This month’s happiness project was all about rediscovering a career as a calling. My mission was to find ways to help rekindle my relationship with teaching. The following is not an exhaustive list, but the following activities certainly helped me see my job and role as a teacher with new eyes. This certainly does not mean that I will never need to explore this job in a new way, but for now I’ve cultivated a real appreciation for the work I am blessed to do each day…the following are some of the techniques I tried throughout the month.
Being present simply means focusing on paying attention the things that are actually happening around you, rather than being swept away by thoughts, emotions or other tasks. Practicing being present in a classroom may not always be easy. Sometimes we really don’t want to be dealing with the select misbehavior, the overt unkind words, or the objects being flown across the room.
Teaching at a high school, kids aren’t always vocal. They may grunt rather than say hello or put their heads down as soon as the lesson begins. Instead of taking it personally (as I sometimes do), I made an effort to hear each student’s voice at least once and do a very brief check in. This allowed me to feel more of a connection for the individual when the group is sometimes what often captures my attention. I tried to notice facial expressions or a difference in the way they responded to me. I tried to notice what individual students were excited about or how they checked in after a long weekend.
These brief (but deliberate) check-ins allowed me to create better connections with students which resulted in my feeling more engaged. Increased engagement at work is related to more job satisfaction. Practicing being present by doing a feasible task, made this sometimes obtuse concept, more tangible.
It’s very possible the students didn’t even notice the check-ins or my deliberateness, but it allowed me to feel more engaged in the moment.
The end of a school year seemed to be a good time to remember that not everything can hold the same importance. There are things I want to do and curriculum I am required to teach but if I am creative, there are ways to fit things into the curriculum but ultimately there will be things I need to let go of.
So I posed some questions to myself: Why am I teaching a certain novel? Is it because I like it or because there is a great theme we could discuss? Is there another way to elicit those same conversations or build those same skills in a space that doesn’t take so much time?
In my particular case, I opted to change one long standing project and omit an entire novel in favor of digging deeper into some of the materials I was already spending time presenting. For the first time in a very long time, I created new materials in existing units and added some assignments that allowed for greater consistency and the entire class delving deeper into the subject matter. It was hard to let go of those previous assignments, but I have felt a greater sense of engagement taking these students deeper into the materials. I’m enjoying seeing them struggle a bit with more challenging work, but I know there is more time for us to work with the material and really make sure they understand.
This kind of goes along with the previous tip. But I found, if I’m going to be flexible and try something different, I need to readjust my expectations about how smoothly everything is going to go. By planning effectively, understanding the goal of why I was having them do the project and then letting go of the outcome, I was able to enjoy watching the learning process more.
The combination of letting go and releasing expectations has allowed me to see my job with new eyes and approach planning and teaching with a beginner’s mind. Without the worry and stress I usually feel about getting everything done and doing it perfectly, I can actually have time to teach the students who are in front of me…which also leads to the next tip…
I’ll admit it. Sometimes I forget to smile amidst the hustle and bustle of a normal school day. I’m not exactly grumpy but sometimes I hold quite a serious expression. This month, I tried to be more deliberate about being positive in how I presented materials, introduced projects and generally spoke to the class. I’m not sure if my students noticed, but I noticed how much smoother things went in my mind when I greeted the day with a little more enthusiasm and positivity.
Just the act of smiling and generating some excitement about what we were going to do led to the students seeming to be a little more willing to participate. And the bottom line is if I’m not excited about what I’m teaching and how we’re doing things, how can I possibly expect them to be overly enthusiastic? Deliberately showing up with a more positive mindset led to an increased sense of well-being throughout the last month!
Saying “yes” to the opportunity to teach some mindfulness lessons at one of our elementary schools,opened up my eyes to a completely new population of students. It gave me an appreciation for both what elementary teachers do and an appreciation for my high school students.
By trying something new, I landed in the middle: I enjoyed the time I spent at the elementary school but also fell back in love with the job that I am blessed to go to every day. Sure I love the adoration of the younger kids, but there is a special place in my heart for the disillusioned teen who is on the brink of the rest of his or her life, grappling with decisions and normal teen angst. It just takes me back to how trying those times are and I am forever grateful that I get to walk with them through that even if it’s only one class period a day.
Although I will gladly go back and teach the little ones, I discovered I definitely have a love of teaching high school students that is part of who I am and what I want to do with my life.
Through these simple shifts in how I walked through my day and connected with my students, I was able to rekindle a new appreciation teaching. I’d love to hear how you continue to keep your teaching job a calling in spite of all the extra pressures and stress that is felt every day. Let’s help each other remember why we became teachers and what’s really important in the classroom, so that we can all rekindle our relationship with teaching!