October and November are often characterized by teachers as a period of survival mode or a time when feelings of disillusionment come to the forefront — the work is hard, the hours are long, and no one has had a break in quite a while. Come on, Thanksgiving break!
Now seems like a great time to talk about teacher wellness and retention. Specifically, about how teachers, new and veteran alike, can take care of themselves in order to remain the fabulous teachers they are for years to come.
Read on, weary teacher. You can do this.
As an educator, you’ll be expected to collaborate with your colleagues. In fact, research shows that when teachers collaborate, the rate of teacher turnover decreases. But while new teachers may be eager to collaborate, the process is sometimes intimidating.
Collaborating with new colleagues will be different than working with your college peers. Teachers will come to the table with different teaching practices and philosophies and a vast amount of experience that may overwhelm a new teacher, making it difficult to decide when to stand firm in your convictions and when to try something new.
You stand in front of your class, ready to dive into the lesson for the day. Before you speak your first complete sentence, two students start an audible conversation in the back of the room. And from the corner of your eye, you notice a boy in the front taking things out of his desk. Before you can deal with those two issues, you’re interrupted by a fourth student, who yells out a question from the periphery.
It’s not even 9 AM and you’re already feeling a little overwhelmed.
If this sounds like a typical morning, you’re not alone! No matter where you teach, classroom management is paramount to learning. Fair or not, part of your performance evaluation will depend upon how well you manage your classroom so that student behavior doesn’t create a barrier to learning. So, let’s look at some key ingredients for a well-managed classroom.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
This Won’t Be Easy
Important conversations never are. But our students — and colleagues — learn as much from what we do (or don’t do) as what we say (or don’t say). The events that transpired in Charlottesville, Virginia are likely weighing heavy on your students’ hearts and minds, just as they are on yours. You haven’t had the opportunity to learn their names, set up a structure, or lay the foundation for learning this year, but you can still create a space for your students to begin to unpack race, face history, and grapple with the lasting legacies of the past.
Before I ever set foot in a classroom, I knew what kind of teacher I wanted to be. I created a composite in my head of all my favorite teachers. You know them, those teachers who were exactly the person you needed at exactly the moment you needed them. I wanted to be warm, funny, and to encourage creativity. I wanted to protect my students and to advocate for them. I wanted to make them write both silly and serious things and understand just how clever Shakespeare really was.
I never anticipated how difficult it would be to keep that ideal version of myself alive. There were activities I had to fight for, actions I had to justify, and ideas I had to let go. It was exhausting to maintain my ideal teacher persona. There were nights when I was packing up to head home at 9 p.m., furiously apologizing to the maintenance staff for not leaving sooner. It wasn’t until my second year that I realized all of those traits I’d envisioned weren’t about the type of teacher I wanted to be. Actually, those traits embodied the classroom culture I wanted to create for my students.
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series by Tch Laureate Emeritus Sarah Brown Wessling for new teachers wrapping up the school year.
“Every fear hides a wish.” — David Mamet
My first year of teaching was equal parts fear and wishing. In fact, they each pulled me from opposite directions, sometimes so tautly, everything seemed to bounce right off me, into the distance, uncatchable. That was my first year of teaching: lots of wishing for magical teaching moments and lots of hiding from my fears. I wished the kids would like me, but my fear meant I had some classroom management issues early on. I wished my colleagues would think I was doing a good job, but my fear meant I wouldn’t reach out to them with my own insecurities. I wished my lessons would all be inspired, but my fear meant that too often I would think about a “cool lesson” instead of a scope of learning.
My first year taught me that the rest of my years would be about shrinking the fictions of wishing and fear in order to opt for the beautiful and real mess of a teaching life. In case you’re finding yourself, at the end of this first year, needing a little less fiction and a little more beautiful mess, here are some common end-of-first-year struggles and how to use them to launch yourself into an even stronger year two. Read more
What if I told you there’s a new teacher out there struggling who needs you — would you share your story?
I remember my first year like it was yesterday. I accepted an interview for a permanent position on September 30th. I thought this was strange timing, given the new school year had just begun; however, to me, it was also serendipitous.
There was no question in my mind that I would take the chance to sit for an interview and teach a lesson to what would become my first class of students.
I was so excited to learn I would have a real job, I hardly took the time to wonder why several teachers left this position in the short month since the school opened its doors, or what it meant when a series of administrators and faculty characterized the group of sweet, cooperative adolescents I met as “challenging.” In fact, it didn’t even phase me that, after announcing what my new salary would be, my then-superintendent asked, “So, do you still want the job?”
The excitement of the holiday season is in the air and winter break is just around the corner. Amid all the hustle and bustle, a few days can seem like an eternity. Distractions come easily; that is, if you’ve managed to find focus in your classroom at all. Desks are messy, school bags are bulging, and everyone is counting the days — maybe the hours — until the final school bell rings to signal sweet, sweet freedom.
Imagine how the students must feel!
We know you’ve been working hard for the past few months to create the best possible learning experiences for your students. You’ve earned this brief time away and we’ve been wondering how you plan to spend it. In true Tch fashion, we asked our outstanding community of educators to find out.
This entry is the sixth post in the series #TchWellness.
Every September, my desk and office space begin as blank canvases. As I purchase supplies and create materials, I place each item in an organized location. However, as the year progresses, I’m often overwhelmed by paperwork, post-it notes, books to read, projects to complete, and more. Somewhere in all of this, my desk becomes a space for my expansive educational collections and to-do lists rather than a clean, organized retreat where I can mentally focus and be creative.
Editor’s Note: The questions throughout this post are from the Rising Educators in Jennifer Wolfe’s course. We invite you to click on the questions to respond to them directly.
As a 20-year veteran high school social studies teacher, I don’t get nervous anymore when the first day of school draws near — I get excited. I wonder who my students are, what they’ll talk about, how they’ll take to the content, what challenges and celebrations we’ll have this year, and of course, if they’ll like and respect me.
I only just realized that I’m more excited in September these days than nervous, when I was hired to teach my first graduate-level education class, Foundations in Education 602, this past summer. I felt the butterflies in my stomach almost immediately after I was asked to send in copies of my degrees and was assigned a university faculty email address. Amazing, me, an adjunct professor. Awesome! Now what in the hell was I going to teach them? The university gave me some basic guidelines, but the course was mine to create. I could design a foundations course of my own.