In my last post, I discussed a few ways to increase your sense of fulfillment as a teacher. I also want to acknowledge that the current chaos of the teaching profession is a real thing that many of us deal with on a day-to-day basis. In this post, I will highlight a few things to avoid as a teacher, with the hope of encouraging you to stick it out as best you can in spite of the chaos. These three behaviors are sure to zap your energy and dampen your attitude as a teacher if left unchecked. As such, the following are practices and mindsets to avoid.
1. Working Excessively After Work Hours
During my first year of teaching, I would bring work home and sometimes grade essays after 9 p.m. I would also wake up sometimes at 4 a.m. to do lesson plans. I was getting work done, but my emotional, physical, and mental health were all suffering. After losing almost 15 pounds that year and getting very sick, I resolved not to bring work home with me. I’ve stuck to that promise to myself since then. The teachers that I know who work after hours are successful in their practice, but I also fear that other parts of their lives are suffering because of it. They are tired and burned out. They are also disgruntled at work. That was me. My friends barely saw me and my health suffered. There were several times when I would come to work and cry shortly after arriving because I was burned out. Hard work is a skill that has immense value, but overworking is not sustainable and will hurt you rather than help you in the long run.
2. Complaining about the Profession
Teaching is hard. I get it. You would have to travel very far, probably to another universe, to find a teacher who would not admit that teaching is hard. Life is hard. It is healthy to be realistic about difficulties and to be vulnerable about the challenges, but complaining about your job, your administrators, your bad students, and the unearthly workload will only make you and the person you’re talking to more miserable.
It takes energy to complain. It takes focus to constantly find fault. Why not channel that energy into finding creative solutions, taking yourself less seriously, or investing in other areas of your life instead? We complain because we want to be overly validated. We think it’ll make us feel better. Your time, energy, and focus are too precious to waste them on having fruitless negative conversations. I say this because I’ve done this. I’ve complained about administrators, students, and being tired, and I suffered because of it. It didn’t help me; in fact, I think it actually made matters worse. When I started to shift my perspective of my circumstances, not only did my attitude improve, but my effectiveness at work improved too.
3. Tying Your Identity to Your Job
Being an educator is an important job, but it is not who you are or where your value comes from. When we tie our identities to our profession, the highs and lows of the job are directly tied to how we view ourselves.
This is a constant struggle for me, but one I am fully engaged in fighting against. The truth is, education is a flawed and broken system. Our students are individuals who have free will and don’t naturally use that free will for good. It’s a capricious atmosphere and a shaky foundation.
As I’ve begun to realize this more and more, it has helped me to healthily disconnect who I am as a person from what I do as a service and a profession. Our jobs are not meant to give us identity or value. Our jobs are meant to give us a productive atmosphere where we can be of service to those who need it. To base who I am on my job as an educator leaves me insecure and disheartened each time I make a mistake or face a failure. Instead, I am learning to see being an educator as a tool for growth and a way to make change in the world. This helps me to take the pressure off of myself and focus instead on growing and becoming the best teacher I can become, over time.
Our jobs as educators have the potential to make or break us as people. We each have the responsibility to form the proper mindset in regard to our professions. This will ensure a positive impact on our well-being or a negative one if we don’t make informed decisions and productive actions for ourselves. As more and more people leave the profession, it is my hope that those of us who choose to say will become happier and wiser and, in turn, become the change we want to see.