If you work anywhere near a classroom, no one needs to tell you that these are challenging times in education. Teachers are standing at the splintery edges of the many changes over the last two years, and sometimes they are barely hanging on. In fact, a recent National Education Association study found that over half of teachers plan to leave education sooner than they had originally planned. For new teachers, the current challenges are exacerbated by all of the things that have always made the first few years of teaching especially difficult.
As two veteran middle school teachers with over 50 years of combined experience, we want to share ways to sustain yourself, stay strong, and develop your craft. Here are our five Rs for fostering resiliency.
1. Reach Out
Teachers love teaching, and that usually includes teaching each other. Find a teacher or teachers who inspire you and ask them questions about lessons, classroom management—anything that you could use some help with during your school day. They’ve been in your shoes, and they want to help with resources, problem-solving, or even just support.
There are also ways to connect beyond your school or district. Consider joining a professional organization of teachers; many have state or local affiliates where you can connect. There are professional organizations for every teaching area, such as those at listed at TeachersFirst. Alternatively, you can ask your colleagues if they can recommend any organizations. Online teacher groups through social media can provide a lifeline of support or at least a laugh.
2. Reuse Your Ideas
Create a system to organize your materials online so that they are easy to find again next week, next month, and next year. The digital age has been a wonderful time for organization of teaching materials. Google Drive makes organizing lesson plans and materials relatively simple. It’s easy to modify and adapt your plans as you go for a seamless planning process.
In addition to saving and organizing what you’ve created to reuse at a later time, adopt strategies that can be used repeatedly. In our classrooms, we have a few protocols that we use frequently, such as CEAL (Claim, Evidence, Analysis, Leaving Thought) for writing paragraphs, and LAPS (Literal, Analyze, Prove it, and So what) for responding to texts.
Having go-to strategies is good for you because you aren’t constantly inventing and constructing new ones, and it’s good for students irrespective of what grade you teach because routines are stabilizing and accelerate skill development. Finally, don’t think you have to reinvent the wheel—if you see or read about a good strategy or lesson, use it. You can always make changes so that it fits your particular teaching style.
“Tomorrow is another day.” These are words we’ve uttered countless times in our teaching careers. As we have worked through countless issues and scenarios, we have had to say it less. Leaving the job at the door becomes a healthy practice no matter what your profession is; guilt-free weekends and evenings make coming to work in the morning much less stressful.
It’s really important to draw boundaries around your time to maintain a healthy balance. You don’t have to grade papers all weekend—create realistic timelines for returning graded work. Timely feedback is important, but not every assignment requires the same attention. While tests should be scored within a few days, other assignments can take longer or be scored in class.
You can focus on just one standard to expedite grading, and some assignments can be scored as credit/no credit. At the end of a grading term, design your deadlines to make sure you’ve left yourself enough time to complete grading without causing yourself undue stress.
Make it a habit to practice the things that help you be your best self: exercising, reading, going outside, playing with your children, cooking, etc. When you leave teaching at the door, it opens up mental bandwidth for you to enjoy or focus on other equally important things in your life. There’s true power in a fitness regimen or other enjoyable pursuits to help keep teachers fresh in their daily teaching.
4. Ready Yourself
Spending some time outside of your teaching day to prepare for future days can make your mornings easier and your days less stressful. For example, you can prepare for your week’s lunches on Sundays. It saves time and reduces the number of decisions you have to make before leaving for school.
This may seem over the top, but you can also plan your outfits for the week on Sunday nights. Gather all the pieces of each outfit, including shoes and accessories, and place them on hangers ready to go. That way, you’re not frantically rummaging through drawers for your panda socks when you’re already running late.
Also in the category of feeling ready is to always have a backup plan. Overplan—always have options in case the original plan falls flat or runs short. When you are new to teaching, timing is difficult to gauge, and more often than not, activities will go faster than you might think. In those cases, things that are ready to implement, such as relevant discussion questions, related quick writing prompts, or extra reading, can mean the difference between a disastrous class and a satisfying one.
Classroom management is very connected to engagement. If students aren’t engaged in class activities, behavioral issues are more likely to erupt. Even something as simple as an exit ticket to summarize the learning can fill in a few minutes at the end of class in a productive way.
We’ve all had the situation when a difficult incident or class dominates all thinking about the day. Let it go. If it helps you to let it go, vent first to one of those teachers to whom you have reached out. They will be able to relate to those trying times and can lend support. Then, venting done, focus on positive moments: when a struggling student made a breakthrough, when a student gave you an origami swan, or when you laughed with your students.
Frequent reflection, in fact, is a powerful tool for your growth as a teacher. Think about why things went the way they did: lessons, assessments, interactions, and activities. When things go well, consider how to replicate that success. When things don’t go as well, consider how to improve that element of the lesson.
Finally, repeat to yourself, as often as you need to, why you became a teacher, and remember that even though you might be going through a rough patch, you are making a difference.