tired teacher

Reigniting Passion For Teaching After A Difficult Year

Jun 03, 2022

Here we are at the beginning of summer break and you have made it through a year like no other in the classroom. From your use of technology, to classroom management, to pedagogy, you were forced to radically adapt the way you do your work. Parent communication was difficult, building relationships was difficult, teaching complex subject matter in socially distanced classrooms was difficult, student behavior was difficult, and as a result of all of this, feeling inspired was often difficult.

And then on a more personal level, maybe this has particularly been a tough year for you. Maybe you’ve had groups of students, that no matter what you tried and techniques you used to engage them, couldn’t seem to be managed. Or the external pressures from the state or district level have felt overbearing. Perhaps your life outside of the classroom has been extra challenging (I mean, we did just go through a pandemic), and it has seeped its way into your work.

For a lot of educators, on a global scale, this year has delivered a beating, and the passion for teaching is waning. 

And now as you get to summer break, you can’t believe you made it because you weren’t sure that you would. 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 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.

In the past 2 months, I've spoken with educators from South Carolina to South Africa, Indiana to Australia, and the sentiment is unanimous: educators are tired. And from this place of exhaustion, it can be challenging to identify hope and passion as we move forward. 

Rediscover the higher-level purpose of your work.

So how do we reignite that passion after such a difficult year? It starts with spending time discovering or rediscovering, why you got into this work in the first place.

I, along with almost every teacher I’ve ever talked to, became a teacher because of a desire 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 lives.

I had a teacher in 6th grade, Mr. Peters, who singlehandedly helped me get through my parent’s divorce. His impact on me was enormous, and was a major influence when I chose my career in college.

And so maybe you need to spend the summer reflecting on that reason. “Why did I think that it would be a good idea to spend 180+ days of the year with young people?” Most of us had a really strong ‘why’ when we began, but through the toil of grading, lesson planning, testing, classroom management, pandemics, etc.- it was easy to forget.

Create a Rainy Day Folder to be reminded of your passion for teaching.

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 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 of my passion for teaching and why I got into it 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. Ask:

  • What lessons went well?
  • What increased engagement with my students?
  • How can I make more of that happen next year?
  • Despite all of the disruption that Covid brought, where did I still find success?

Psychologist Dr. Rick Hanson talks about in the The Science of Positive Brain Change how are brains are like velcro for negativity and teflon for positivity. Essentially, it takes around 15 seconds for a positive occurrence to have an imprint on our brains and cause a shift in our mood and well-being. Conversely, a negative encounter imprints almost instantly. This is why you can be having a wonderful day ruined by a single angry email. Reflecting on the positive is essential. Without dedicated time for reflection, it's easy for our memories of the previous year to be drowned out by negative memories.

After reflecting on success, consider 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. Perhaps it’s time to scrap it and throw it out. Maybe a few times this year you called parents and affirmed their children, and they were overjoyed to finally hear something positive about their kid. As a result, you saw a change in behavior from that student. However, maybe 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.

Don’t be afraid to make changes.

Maybe this summer you need to change some things up and 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 and having more hands-on work in your class. What if you spent some time this summer developing a makerspace or think about changing your classroom seating arrangement?

You might not be tiring of teaching, but instead are just tiring 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 and passion for teaching.

Actually make Summer Break 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, struggling to find your passion for teaching, 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. 

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