So here we are at the beginning of summer break and you have made it through another year in the classroom. Now it might've been a wonderful year for you and that's fantastic. There is nothing quite like the feeling of finishing the school year confident about your work as an educator and even excited to get back to your classroom after a little break. However, for a lot of people, this has been a tough year to be a teacher. On a national and even global scale, teaching has become increasingly difficult work. In the past year, teacher strikes happened across the country. You might be in the middle of a pay freeze right now. Legislation, removing funding from public schools and remaining stagnant in private schools, continues to increase. And then throw in school shootings and all of the debate and pain that comes with that subject. For a lot of educators, this year has delivered a beating.
And then on a more personal level, maybe this has been a tough year for you particularly. Maybe you've had groups of students, that just no matter what you tried and no matter what techniques you used to engage them, couldn't seem to be managed. Or maybe you had an administrator breathing down your neck all of the time, applying pressure, not realizing that that pressure is not what you need to become a better teacher. Maybe your life outside of the classroom has been difficult, and it has seeped its way into your work.
And now as you get to summer break, you can't believe you made it because you weren't sure that you would. A lot of teachers at this time of the year might be wondering if they can keep doing this work. The physical and emotional toll makes you wonder if you can keep going, and can even make it hard to remember why you got into teaching in the first place.
So let me first say this: you are not alone in these thoughts.
It is 100% normal to feel that way right now. It is completely normal to be questioning, ‘Is this really the job for me?’ You chose a difficult career, one where you can’t just mail it in. It sometimes requires more of you than you have to give, and it leaves thousands of us unsure of ourselves and whether we have what it takes to continue. It is okay to feel this way right now.
Did you hear that? It is okay to feel this way right now.
Whenever I have felt this dreary feeling about the work that I'm doing as a teacher and as an educator, whenever I feel like, “Yeah, I can't really take this weight anymore,” I’ve always found it really helpful to take a break (which summer is a great thing for) and spend that time trying to discover or rediscover, why I got into this work in the first place.
Rediscover ‘The Why”
Why did I ever want to become a teacher? For me personally, and almost every teacher I've ever talked to, we got into this work because we wanted to help students achieve success in some way. Maybe you were inspired to help students learn to read or learn to speak in public or fall in love with science. Maybe you wanted to connect with students at a deep and personal level and help them through tough periods of their life. I had a teacher in 6th grade, Mr. Peters, who singlehandedly helped me get through my parent’s divorce. He inspired me to become a teacher.
Whatever inspired you to become a teacher, you probably got into this work because you care about students. And so maybe you need to spend the summer reflecting on those reasons. “Why did I think that it would be a good idea to spend 180 plus days of the year with young people?” Most of us had a really strong ‘why’ when we got into this, but through the toil of grading, lesson planning, testing, classroom management, etc., we can forget it. One tool that I keep to help serve as a callback to that original reason, a physical reminder, is my rainy day folder. It is a folder that I keep in my desk that is full of all of the notes from past and current students, parents, and other teachers and administrators either thanking me for something that I did for them, or telling a story or a reflection of their time in my class and how the work that I've done as a teacher and educator has helped them in some way.
I collect these notes and emails over time so I can return to them during hard times or at the end of a tough year. Spending time reading through these treasures remind me why I got in to teaching in the first place. These are why I decided to go through the education program and do all the work that it took to get into the classroom. Helping students is why I always want to be a teacher in some fashion. That is why I always want to find a way to connect with students and other educators throughout my career. And sometimes I just need a physical reminder of it.
Make time to reflect.
Another helpful thing to do as you're taking a much needed break this summer is to reflect on the past year. Don't let it go by without reflection. Think about what went well and what didn't go well. Dedicate intentional time to think about what you liked from the past year. What lessons went well? What made more stronger engagement with your students? How can make more of that happen next year?
Next, reflect on what you wonder you could do better. Maybe there was a unit that just bombed, and you don't see a whole lot of redemption in it. Maybe it's time to scrap it and throw it out. Maybe a few times this year you called parents and you told them some really positive things about their child, and they were just overjoyed to finally hear something positive about their kid, and all of a sudden you saw a change in behavior from that student. However, you only made a few of those calls throughout the year. Don’t beat yourself up about it, but plan to do it more next year.
Maybe this summer you need to make a decision to change some things up. Maybe it's time to try something new and innovative. Perhaps whatever you've been doing for a long time is starting to get stale and you want to try doing projects with your students, or having them collaborate more, or having more hands-on work in your class. Maybe you need to develop a maker's space or change up your classroom seating. You might not be getting tired of teaching, but instead are just tired of the way you’ve been doing it. Coming up with new ideas for your classroom next year might be what is needed to reignite your spark for this work.
Make Summer Break actually a break.
Lastly, give yourself a break whenever you can this summer. Go a week without thinking about your job. Read novels and listen to podcasts that have nothing to do with teaching. If you get a vacation, leave your work at home. Teaching is not a sprint, but a marathon, and you need this time to rest and rejuvenate. Reflection is important and should be something we do in the summer, but sometimes we just need to lay on a beach or the backyard and give ourselves time to rest. This rest will make you a better teacher when you get back to work.
So if you are at the end of your rope today, first, know you are not alone. Second, reflect on what went well and what you can do change things up. And third, take a nice nap.
Thanks for the work you did this year.