Did back-to-school nightmares start waking you up in early August? Did you hesitate to open your principal’s “Welcome Back” email? Were you wondering whether you even wanted to still be a teacher? If that feeling still lingers now that school has started, here are some suggestions to help you through this moment.
Name the Feelings
First, know that you are normal. You are probably feeling a combination of feelings, and it can help to name them. Are you sad that your time off, time with family, or time for yourself has ended? Are you anxious about work? Are you frustrated or angry about an aspect of your job this year? Identifying our feelings is empowering because then we can make decisions that are clearer and in response to what we’re really feeling.
Acknowledge the Loss
The end of vacation is a loss -- a loss of time to connect with others and to explore interests and passions outside of the classroom, as well as a loss of time to rest. It’s okay to recognize those feelings. For most educators, the school year is a whirl of busyness, and so if you’re feeling sad, it’s probably because of the awareness that during the school year we have so little time for these other aspects of our lives.
Connect With Others
The transition back to school can be eased for many by connecting with others -- with colleagues or students. We are social beings, and the rewards of social connection help us (emotionally and neurologically) to do things that are hard, like start lesson planning. Reach out to a colleague from your school and take a walk together -- or have coffee -- and share about your summers. Then, transition your talk into your feelings and thoughts about the new school year.
Reach out to former students. Invite a couple of them to help you in your classroom or go supply shopping with you. Those connections might help you remember what you probably love most about teaching -- the meaningful relationships you form with kids.
Make Plans for a Mid-Semester Break
Even now with the school year just kicking off, make a plan for a day trip or a weekend off. It’ll ease this bumpy return to school. This doesn’t need to be a big vacation; it can simply be a plan for a Saturday in October when you’ll spend the day by a lake with a friend, or host a game or craft-making party at home. It’s a day off that you plan and for which you set the wheels in motion -- which means you have to share this plan with others and get their commitment. Yes, you can make a plan by yourself (many of us yearn for more time alone) but do something that solidifies that plan -- book the massage, tell your family you’ll be going hiking alone on that Sunday in October. Knowing that you’ll have a day or weekend to look forward to can ease the pain of the end of summer.
Identify What You Enjoy About Teaching
Recall what you like about teaching and explore those memories. If, for example, you enjoy the process of designing a unit and doing research on the content, allow yourself to sink deep into the satisfying memories of those experiences. If you love seeing students learn and grow, think back on a few really meaningful incidents when that happened and call up as many details as possible.
This kind of remembering actually shifts what’s happening biochemically in your body, and you’ll start feeling better. This process is strengthened if you can talk about it with someone (with a family member, friend, or colleague). Tell them stories of those moments that make it all worth it, pull up photos to illustrate the stories, invite their questions.
If you’re still feeling anxious or lacking motivation now that you are back to school, explore that anxiety -- either alone or with a trusted friend, colleague, or coach. See if you can identify some of the origins of the anxiety. This can help put the fears into perspective. Follow the anxieties. For example, did you discover that you are not enjoying the course, grade, or content you decided to teach this year? Take yourself on a fear walk. Usually, it’s not as bad as we think it’ll be, and by taking that walk, we start identifying solutions. We remember that we are resourceful, that we’ve surmounted challenges in the past, and that most of the time, things turn out okay.
For many, the mixed bag of feelings around returning to school (which can also include feelings of excitement and joy) are passing. As the year progresses, we’re okay. If the feelings of anxiety and sadness continue, then that’s another thing to explore.
But by bringing awareness to the feelings, their origins, and how you respond to them, you can figure out whether they are passing or whether they suggest you might need a change in your life. May this new school year be filled with awareness, and also with ease.