What do you think your students need from you more than anything else? Our curriculum coordinators might tell us it’s differentiated instruction or meaningful assessment. Administrators may want us to focus on test-taking strategies, or incorporating more writing into our courses. Your well-meaning colleagues might say it’s compassion and understanding.
My answer may shock you, but I stand behind it: your students need you to be more selfish.
Let me say that again, so you know I mean it: your students need you to be more selfish.
Shocking, I know. You may have even exited out of this blog post, appalled, never to return again. However, I want you to think about you and your coworkers. How much time and energy are you putting into your job? I’ve walked in on coworkers crying in the main office because their students were too much. I’ve listened to pregnant colleagues talk about staying up until midnight, working on sub plans and compiling assessment data so their replacement will be well-informed. Every day I watch others walk out, balancing bags of papers and technology, and I can only cringe thinking about their weekend plans.
There is no school in this country that has an apathy problem.
The problem is that we care too much. All we do is walk around, giving a damn.
I know you dream about your students. You see a movie and think about the student in your class who was so looking forward to this film too. When that one student arrives late, you worry–if he or she missed their free breakfast, how will he or she eat?
The problem is that as much as teaching may be a calling for some, a passion for others, it is still a job to us all. And jobs shouldn’t consume your life. Maybe I sound callous, and maybe I am, but you’re doing too much for your students.
I want to share one of my deepest teaching philosophies: I believe in working incredibly hard–forty hours a week.
Ok, ok, I know. Following that philosophy isn’t always feasible. It’s probably damn near impossible your first three years or your first year in a new building. It is, however, certainly a goal to shoot for. Maybe the week before grades or the week after essays are turned in you need to put in a few hours, but you should not be lugging home papers every night. If you’re the bag lady of the school–or worse, you own one of those rolling suitcases–something needs to change.
When do you feel the best–I mean, excited to be at work, happy to engage with students, ready to start the day? For me, it’s when I’ve slept, worked out, have a healthy lunch to look forward to, and I’m about to teach something I’m passionate about. I doubt you look forward to work after charting student data or staying up late adding detailed feedback to a five-point assignment. That teacher–the one who was up late grading, depends on the fifth cup of coffee, reuses the lesson the district gave her ten years ago–that teacher is set up for failure. She isn’t excited to be there and her students will pick up on that. In turn, they won’t be excited to be there and their learning will suffer for it.
Your students need you to take care of you first.
You can’t possibly help support someone else when you yourself are in need. I always think of the oxygen masks on planes–in the case of an emergency, put yours on before helping others. If you neglect this step because you’re so worried about your kids, you’ll never make it long enough to help them.
Teacher burnout is the greatest threat to your career. We have to be proactive, not reactive, in fighting it. I hope throughout this blog to give some tips on this–not just self-care, but when to enter survival mode and when it’s worth it to put in the extra time.
For now, I encourage you to look at all aspect of your life: where should you be more selfish? Are you spending a ton of time grading? Then you need to find a way to streamline the process. Are you frantically trying to string lessons together and panicked about what to do next month, next week tomorrow? There are resources for that–Teachers Pay Teachers is a lifesaver! Find a lesson/unit/bundle you LOVE and do that well, rather than spend hours and hours reinventing the wheel. Is all of your time being eaten up by students? Then practice saying no. No, you can’t come in during lunch. No, you can’t come in during my prep. You can’t stay after school–I will be busy living my life.
For forty hours a week, give your all to this job. Work hard. Collaborate. But your students are depending on you to be a well-rounded, emotionally stable adult so they can learn from your example. Show them what a healthy work-life balance looks like. Set boundaries. Taking care of yourself is the best thing you can do for your kids.
Not sure where to start?