It started at the end of last year. I usually love, love, love teaching seniors. And I certainly love, love, love teaching Econ. But in March I begin to feel…frustrated. Tired. My seniors had checked out early. Teaching them was a slog. It was hard to get through many class periods. I loved them as human beings, but teaching them was difficult.
This summer I traveled all over. I experienced the European way of life. The slow, fun atmosphere of Tahoe. The beauty of travel in and of itself. Yes, it kept growing this past summer.
And now, at the start of this new year, its effects are profound.
I know things are changing for me. God is growing me. Allowing new dreams. Opening up new pathways.
And in this season of being stretched, I feel deep, resounding discontentment. Sometimes coupled with anxiety, fear, or self-loathing. To say it’s uncomfortable would be quite the understatement.
I find my emotions swinging wildly between joy and panic and love and discontentment. And at my most anxious moments, I reach for my phone. Not for Jesus. No, for my phone.
I scroll, I double tap, I watch 15 second videos for an hour. It makes me feel worse. It helps not at all.
When Jesus isn’t the source of my fulfillment, it shows. I feel it deeply. Worse, I’m unmotivated to change it.
What brings me back to Him? What changes my heart? What opens me to fulfillment in Christ? Gratitude. Thankfulness. Recognition of the millions of blessings within and surrounding me. God’s grace, eternal.
So. 80 Days. That’s 5 days of the week until the end of the year. I will live in gratitude. I will practice being deeply grateful for one thing every day. Big things, small things. All the things. I hope to post much of my gratitude here, on my devotional blog. Writing is therapeutic to me. It’s a creative outlet that helps me connect with my Savior. And, I hope, it helps you connect too.
I’ll start tomorrow. One thing. Be grateful. Allow myself to bask in the presence of the Lord by sitting with my gratitude. For 80 days. Join me?
Back to school season is busy. Obviously. This year especially, I felt so pressed for time that I was getting stressed. I like to plan out my entire semester as much as possible to reduce my stress during the year. While I managed to “map out” my content and skills using Planbook, I still don’t have my daily lessons fleshed out for every single subject I teach.
Since I teach World History, US History, AND Econ, that’s kind of a tall order anyways. But what can I say- I’m one of those Type A teachers.
Anyways, in case you’re in the same boat, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite “life saver” resources from my TpT shop in case you’re in need of a little help with Back to School season.
I’m rooting for you!
Open your Bible to Genesis One. What does it say? Some version of “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1, ESV)
God created the heavens and the earth. God created. In other words, He worked.
Some days I walk into my classroom thinking “heck yes, gonna serve the Lord and shape the youth today!” Yet more and more frequently, I walk in tired, thoughtful, even discouraged, wondering “is teaching teenagers about the history of the world making a difference for God’s kingdom? Does this work matter in the context of eternity?”
I come home and ask Him “What am I doing? Am I wasting the life you’ve given me? Am I supposed to be doing something more evangelical, more overtly ‘Christian’?”
I cry, I pray, I listen.
And His words are the sweetest balm to my wounded soul. He says “You honor me when you create. Don’t waste your gifts. Heal my world. I will use you.”
God creates. I create. I honor God when I create. And He uses my creations in ways I cannot begin to understand.
I create lessons for my students, for my business. I create blog posts and social media posts. I create e-books and courses for teachers.
When we work, wherever we work, however we work, we create. We create lessons and seating charts and PowerPoint slides and perfect project groupings and safe classrooms.
Our work is worthy, honorable, good- not because of what we do, but because we do. We honor the innate need to contribute, make, create, do.
Work is good in and of itself. Our creator worked. He still does. Creating is a joy, a gift, evidence of a gracious God.
When I walk into my classroom, I am entering a space of creation. Creating a safe environment, creating interesting lessons, creating space for my students to learn and grow.
The creation is the point. I’m okay. God will use me. I will use my gifts and He will use me to heal the world. However He wants, whenever He wants. I don’t need to see it. I just need to obey.
P.S. I recommend Timothy Keller’s Every Good Endeavor for more on the goodness of work.
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.