On Teaching: Hard! But Worth It!

In a few weeks, I will have the opportunity to talk to a group of future teachers who are in graduate school. My proposed topic is building a sustainable teaching practice, so I have been trying to pinpoint specific habits and resources to share, even as mounting statistical data suggests stemming the tide of systemic dysfunction through personal care and professional development is impossible. At the end of the day, I signed a contract for my 18th year of teaching because I still find the daily tasks and interactions interesting. And my school pays me what I feel my time and work are worth. I think it is important to bring tidings of good news. We need these new teachers to start, and we need them to stay. Here are a few tips I plan to work in. What would you tell them?

1. Learn to be efficient

Teaching is harder when it is unnecessarily time consuming. The early years are the hardest because you are still developing reliable systems for developing curriculum, delivering instruction, and assessing work. I recommend leaning into the technology provided, especially if it might save time.Thank goodness for our learning management system (LMS), Canvas. Grading has always been and will always be a burden. Canvas makes it better by standardizing how I assign, collect, and assess student work. It isn’t perfect but the more I lean in, the more streamlined our classroom processes get. ChatGPT and other A.I. apps are also changing the game. My approach is not to worry about how my students will use A.I., but how A.I. can speed up my work flow instead. The possibilities feel much more positive.

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2. Reclaim your time

In order to set boundaries at work, there have to be activities that you would rather be doing. And those activities need to feel good. Hobbies should help teachers relax, connect, and rediscover all the parts of ourselves we leave at the schoolhouse door. If we go home and plan and grade and bury our souls under the never ending pile of work we will absolutely burn out. We have to hit the pause button. No the work isn’t done. It never will be. There is so much more we can always be doing. There are higher levels of mastery and excellence to reach at all times. Nothing is ever perfect. But we have to put the work down and rest so we will feel like doing it all again tomorrow. My free choice activities have changed since the pandemic but right now writing, meditation, Peloton, tarot and crystal work, tending plants, and yin yoga are all practices that help me set my teaching woes aside and recharge.

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3. Be a lifelong learner

I do my best teaching when I can put myself in my students’ shoes and remember what is like to learn something new. I still love taking classes. Lately they have been writing and meditation classes, but I also got a lot out of recent workshops in candlemaking, journal decorating, and essential oil blending. Listening and following directions is directions is hard! Friends are totally a distraction! It is a bummer to make mistakes! These experiences help nurture empathy for my students, and that in turn makes their foibles less frustrating. Having my own learning adventures also inspires me to prioritize essential skills I can guarantee will serve kids in the future because I just used those same skills the day before. (They think I am lying about Times New Roman, Size 12 being a thing until I show them Submittable). Relevancy is a source of motivation and joy. The more we teachers are out in the world, the more connected our classrooms will feel. It means a lot when you can say, I know this is hard, but I promise it’s worth it.

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