Most teachers didn’t enter the classroom on a whim. For most of us, working with children was a clear calling earlier in our lives. Maybe we didn’t say “teacher” the first time our guidance counselor asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up, but upon further investigation our dispositions, talents, and strengths led us to enrolling in an education program in college and the rest as they say, is history.
But if this career is such a calling, why is the teacher burnout rate so high? Why do 50% of teachers leave the profession within five years. Why is this rewarding profession causing such a stressful toll on the well-being of well intentioned teachers? And even if you aren’t one who left the profession in the first five years, there is no doubt that you have felt moments of stress and overload throughout your career.
Could it be that our childhood dreams were just lies that we conjured up to sabotage ourselves? Could it be that we just weren’t cut out for the job? Could it be that teaching is a stressful occupation and we may need to learn some additional tools to manage this aspect of the job?
I’m willing to bet that it’s probably the last question…our dreams were right on, we are cut out for the job, but we just might need a few more tools in our toolbox.
So don’t get me wrong, there are people who become teachers and realize the profession isn’t for them. For those who realize this is not their true calling, the best course of action is certainly to find another line of work. However, my assumption is that there are far more teachers who leave the profession despite teaching truly being a calling. And even if you aren’t feeling like you’re going to leave teaching, aren’t there some days where you just feel exhausted?
Check out this post if you want some more information about burnout: how to identify it and how to potentially reduce it. Another sure fire way to work with potential burn out is through practicing self-compassion and self-care. These are not easy things for teachers to do for themselves, especially with all the mounting needs of our students.
Because April is often filled with standardized test stress and battling attention spans due to spring fever, this month’s Teaching Well Happiness Project is all about rediscovering our job as a calling (not just a source of stress!). I invite you to try some of the following things at home (or in your classroom) and see if they don’t help you rediscover teaching as a calling.
And even if you feel like you are perfectly satisfied in your teaching capacity, the following activities may still be interesting and fun things to try. Think of them as fortification against potential burnout.
Do something different. Create a new habit. Do a new anticipatory activity or a different ticket out the door. Try doing something different. Sometimes when we are stressed we keep doing the same things expecting different results OR perhaps we get in such a routine we are on autopilot. For one part of one day, try doing something new, without expectation. Just play around with a new idea and see what happens. Maybe you will see your job and your students in a new and different way if you try something new.
Sometimes we are so crunched for time that we don’t even notice how are students are responding to a lesson or to an activity. Instead of thinking you always have to be doing the next thing, try pausing and see if you can connect with what the students needs. Perhaps they have been working hard all day and it’s a beautiful day. Could you take them outside for a walk around the school? Is there time to play a fun game or another activity? Do they just need some time to get a drink at the water fountain and stretch? Try to pause throughout the lesson and connect with the energy in the classroom. By tuning in and responding to your students needs, rather than sticking to a planned agenda everyone may benefit. Taking time to to pause, breathe and be present can help with lessening stress and creating connections which may help rediscover your calling to be a teacher.
Keep a goodie folder to collect all of those nice things students give you throughout the years. It could be notes, cards, pictures, etc. When times are tough, this is a perfect thing to pull out to reflect on all the positive moments and influence you have had on students. If you are ever doubting that teaching is your calling, a folder with all of these things may help with remembering why you continue to give your time and energy to this profession.
On a day you’re not feeling so overwhelmed, make a list of all the perks of being a teacher and the reasons why you wanted to work with students. Keep it somewhere you can see it consistently and read it regularly. This list will serve as a reminder of all the reasons you became a teacher and as you find more positives you can add to it. Remember it takes three positives to balance on negative thought. Fortifying your brain consistently with positive thoughts will be great when negativity and overwhelm creep in.
Self-care is a big part in keeping ourselves healthy and being the best teachers we can be. Writing an intention like taking three deep breaths between classes, taking a walk during your planning OR eating lunch away from our desk may help in finding time to care for needs and be more present in the classroom. When we are feeling healthy and cared for, we are more able to care for others. Some of the reason our calling starts to feel more like a job is because we take care of everyone else’s needs and not our own. Resentment can begin to build and stress can start to mount. By creating an intention, we can focus on something other than completing our lesson plan which may give us some space to remember our job’s true purpose: supporting our students.
So whether you are a new or veteran teacher it is my hope that these few tips will help you remember your job as a calling. This list was compiled in an effort to keep dedicated teachers in a classroom doing a job they love and impacting change on the youth of our nation. Please email or share below anything that you feel helps you reframe teaching as a calling instead of a really stressful job.