This blog is specifically written for my friends who work in the world of education. One of the best analogies I ever heard was comparing a school year to a pregnancy. The first trimester teachers and students are so excited about all of the “new”. The new classmates, the new school supplies, the clean building, the new relationships, the new teams, and the new lessons. In the second trimester, things begin to become more difficult and weighty. The new has worn off and although the end will come….it’s nowhere in the near future. This is a time of perseverance and waiting. Then finally, about this time of year, you enter the third trimester. The time when you feel unattractive, uncomfortable, impatient, and ready to see this thing come to an end. You know that the result is something wonderful and the journey is totally worth it….but it’s hard. Really, really hard. With those thoughts in mind, let me give you five tips to help you survive until the end. And the best news of all if you think you might not make it….is that the school year ALWAYS ends. Summer will come.
1) Celebrate your wins….no matter how small. When I help teachers with behavior modification of students, I help them to understand that in the beginning the student should be reinforced for the smallest things. As we work to shape the larger behaviors, we have to notice the small ones and encourage more of them. You are no different. It’s easy to think, “I am not being successful at ALL!” when the reality is that you aren’t giving yourself credit for the small victories. Depending on how badly you might be feeling at this time of year, you might need to do this several times a day or at the very least at the end of each day. Write down your wins. Share them with your colleagues and your family. Give yourself permission for a few minutes to feel proud even if it seems silly in comparison to all of the fails you more naturally focus on. You might be surprised at how effective you actually are!
2) Along with celebrating your wins, notice your self-talk. Do you spend your day thinking, “This will never work! Why do I even bother? I’m not a good teacher. That kid is the worst!” Many of us fill our minds with things we would never say aloud to someone else, but we beat ourselves up over and over. Be mindful of the message you are playing in your head all day. Is it positive or negative? Glass half full or half empty? Self-talk is so impactful. You’ll be very surprised at the difference when you “take captive every thought” and change the things you tell yourself on the regular. “I’m a freaking amazing teacher! These students are so lucky they’re in my class. If this doesn’t work, I’ll go to plan B! I may be the only kind person in his life!”
3) Compartmentalize. I know, easier said than done, but remember that this is your job. For most of us who choose this type of career it’s virtually impossible to separate our jobs from our lives, but the reality is, it IS your job….NOT your life. The difficulties and problems of your students, although they feel like your difficulties and problems, are not actually YOURS. Help when you can, how you can, but recognize the boundaries between their lives and yours. You have them 7 hours a day.
4) Identify those things that bring you joy and do more of them. Be sure you are practicing good self-care and making choices to do things that help you feel refreshed and renewed as often as possible. Fill your time outside of the job with things that bring you happiness and peace and be intentional to spend more of your nights and weekends living your life in a healthy way.
5) Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The beauty of being in a school setting is that you are surrounded by other folks who absolutely “get it”. There may be times when you’re feeling better than a colleague and you can be the one who brings the words of encouragement or humor at just the right time. But you may also be the one who needs that person for you right now. Don’t be so proud you can’t throw up the white flag in surrender when you need extra support. It’s not a sign of weakness….it’s a sign of awareness. You will never be effective for your students if you are working from a completely empty tank. Surround yourself with those folks who help fill you up on the regular. And don’t be afraid to seek professional help outside of your peer group before it reaches an impossible level. You have resources. Do not be afraid to use them.
There are so many misconceptions about the lives of educators. After all, you are off on holidays, fall break, spring break and all summer. How bad can it be? It can be frustrating trying to help others understand the burden that so many in education carry as they pour themselves into the lives of children and hear horror story upon horror story from students year after year. It is one of the few professional occupations where excellent work almost never results in raises, bonuses or even accolades. In fact, it often results in being rewarded with the most challenging situations, because after all, “you can handle it.” It’s easy to become negative or resentful. To complain and become bitter. But there’s no time for that. Those kids are counting on you to show up for them and you are far more important than you may ever realize. We all need you….and you’ve got this.
Are you struggling with satisfaction in your personal or professional life? Stephani is passionate about helping people identify and explore their personality traits, gifts and superpowers to improve communication and deepen relationships through the use of the Enneagram and other tools. She is a certified life coach, as well as a licensed school psychologist, and holds both Masters and Specialist in Education degrees in Educational Psychology. In addition to her full-time job as a school psychologist, she writes a weekly blog and co-hosts the “What’s Your Story?" Podcast. Stephani would love to help you discover or re-discover the abundant life she believes we are all meant to live. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.