategically begin packing up and organizing my classroom. Notice that I say “packing up” mainly because I actually switch classrooms nearly every year. Often, I even have multiple classrooms in one year so my teaching equipment is sort of spread across campus.
However, I can joyfully announce that I have just ONE classroom next year (fingers crossed nothing changes) so I will be moving everything to that room. So, over time I’ve developed some strategies for effectively organizing and storing my materials as the year winds to a close and I’d love to share them with you all today!
1. Do it slowly. One of my top priorities each year is spending minimal time outside school hours working. Therefore, I do this process slowly over the month of May into June. I pack up one section or one element of my classroom at a time. For example, this week I took down some decor. Not all of it- just all of the items with gold fringe (think 1920s party, which we did a few months ago and left up for fun). Packing up slowly over time ensures that the end result of a clean, organized classroom will happen without making the process overwhelming.
2. Don’t take down the decorations all at once. If you do this, your students will begin to check out mentally. And with finals looming, we don’t want to contribute to that tendency. So I take down a few decorations here and there, but leave the main ones (like bulletin boards) for the last week of school. It helps to start organizing files, copies/binders for next year, and similar tasks first. Clean out the cupboards and unseen areas like your desk as a priority in the beginning to middle of May.
3. Use your TA. If you’re lucky enough to have have a TA or two (or student volunteers), ask for help. Create a system where they can organize for you. Teaching them up front is initially more work, but helps so much in the long term as your time is freed up to complete tasks only you can do.
4. Make a comprehensive list of tasks to complete so that you can calendar the tasks. Once you’ve got your list, pace them out slowly. This will also help you determine which tasks can be done by others. For example, I need to move everything in my classroom to another classroom. Sure, I could just do it myself over the summer, but why would I choose that when my TA can slowly move things over the course of the next few weeks. Use your resources and avoid feeling overwhelmed. You’ll thank yourself later 😉
Best of luck to you on your quest!
I don’t know about you, but the end of this year feels like a continuous, somehow slow kick in the pants. I allowed grading to stack up and to-do lists to run a bit too long. My seniors checked out waaay earlier than usual and I’m trying every trick I know to keep them engaged. Content needs to be finished, grades need to be calculated, and it can all be… a lot.
Today I was frustrated when I got home. I snapped at my husband and worked out so hard my abs kind of hurt in a you-shouldn’t-have-done-that kind of way. (Confession: I’ve pulled my intercostal muscles more than once so I’m supposed to be “careful.”)
And then I broke down, took an extra long shower, apologized to my husband, and finally ate some food.
And you know what? When I finally broke down and acknowledged how I was feeling, I started to feel better. I allowed myself to embrace the frustration and then seek out its source. Turns out I’ve been juggling all the things- and I’m hard on myself when something falls through the cracks.
It might be Teachers’ Appreciation Week, but in high school world, this week is called “AP week” and students are carrying that stress in their shoulders, faces, and spirits. Maybe they don’t have time to work on my “regular” class. Maybe it seems less important compared to the other stressors in their lives. I allow their attitudes and motivation (mostly lack thereof) to determine my success as a teacher.
As I dug a bit deeper, I realized that at the root of my frustration was a deep rooted feeling of inadequacy. I’m not enough. I’m not good enough or smart enough or engaging enough. These whispers slowly poison my mind until I’m undone.
But my worth is not determined by teenagers. It’s not determined by test scores. Or programs. Or meeting outcomes.
My worth is determined by God. Just God. I’ve been designed by Him, crafted by Him, made perfect by His Son.
Lucky for me- God is constant. When things around me change or I feel as though I’m drowning, God is the same. So my value is the same. I am not less.
The simplicity and truth of this nourishes my soul. I am enough. Because He is enough. And that will always be… enough.
Breathe in God, exhale the lies.
National Teachers’ Appreciation Week is right around the corner and to celebrate I wanted to share two super simple ways to honor other teachers at your school. I’ve used both methods in the past and they won’t take more than an hour of your time (if that!). And I’ve done it so regularly that when teachers see me walking around campus with post-its on my clipboard, they smile and get excited, knowing some much-needed encouragement is coming their way.
Method One: Post-It Compliments
My students and I have a tradition that we do every Friday. It’s called “Friday Compliments” and they love it. I actually got the idea from my Mentor Teacher during the student teaching days. Basically every student gets a post-it and they write two compliments to other students in the class. I read them out loud at the end of class. They’re anonymous and don’t worry, I read them ahead of time to make sure they’re kind and appropriate. Kids don’t usually abuse the system because if they’re rude, we won’t have Friday Compliments anymore and even the “cool” kids love ’em too much to lose ’em.
Anyways, during Teachers’ Appreciation Week, I give each student TWO post-its and they write thank you notes or compliments to two different teachers. I tell them they can sign the post-it or remain anonymous. Of course, I proofread these too and throw away the “bad” ones but honestly, my high schoolers get really into it and often write pretty heartfelt notes. At the end of the day, I have my TA sort all the post-its by teacher name and deliver them to the teachers. It’s best if the kids deliver them. You can also sort them into teacher boxes if your campus is spread out.
Such a simple yet meaningful way to spread some love on campus. Many teachers at my school have a section of their walls near their desk filled with these words of encouragement from over the years. Great stuff.
Method Two: Teacher Cards
This method is also really easy for me since I only have 30ish teachers at my school. I get a colored piece of card stock and have my TA write each teacher’s name in the middle of a different card. Then I have 10 minutes at the end of each of my classes for my students to write notes to teachers on the front and back of the cards. I encourage them to write on as many as possible. Then I make an announcement to the student body through Powerschool to come sign the cards during lunch that week. By the end of the week, the cards are full of lovely notes. Again, my TA, students, or I deliver them to the teachers.
It doesn’t take much effort to encourage someone. So let’s take some time to lift others up as Teachers’ Appreciation approaches. 🙂