It's that time of year when folks like you and me can begin to feel disheartened. Some common scenarios include:
- Students who present persistent problems that we're not sure how to solve
- Classroom management struggles
- Paper load backlogs
- Disappointing end-of-unit assessment results
- Administrative pressures
- Never seeming to have enough time to get things done
If you do this job long enough, eventually seasons like this can lead you to wonder: should I start looking for another job?
If you're in this kind of circumstance right now, I want to give a couple of recommendations for navigating the fog productively.
First, don't rule quitting out
I know this doesn't sound like me, but it actually is very like me. In order to properly assess our situations, we've got to be honest about a few things:
- All of us have skills and aptitudes that would allow us to flourish in other jobs. Though a job transition from education into something else may be challenging, it wouldn't be impossible for any of us. We're intelligent, hard-working, conscientious, socially-alert problem solvers.
- All jobs (within reason) advance the flourishing of human beings and are noble and dignified. Provided you don't job-switch into slinging meth or running a brothel, I'd have a hard time arguing that the work you shift into isn't a good and worthy endeavor. Whether you become a plumber or a mechanic or a marketer or an entrepreneur — it's all good work.
I think that when quitting is viewed as a non-option, that's when a hard season in teaching can become truly insufferable.
That said, teaching is beautiful and noble work, and I hope that you'll stay.
Toward that end, allow me to offer one suggestion and three specific areas in which to experiment in your work.
Before you quit, take a month to explore one of the three following areas
Knowing that you can quit is the start to weathering this season and coming out of it wiser and clearer.
So with that knowledge in view, I want you to consider three basic areas that have helped me during my hard seasons in this job.
The gist is this: there are too many tasks in teaching to complete them all at an optimal level. Instead of seeking to maximize your performance in all tasks, be picky about the tasks you give most of your effort to. For all the other tasks, complete them to the satisfactory (rather than the exemplary or perfect) level.
These are the kinds of things that I try to maximize:
- Planning lessons
- Understanding my curriculum
- Cultivating productive teacher-student work relationships
- Pursuing professional development
And these are the things I satisfice — that is, I do the absolute bare minimum in addressing them:
- Dealing with email inbox
- Designing physical classroom space
- Giving feedback on student work
- Maintaining my grade book
- Scheduling observations
- Understanding teacher eval rubric
There's more about satisficing in the video I made at the top of this article.
Set Strict Working Hours
In order to make more space in your life for non-teaching work — and to force yourself into satisficing — set a strict work schedule for yourself that you'll follow for the next month while you consider whether or not to stay in teaching. Here are some tips:
- Set a specific start and end time to your workday (e.g., start at 6 a.m., end by 5 p.m.).
- Set specific constraints for weekend work (e.g., Saturday mornings until 11 a.m.).
- Share your work schedule with someone who loves you and will help hold you accountable.
- When you're not in a “work” part of your day, rid yourself of any and all teaching stimuli — no email access, no work text messages, no paper stacks sitting on the counter.
- During these not-at-work times, attend to non-teaching responsibilities that give you a greater sense of control over the rest of your life. As those get completed, budget in some time to do things that you find enjoyable or restorative.
If you don't keep a work schedule, it's hard to force yourself to satisfice. And you end up feeling overstretched and overwhelmed (that is, you'll feel burnt out).
Experiment with Will to Learn Strategies
I wrote my book because I know firsthand how thoroughly depleting student demotivation can be as a teacher. Few things are as spiritually demoralizing as doing work that you believe in with students who emphatically do NOT share your beliefs.
The good news is that student beliefs are malleable and that we as teachers can, over time, make a significant impact on those beliefs.
That's what The Will to Learn is for — helping you to do the things that most efficiently influence student motivation for the better.
Your work matters, colleague — but so do you
After you've completed your month of trying these things, then you have to take an honest look at how you're feeling about your work today and the prospects for that work in the future.
Teaching is beautiful work, colleague — but it's also so very hard sometimes.
Teaching right beside you,