It is rewarding. It is demanding. It is both, often at the same time.
The seesaw of reality for teachers is that the challenges in the job can sometimes start to outweigh the joys. Salaries tend to be low, and raises rare or nonexistent (illustrated by recent statewide teacher strikes in West Virginia, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kentucky, which made 2018 the biggest year for worker strikes in a generation). Meanwhile, teachers must deal with the following on a constant basis:
- The growing importance of school safety – Teachers today must help administer lockdown drills, realizing that they may have to one day put themselves between an active shooter and their students.
- The mounting pressure to be everything for students – Not only teacher, but also psychological counselor, conflict mitigator, standardized test preparer and administrator, parent liaison, safety monitor, culture translator, and even a provider of materials for students who can’t afford them.
- Changing accountability plans – The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed by Congress in 2016, replaced No Child Left Behind. The new program meant schools and districts had to design new accountability plans showing how lower-income students, minority students, special education students, and students for whom English is not a first language will be taught to the same standards as those in the general population.
- Managing education technology in the classroom – Should there be iPads for all? Should teachers be wired into Google Classroom? How important is video learning or gamification? And who in the school is responsible for teacher training and for fixing technological glitches?
- The competition with charter schools – Public schools have felt the effects of the growing number of charter schools, as those schools compete for both the best students and the most funding.
So, how do you keep your passion for teaching alive when challenges continue to increase?
Just as you need lesson plans for the classroom, you need a strategy that helps you keep your level of inspiration strong. Without consciously making your strategy a priority, it can fall by the wayside, due to the constant influx of other demands.
“Isn’t teaching hard enough already, you ask?” writes longtime Ohio teacher Pete Barnes for Edutopia. “Why take on something new? Yes, teaching is exhausting, especially the parts we can’t avoid—grading papers, attending staff meetings, preparing students for another standardized test. But if we focus on things that drive our passions for teaching, we can stretch ourselves and energize our careers.”
Barnes encourages teachers to find ways to work their passions into their curriculum. Over his 23 years of teaching, he has found ways to work his love for astronomy into his fifth-grade lesson plans, worked with students as school greenhouse manager, and applied for grants and partnerships to make projects happen.
“I urge you to challenge yourself—but don’t kill yourself,” Barnes recommends. “Taking on new experiences and opportunities should be energizing, not exhausting. Attempt just one new initiative at a time.”
In an article on reigniting passion, Greater Good Magazine notes that “even the best work can wear us down.” When it asked teachers what gave them a sense of purpose – from a kindergarten teacher to a college professor – their answers focused on how engaged their students were, how satisfying it was to build relationships, and their sense of being part of something important. They offered five ways to reconnect with your passion when you’re feeling a little worn out:
- Revisit your story: This means not only remembering why you became a teacher, but also thinking with focus on the goals that inspire you for the future.
- Celebrate a teacher that was important to you: What made him or her special when you were a student? Can you enumerate things that set this teacher apart? Can you regain focus on those same elements in your own work?
- Network with colleagues: Find informal and formal ways to connect with others like you.
- Take care of you: “We teachers are notoriously resistant to helping ourselves out.” Self-care is one of the first things that slips away when we feel overwhelmed; but tending to ourselves makes us more able to deal with the pressures of the job.
- Create a “resilience plan:” This is a system of trying out some of the above, noting what works, making it routine, and addressing obstacles.
Finally, remember that even as a teacher, you need to be devoted to learning.
“A career in the education field means that there are always things to learn,” writes TeachHub. “Standards, technology, teaching strategies, and methods are always changing. Instead of feeling stressed out about the constant changes, try and embrace them. Take a look at it from a different perspective. Set yourself up with a learning plan and create it so that it suits your needs. No one ever said that you had to learn everything in one day — take the time that you need and you will find that your passion will never falter.”
DominicanCAOnline (Dominican University of California’s Professional Development Program for Teachers) realizes that passion is critical in education; it has created a “Passion-Driven Education Series” of three complementary online courses that range from 1 to 2 credits each:
- Teacher and Student Passion (2 credits): Tapping into both your passion and that of your students to create an exceptional learning environment.
- Passionate Classroom Communities (2 credits): Learning tools that will help cultivate a classroom filled with students who are eager to come to school every day.
- Passionate and Engaging Lesson Planning (1 credit): Creating lesson plans that are truly engaging.
(Photo Credit © DGLimages via iStock)