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. Me? I think it’s easy. What your students need most is for you to be more selfish.
Let me say that again, so you know I mean it: your students need you to be more selfish.
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Teachers Are Used to Being Martyrs
Be more selfish? Really? You might think I’m off of my rocker. 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. I watch colleagues rolling suitcases filled with papers to grade out of the building–their exciting weekend plans.
As I leave the building, I’m always passing other classrooms and worrying about those behind the doors. How late are they staying tonight?
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, caring so, so much.
I know you dream about your students. You see a movie and think about the student in your class who were 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?
Too many teachers are sacrificing their time and relationships for this job. Am I saying you shouldn’t care? Of course not. But you shouldn’t be sacrificing your own happiness, goals, pursuits, and friendships for work.
As much as teaching is a calling, it is still a job.
And jobs shouldn’t consume your life. Maybe I sound callous, and maybe I am, but you’re doing too much for your students.
How Much is Too Much?
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 nearly impossible in 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 that 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.
What Your Students Need The Most Is For 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 aspects 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.