There is no time of the school year quite like this time of the school year. I’m a middle school English teacher in Missouri, and I’m feeling the pinch just like all the other teachers I know.
The “honeymoon phase” that marked the first three weeks of the school year reappeared in the days after winter break, but they waned even more quickly the second time around. Promises of “doing better” this semester have, by and large, taken a backseat to old, bad habits for both students and teachers.
We’re tired. We’re frustrated. We’re scrambling. And the kids are getting awfully fidgety considering there are nearly three more months until summer vacation.
If you find yourself in this boat—where instructions are repeated endlessly only to not be followed, where the only thing longer than a faculty meeting on a Friday afternoon is the list of parents you still need to call, where you don’t actually remember the last morning you didn’t hang your head while in the shower because you were already anticipating the struggles with a particular kid who’d be in your room four hours later—then you need the same prescription that the rest of us do.
We need some positive adult time. As we fight these “third-quarter feelings” of burnout, frustration and fatigue, there are a few simple things we can do for a positive recharge:
1. Find some adult conversation every single day.
Do you spend your lunch break making copies? Administering lunch detentions? STOP. Take the 20 minutes you have and find some colleagues, sit down, eat and just socialize, like your students are doing in the cafeteria down the hall.
A little break in the middle of the day that doesn’t have to do with not listening to instructions or who stole whose pencil can provide a quick, positive burst of energy.
Just make sure the negativity stays out. If colleagues wish to use this “adult time” to gossip about others or gripe about things out of their control, then try setting a norm along the lines of “We aren’t allowed to talk about work for the next 20 minutes.”
2. Get together outside of the brick and mortar.
The first teaching job I had was as a member of a large English department. That group had a regular thing going just for fun; once a month, we all met at a local establishment after school on Friday for happy hour.
Although the time, place and participants varied, we came to truly anticipate this gathering. It wasn’t about anything other than relaxing and having fun as friends instead of as teachers, and it went a long way toward building morale and fostering friendships, especially among new teachers.
Give it a try—schedule some fun time with colleagues. Meet for coffee on Sunday afternoon. Get a group together to go for a walk or jog. If you live near a city with a professional sports team, get some group-discounted tickets and take in a ball game. Just find something fun, easy and low-key.
Don’t over-schedule it or make it too rigid! Try to invite everyone, but know that they won’t all come. That’s OK! Enjoy those who do.
3. Focus on the positive.
It’s so easy to become mired in the negativity that surrounds education, and even easier to be exhausted by the actual work. While we can’t ignore these extraneous and internal pressures, we can make a choice to focus on the good things. As cliché as that sounds, are we really doing it?
Try creating a “shout-out board” in the teachers lounge where colleagues can leave anonymous notes praising one another. Create a Twitter hashtag that celebrates what’s going right in your school. Take time at every faculty meeting to share significant or celebratory moments with colleagues. Do something to shine a light on what is positive in your daily work, for there is certainly a lot of it!
4. Gallery walk the good stuff.
In all the hustle, strife and business that envelops the day, it’s easy to forget how much good is happening within your classroom walls.
If you’re an administrator, take some time during the next professional-development day to have your faculty check in on parts of the building other than their own. Think of it like a science fair—as a group of teachers enters a colleague’s classroom, that individual briefly shows off what is going on in their room.
Student work, creative constructions or even a still-yet-uncleaned mess from what was a great afternoon of hands-on learning can—and should—be shared. Allow for questions and discussion. The sharing of ideas is great, and the innate morale boost will send positive ripples throughout the team.
It’s nice to have a little praise, and it carries a lot of weight when it comes from colleagues we respect. There’s only one group from whom it means more, which leads us to …
5. Have the kids sing some praises.
I’m cheating a little here by involving kids, but the payoff is tremendous. Take a few minutes to have your students share some positivity. This could take the form of a group discussion, bulletin board posting or social media share wherein each one of them shares their favorite thing about your class. (You might want to outlaw responses like “lunch” or “when it’s over” if you teach secondary kids.)
The students may surprise you with their observations—just make sure you establish a ground rule that positivity is the rule of law for this activity.
And after they leave your room for the day, take a minute before calling parents or heading to an IEP meeting to sit at your desk and reflect on all the things you’re doing right—straight from the mouths of those who would know!
Not a one of us got into teaching for the feelings of fatigue and frustration that pop up, especially at this time of year. We have each other, and there’s no reason not to rely on one another to get through these weeks! Lay some of these practices in place now—don’t dawdle—and see what an improvement manifests among the adults in your school.