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About

Surviving as a Teacher

Slide6Today, went out for a nice bike ride with "my old man". He's almost 70 and he kicked my butt! Truly. I'll admit I'm not in great shape anymore but watching my dad, "power in" the last 20 k of our ride, me lagging behind - gave me pause. The guy just doesn't age and "keeps going". I hope I'll be so lucky. But as a metaphor, it got me thinking about what it takes to stay teaching, as I huffed and puffed along (and to be honest, he had a nice $1,000+ racing bike, I had a few hundred dollar mountain bike - but still).

A while back, I wrote about "teaching endurance", reflecting on the commitment it takes as a teacher to "keep going" and stay in the game. Today, I am due for some more directed reflection and maybe it'll help some teachers.

Teaching isn't easy. Here in Canada between 35 to 45% of new teachers leave the profession permanently by their fifth year. It is higher in the States. I think IMMENSELY higher in EFL, given  the very transient teacher and "tourist" teacher body that fills our ranks.

There are many outside factors that lead to teachers "giving up" despite liking the job (and I'll admit, some give up after discovering they aren't cut out for the job which probably is good, all things considered). Outside factors include; poor salaries, poor benefits, poor schools and quality of schools, low professional status, little professional development or teacher training / support, government policies and supply and demand side factors. These factors, the teachers themselves have little control over. Think of them as the "fixed costs" of teaching. But what about those things a teacher can control? What can they do to better their chances of not being a teacher turnover statistic?

Here are a few of my suggestions based on my own years teaching and I like to think, "longevity" and passion.   You may also find some helpful tips in this article I share with all my first year teacher trainees - How to keep in teaching when you feel like crying.

1. Find the school that suits you.

Yes, money counts but it isn't everything. When looking for a job,  find a school that supports "how" you teach, your own teaching style. Most teachers are unhappy because they end up teaching in a way that doesn't suit their beliefs about teaching or learning. Go for the money at your own peril!

2. Switch it up, now and then.

Might be contradictory but every few years, a teacher needs a change. Throw yourself into a new teaching environment, change it up. It takes courage but if you want to stay in the game, you almost have to. Teaching kindie? Why not take a few years teaching adults and regain that old energy?

3. Make friends on staff.

This is crucial. If you don't like the people you spend hours upon hours around, you won't survive. You'll burn out quicker than a faulty lightbulb. You need people on staff that you gel with, that you respect and return the respect. Do you have that?

4. Set Goals.

I'm avoiding the cliched, "professional development" because that is a real broad term. If you set goals for your own teacher development, you'll benefit and it might include traditional forms of PD like conferences, online PLNs (personal learning networks), peer workshops, courses etc... However, the goals might just be something personal like, "using more games in class" or "relating to students on a more personal level". Each year, I set a new goal for myself. This year, my goal is to "walk the talk", meaning actually teach students online. I'd always been telling teachers about this but now I want to do it, experience it and test those waters. And it is working out. Not easy but it keeps me invigorated.

5. Use your downtime well.

You have to "have a life" as we say in the staffroom. And I don't mean just your family/kids. I mean, a teacher to survive needs a place for themselves, for their own "recharging". Teaching is very, very, very people intensive. It is heavy on one's psyche. So teachers need to find their own outlet, for their own sake. It will keep all things running smoothly. For me, it is my bike these days.

There you go - a few remarks about things that might help you, the teacher, stay in the game and survive.  What can you add?

Interested in what other teachers say? This Education Week article has some great comments!

If you liked this post, you may enjoy: Stepping Back To Jump Ahead.

Views: 435


Supporter
Comment by Ann Foreman on August 30, 2011 at 8:31am

Hi David,

Just posted a link to this on the TeachingEnglish facebook page, if you'd like to check for comments.

 

Best,

 

Ann


Supporter
Comment by ddeubel on August 31, 2011 at 1:01am

Ann,

 

Thanks. Just some wisdom I've gathered from the gold dust that father time offers.... 


Supporter
Comment by Sophie on September 5, 2011 at 12:24pm

  Hi David,

Thank you, I accepted a difficult teaching job in order to get my permanency aka 10 year, knowing it would be hell for a year, 5 different levels, 3 classrooms with students with behavioral problems. Last week was the first week of school and I had anxiety attacks and cried a few times.Not only is this year difficult but I'm also dealing with a family member who has cancer.  Thanks to your words of wisdom and this site, I will take it one day at a time and try my best and remember to disconnect. After seeing you on your treadmill, I bought a stairmaster and have been waking up at 5 am to workout before going to work, the last thing I need is to be out of shape. I also bought a good multi-vitamin and fish oils and have been preparing healthy lunches. Here is something our University professor gave us to read when we were feeling down.

Thanks again,

Sophie

 

 

May 1999 | Volume 56 | Number 8
Supporting New Teachers    Pages 67-68   May 1999

How to Stay in Teaching (When You Really Feel Like Crying)

Jennifer J. Bradford

Exhaustion and frustration threaten many teachers' careers. One veteran teacher shares seven lessons for renewal.

According to statisticians, on the first day of my eighth year of teaching, I substantially increased my odds of remaining in the ranks for a lifetime—or until age 62, whichever comes first. It is the second major cut I've survived, because many new teachers leave the profession after their first year. However, there are seven lessons I wish that I had learned earlier.

Lesson One: Get a Massage.

My first and most lasting complaint about teaching is that the high school schedule does not allow enough time for reflection. These are not the halls of academia. Ivy doesn't have time to grow on the U.S. high school—perhaps because it simply can't find something standing still long enough on which to attach. Society's penchant for moving ever faster is mirrored here. We all seem to have forgotten that slowness is natural: Witness the earth turning on its axis, the progression from birth to retirement, the time it takes a student to walk from locker to class.

Teaching beats on both body and soul in ways that most people do not fathom. Our day involves incessant standing, walking, squatting, and kneeling. Students may feel bored and idle; educators are anything but. Consider also the emotional exhaustion that comes from com-forting kids in trouble, kids with trigger tempers, and parents without hope. Consider the effort it takes to create out of whole cloth a lesson that will meet the needs and desires of everyone—students, parents, administrators, national critics. It is no wonder that we need the adult's equivalent of pulling out the nap rug: massage.

Massage (or meditation or yoga) is a necessity in the act of self-centering. Anger and frustrations dissolve, focus returns, and the world slows down.

And, in a profession as isolating as teaching, wh


Supporter
Comment by Sophie on September 5, 2011 at 12:27pm

where adult contact is far too infrequent, one cannot under-estimate the value of the "laying on of hands."

Lesson Two: Exercise.

Education is a physically demanding profession. A strong will and a strong intellect are not enough; we need a strong body to support them.

For most of my teaching life I have exercised in spurts. Engaging in constant afternoon napping one week and running 25 miles the next have not been uncommon for me—nor has hitting the couch again the week after that.

Just recently I have figured out the obvious lesson that doing a little exercise consistently is better for the body and spirit than going whole hog twice a year. My dog Moses and I are currently enjoying our best running streak ever—and we owe it all to refusing to go farther than two miles, three times a week for at least the first month. And I've had nary a sick day since the streak began.

Do what you can—just do it regularly.

Lesson Three: Get a Dog (and Some Perspective).

OK—it doesn't have to be dog. It could be a child, a llama, a horse—anything that depends upon your daily, undivided attention to thrive.

My husband and I have had a 20-pound tiger cat for five years, but since Ty never seemed to mind what time I got home, I routinely stayed at school for evening meetings. Our dog Moses, though, is a 3-year-old yellow Labrador who lives for the moment when "Mommy's home!"

Initially, his presence required some adjustment: How can I prepare a discussion on The Grapes of Wrath when he pulls my pant leg? How can I grade this paper when he whines to play? How can I have a life for myself if I can't even find time to play with him? The progression from question to question was quite natural and surprisingly quick.

A very wise colleague once observed that teaching is like housework: It fills all the time you allow it to fill. If you do not place some limits on how many rooms you clean, you quickly find yourself scrubbing everything from attic to basement. And others will soon come to expect that you'll continually "add on" to your list of chores.

Plants can be replaced (at least in my house); cats can get by on their own; but as a character in The Truth About Cats and Dogs points out, dogs do not relish time alone. They do not look forward to long, quiet afternoons with a good book. They need people. They give their people's lives perspective.

Lesson Four: People Who Say "I Wish I'd Gone into Teaching" Rarely Mean It.

They usually just blurt out this line sometime in July or over Veteran's Day weekend. I have heard hundreds of folks—from close friends to complete strangers—utter that thought. Why? Sometimes, they sense the great satisfaction that comes from having taught, having changed someone. More often, they have no clue how much time the job entails. A colleague of mine and his wife, an elementary school teacher, calculated their "overtime" one year. Actual vacation time: two weeks.

Most people don't buy that, though, so I try this response: "It is a wonderful profession. You should enter it. In fact, there's a great teacher education program at the university right here in town—you can matriculate as a part-timer and get certified."

If you can't beat 'em, ask them to join you.

Lesson Five: Don't Expect Outsiders to Understand.

It's important to note from the outset that "outsiders" are not just the always-vote-no-on-any-budget-prop neighbors we've all met. Numbered in this unexclusive club may be your family, school board members, administrators, and even teachers from other departments.

All teachers do not have the same job. The maxim that a good teacher can teach anything may be true, but it does not mean that all assignments make equal demands on teachers. Surround yourself with other people who recognize that an English teacher has tremendous amount


Supporter
Comment by Sophie on September 5, 2011 at 12:32pm

of reading and writing to do, that an unappreciated quantity of preparation goes into a chemistry lab, that teaching 30 sixth graders to navigate a pommel horse is no easy bargain.

Every person who has ever taught anywhere feels qualified to comment on how the business of educating ought to be done. Most are wrong. When they inevitably say something inane, share it with a colleague. Laugh at them. Suggest that they do student teaching in your area. Do what you can to show them the light, but don't let them keep you from the people you're really supposed to teach: the kids.

Lesson Six: Realize That the Average Building Has More Than One Faculty Member for a Reason.

One December, exhausted, fried, underappreciated, and ready to quit, I sought the advice of our district's most beloved and influential teacher. He told me many things that day, but the most memorable was that a single teacher cannot expect herself to reach all the children in the building—or even all the students on her class roster.

"You reach Judy," he said to me, "and I reach Sam, and Jane reaches James, and among all of us, hopefully, we get every kid."

Most administrators won't tell you this, but it's true. If it truly takes a whole village to raise a single child, why expect yourself to be the saving grace for 150?

Lesson Seven: Vacation Means Vacate.

Recharge. Recharge. Recharge. Teachers rely so much on vacations as opportunities to get caught up that when the vacations finally arrive, teachers become mired in guilt for what they are unable to get done. Go to the copy room Monday morning after a week's break and you'll hear a common refrain: "Last night was just like the first day of school all over again, filled with nightmares. Am I prepared? Will it go OK?"

So many opportunities and distractions fill our breaks—the house that hasn't been properly cleaned in months, the books that you've been pushing aside, the body that really needs to rest, your own children. Don't set unrealistic expectations for your vacation. Teachers work harder than most of our students (a sad fact but nonetheless true); we need these breaks. Do as much as possible before leaving. Have something prepared for your return (thereby reducing the cold sweat, nightmare syndrome). Then get away and relax. For at least this week, stop trying to turn a flawed educational system into Oxford and Cambridge. You'll be much more likely to come back and have another crack at it.


 



Supporter
Comment by ddeubel on September 5, 2011 at 8:59pm

Hi Sophie,

 

That's a great read and so sensible! I've heard of this article but never got around to it (you know how that can be).

I've found it online HERE.  Part of a full handbook for new teachers, I'll be sharing with the student teachers I'll be teaching this year.

 

Good to hear you are taking care of yourself - it's so important, health, both mind and body.

I do understand the dilema of many (even most) teachers - they need to work, to gain experience and most often can't get around the system and have to take teaching positions that they know will be trying and hard to handle (for many reasons and not always because of the student body). But we got to do what we can, like you are doing. Trust me, in time, you'll be the wiser and you'll find your place.


Supporter
Comment by Sophie on September 5, 2011 at 10:49pm

 

 Thanks! the handbook is great, even for teachers who are not new.

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