If you’re a new teacher, you are probably filled with overflowing anticipation for the upcoming school year. Unfortunately, some veteran teachers I know admit having a level of enthusiasm much less than when they started teaching. They say the reality of being overworked, under paid, and not appreciated has drained their eagerness to return to their classrooms. I often wonder what it would take for every teacher to keep the passion that led us to this profession as well as maintain the joy that comes from doing something we love.
My research on internal motivation has convinced me that we are most inspired by jobs that make us feel valued and capable.
We want to feel powerful and somewhat autonomous. We need to know we have the freedom to fashion our classrooms and teaching practices in ways that work for us and our students. We want to experience success in our interactions with students as well as believe we can positively affect student learning. While we may not be able to affect immediate change to our pay, working conditions, or community appreciation, we can take back our power in how we start the year and how we refocus our attention on where it belongs – on the students.
Start the year by building connections.
- Try to begin the year with as clean a slate as possible. I have often said that I would like to have as little information as feasible from secondary sources about my new students. Aside from medical concerns, I’d like to be able to make up my own mind about kids as well as give them a true chance to begin anew.
- Immediately have students fill out inventory sheets about their strengths, preferences, motivators, etc. The more we can know about a student’s self-perception, the better we are able to connect with them.
- Do quick team building activities to help students feel welcome and safe in their class. Forget the pacing guides for a while and try to weave social and emotional learning (SEL) skills in with curriculum from the start. Play name games to help everyone learn each other’s names.
- Consider making a bulletin board on the topic “Know Thy Teacher.” Along with current pictures of who you are and what you do when you’re not at school, post pictures of you when you were the age they are now. If you’re brave, you can even display an old report card or two. Let the students know you are human; build empathy with them.
Truly focus on the learners.
I can think of no single better way to improve our fulfillment as dedicated educators than making a vow to be fully present with the students in front of us. It can be challenging, but this is definitely something over which we have control. No matter how many or how few students we see each day, they each deserve our single-minded, respectful attention. For some of us that may mean a shift in teaching style, changing our habit of multi-tasking, or innovatively rethinking our classroom management strategies.
How many of us get a bit incensed when we see parents dining out with their children and each of them is on a separate personal device totally ignoring the others at the table? And yet, how many times do we professional teachers do much the same thing by checking e-mail, responding to social media, surfing the web, grading papers, preparing lesson plans, chatting with other teachers, etc. when students are right in front of us? I know I’ve done it. Early in my career I took pride in my ability to “multi-task” by giving students an assignment to work on while I graded, planned, and otherwise took care of my “teacher work.” This practice often left me feeling disconnected from the kids and frustrated by their lack of engagement. I finally figured out that the most important part of my job was sitting right in front of me.
It’s so hard to check all the boxes, record all the data, and generate the mounds of paperwork presently required of teachers, but somehow, we have to find a way to promise ourselves, “When students are present, I will give them my undivided, focused attention.” Here are a few tips to get started.
- As much as possible get all grading, planning, and paperwork done ahead of time so the temptation to do it in class is removed.
- Be at or near the door to your classroom to make eye contact and greet each student as they enter. (I know you’ve been told this a zillion times, but it really is that important!)
- Unless you are using them for instruction, stay off all personal devices when students are present. Turn off beeps, buzzes, or anything else that distracts you from interacting with kids.
- During class, be fully mobile. Walk around, give feedback, interact, join a group, make eye contact, provide reminders, diffuse potential problems – basically pay attention to what is going on with students.
- Remind yourself that no matter what other obligations are plaguing us, the time we spend actively involved with the students in front of us is one of the greatest gifts we can give them – and us.
The new school year is an ideal time to make the changes we need to invigorate our attitudes. Making modifications large or small can help us renew our spirits. Creating opportunities for building relationships and connecting with our students can change everything for the better. Let’s all do whatever we need to renew our zeal in teaching.
Please let us know your thoughts on these and any other important actions you think teachers need to do for the new school year. And as always, if there is any way I can support you in the important work you do, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.