Saturday, January 16, 2016

6 Steps to Fighting the Teacher Winter Blues

It's January. Winter break is over and spring break seems so far away. It's cold, cloudy, and gets dark early. If you live where I do snow days do not even seem to be in our future. Mid-year testing is starting and we all want the kids to be further along than they are, but we do not necessarily have the time to get them there. The flu or equally rough illnesses are going around, which create unpredictable attendance issues and an increase of substitutes in the building.It's a bleak time of year.

This is the time of year we can get discouraged. It's usually the time of year I start browsing job adds, wondering if there is some magical job out there that won't require me to make sub plans at 10pm when my daughter is throwing up in the next room. The biggest problem with this time of year though, is that if we aren't careful we can take it out on our kids and our coworkers. I'm guilty of this myself. I've taken today to hole up in a coffee shop- away from my family and my home responsibilities to clear my head, get some work done, but most importantly, to try to come up with my plan to fight these mid-winter blues.

1) Find one thing every day to look forward to teaching.

We got into this job to teach. Not to do paperwork, go to meetings, or enter scores into a computer. Those are part of the job we can't escape, but we can keep our focus on what drives us forward. Every morning there should be something we can identify as what we'll enjoy doing or teaching that day. Maybe it's a just sharing a favorite read aloud, introducing a new math strategy, or using that smartboard we spent a lot of time making.

For me, it's usually finding some new way to present the material. If I get into a rut- even if it is a rut that delivers good instruction- I find myself getting depressed with the job. Sure, I know how to run a good reading group and can get results by doing what I've always done- but that doesn't keep me energized or excited. I need to try new strategies, add a twist to what I'm doing, or learn about a new educational theory that can change how I look at my students' learning. Often in the stress of everything else this is the first aspect of my job to go. I have to hold myself accountable to keep the energy and excitement in the job. If I don't bring the excitement and intellectual curiosity the kids certainly aren't going to bring it.

2) Smile and say, "Good Morning" even when you don't mean it.

To everyone. The kids. The parents. Our coworkers. The custodians. Sure there is freezing rain, you stepped in a puddle when you got out of your car because you had to park in a different parking space than normal, your running late to a meeting you are dreading, and you have a stack of paperwork that will keep you up late into the night. You don't have to be emotionally dishonest and tell people you are having a great day, but you can smile. Make people think you are happy to see them. Tell them the puddle story and laugh about it. Take a moment to listen to their rough morning as well. Commiserate. Then smile about it.

3) Remember it is January for everyone.

So often when we get stressed with our own work we become hyper critical of those around us. We start thinking we could do a better job if our teammate did a better job. We stop being flexible with each other and start looking for ways to criticize each other. It is far easier to look inside someone else's classroom and label what they are doing wrong than to take the time to fix issues in our own classroom. This only creates distrust and resentment and does nothing to move ourselves forward. Plus, spending energy worrying about what other people are doing wrong takes energy away from improving what we can do right.

4) Let mistakes be mistakes.

This is what I am most guilty of- dwelling on my own mistakes. We all make them. Every day. We make them in September and in June. We make them with kids and with our colleagues. We make them with parents. As much as we try to be perfect we can't. We have to accept that. Not every lesson will be perfect. Not every statement we contribute in a meeting will be intelligent, and not every piece of paperwork will be done error-free. That is OK. Mistakes do not change our worth as teachers. One bad lesson does not mean we should not teach. One silly observation in a meeting does not mean we should stop contributing. If we look at mistakes as a part of life we can simply move on, ready for the next challenge.We also need to apply this to our colleagues. Repeating a co-workers mistake to everyone we see only undermines our work as a team. If our teammates feel that they cannot take risks because the team will dwell on a mistake, or worse- gossip about it later- the team will absolutely not grow.

5) Ask ourselves, 'Does this need to be said right now?'

Before complaining about something ask yourself if it needs to be said in this moment. Sure I am frustrated with this kid's behavior, but there are ten people in this meeting. Can I keep it professional now and then vent to one close friend later? Do I really need to share my thoughts on a coworker's poor lesson, or can I let it go? How can I turn what I am about to say into a professional statement that will help everyone here grow? Is what I am about to say going to negatively change how people view a student or a colleague? If so, is there any good in saying it?

6) Celebrate

Celebrate everything. Celebrate that Johnny did not pick his nose during the lesson, or that Sarah did not forget all of her high frequency words over break. Celebrate that you did not leave the room screaming when George asked to go to the bathroom for the 100th time. Annie identified one more letter than she did yesterday. Karen did not tell you she hated test prep during this week's lesson. That book you picked for guided reading- yeah, it was just one guided reading group- but it rocked. Good book choice. Way to tell Ben you noticed he was raising his hand more. That read aloud was amazing- those voice you did- the kids hung on every word. What's more- I noticed Ricky smiling when he saw you this morning. He hasn't smiled all year. You are doing amazing work.

So, in short- my resolutions for now are-

1) Get excited about ONE thing every day. 2) Smile more. 3) Be understanding of everyone. 4) Including myself. Be nice to myself. 5) Keep my negative thoughts in my own head and 6) Celebrate the *** out of every single tiny step forward.  7) Repeat. 

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