3 ways to keep the love alive!

Keeping the passion for teaching aliveEarlier this year, I was contacted by a representative from a Polish Education Blog for an interview. They sent me a series of questions. One that really caught my eye— and was a lot of fun to answer— is offered below. The question is word-for-word the way it was posed to me:

I have worked for 30 years in education. I’m worn out, tired, and just wanna make it to retirement. Can I do something to enjoy the work again and get the kids back on track?

I always thought that the absolute best thing about working in education was the fresh start we got at the beginning of each school year. The breaks over the summer, for those of us who could afford to take them, offer great chances to recharge. (I always had to work, whether writing curriculum when I could get work in the field, or waitressing or working in my in-laws’ bakery when I couldn’t.) But even if you work in a year-round school, there is always something new: new students at the beginning of the school year, new curriculum, new policies.

That said, it can be very easy to stagnate and feel bored and under-challenged. But no worries! There are lots of things you can do to rekindle the passion and energy that you brought to the job 30 years ago. A few examples:

Grow Your Passion

  • Take a class. Enroll in a class or seminar, whether for credit or not, just to expand your understanding of what’s going on in the field. Three years after finishing my Masters degree, I was feeling like I needed to spend more time with other professionals after being with ten- and eleven-year-olds all day. (Sitting with my colleagues over lunch just wasn’t quite the same.) I signed up for a course at the University where I had gotten my undergraduate and Masters degrees. Just one class. (It was a course on learning styles and brain research.) At the end of that class, I noticed other interesting classes in the course catalogue being offered so I signed up for another. Someone in the department said I might as well apply for the Ph.D. program and although that was never my original intention, I discovered that if you take enough classes, you eventually end up with enough credits to finish an advanced degree.
  • Go to professional conferences. We teachers can get pretty isolated from other adults, spending so much of our time with the kids or on our own, preparing, planning, assessing, contacting parents, making materials, and (for most of us) continually tweaking the lessons or programs we teach. I found professional conferences to be tremendously enriching, if only that they put me in the company of other educators who were committed to personal and professional growth. Very stimulating and inspiring, and I always came away with new information, new strategies I could use, and a better understanding of my work and the kids in my classes.
  • Read professional literature. Teaching often leaves little time for professional enrichment, but even subscribing to magazines for your position or subject area, or one that offers articles to keep you up to date on trends that are happening (locally or world-wise) can reignite your interest in the profession. We now have a world of resources available online that did not exist when I started teaching. A short article every few days, even once a week, can challenge you to incorporate new ideas into your practice (or thinking) and help you stay excited about work. And by the way, the literature doesn’t necessarily have to be about classroom teaching. Some of the resources that had the greatest impact on my evolving career in this field came from psychology, addiction, family systems, neurology, sociology, and business.
  • Try new strategies. There’s an old saying that defines “insanity” as doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. If what you are doing is working, then no problem. But if you’re bored, or your kids aren’t quite as engaged or respectful as you would like, shake things up a bit. They don’t change until we change, and sometimes the simplest changes can inspire a huge shift in the climate of your class and your relationship with your students. Little things like offering kids choices can motivate passive or oppositional kids just by giving them a little control in the situation. Changing your threats to promises, focusing on the positive consequence of their cooperation, for example, will change the tone of the relationship, decrease the likelihood of opposition, and put the responsibility for earning privileges on the kids, where it belongs. Change your instructional strategies. Use more visuals or hands-on activities. Move to different places in the room to teach. Change the furniture arrangement (or have the kids rearrange the room). Increase their opportunities to work with partners or small groups, or work on projects rather than worksheets. Challenge yourself to be creative about the way you present or assess new information.
  • Change your job within the system. Early in my teaching career, I was visiting my mom in the town where I had gone to high school. I stopped in at the school to see some of the teachers and remember walking down the hall, hearing a lecture by one of my old teachers who was sitting at his desk with his feet up, reading from the exact same outline he had read to us years before, expecting his students to write down what he was saying so he could give them a test on it the next day. It was boring and stupid (and very lazy teaching) back when I was in his class, and equally so six or seven years later. It’s easy to get into a rut when you teach the same thing year after year. I urge you to do something different that will force you to learn, do, and prepare different things. Yes, it can present a good bit of work, but that’s exactly what will rejuvenate your career. Take on a different grade level. Switch subject areas or add a new class to teach. Move from working with kids in advanced placement classes to those in remedial classes (or better yet, take some of each). Change schools and work in a different neighborhood. If you’ve been taking classes, you may be able to apply for a different position, like school psychologist, supervisor, mentor teacher, or administrator. Put yourself in a place where you aren’t quite as competent, where you’re likely to make mistakes, where you’re out of your comfort zone. You may be tired and uncomfortable, but I’ll bet you won’t be bored!

Share Your Passion

  • Speak at a conference. Think about the programs and ideas that have been working for you. After 30 years, I’ll bet you have expertise you might take for granted, but that information might well be very new and inspiring to other teachers. I started presenting at conferences about 12 years after I started teaching. It was an expensive proposition, as the ones I attended not only didn’t pay a speaker’s fee or reimburse travel or hotel expenses, but they also expected me to pay a conference registration. Still, I got some valuable experience and feedback, developed several program topics, built up my professional speaking resume (see https://janebluestein.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Resume_121212.pdf ), and got my name out to many, many new people, some of whom invited me to share my ideas and resources at their school or district (and yes, these did pay!) which started me off on a whole other career as a speaker and consultant.
  • Teach a class for other teachers. Look for opportunities to teach at your local college or university. Although these institutions can be highly political in terms of getting in on a full-time, tenure-line position, many look for “front-line” people to teach an evening or summer course. I have taught classes for 8 or 9 different colleges and universities. Most were in the state of New Mexico, where I live, within 450-500 km of my house (I was younger then and had more energy to drive around the state every week), although I have also taught for colleges in Wisconsin, Colorado, and Hawaii, and even taught a summer course in Helsinki one year. There are also a number of organizations and speakers bureaus that will create opportunities for you to speak. I spent ten years working with one in the US that, at my busiest times with them, would send me to 40-45 cities a year to present full-day seminars. They also offered coaching and ideas to increase my effectiveness as a presenter and I owe a great deal to them for much of the positive feedback I get today. I have also worked with agents and bureaus in Canada and Singapore. I love this part of my “job” and am open to any opportunity to work with teachers. Anywhere.
  • Share your energy and expertise. Do you have a book in you? Some philosophy or a program or a set of ideas that you are now ready to articulate? Something that will help other teachers? Even if the idea of writing a book seems a bit intimidating, the Internet has opened doors and created avenues for sharing that even a few years ago, would have seemed like a dream. A blog or your own Web site is the most obvious and immediate suggestion here, and new technologies and apps have made the possibility of starting from scratch a whole lot less daunting than Web design used to be. Some schools have sites that feature programs and activities and work by students. (Please check for your school’s privacy policy and get the necessary permissions where needed.) Other sites feature articles and guest blogs by other authors. (Please be ethical about crediting the author by name, along with any book or site you reference, and offer a link back to that person’s site or contact information as a courtesy.) Many teachers have created blogs where they share their ideas and experiences— struggles, failures, breakthroughs, and victories— to inspire (or console) other teachers. About a year ago, I ventured into podcasting and currently have over two dozen shows that feature conversations with other experts in areas that will help my primary markets, educators and parents, and have plans to develop a series of short audio and video “talking head” presentations (that is, just me speaking, hopefully with graphics) on a variety of specific topics.
  • Expand your work beyond the system. I am actually working through my 40th year in education and the one thing I discovered is that there really are lots and lots of outlets for the passion and enthusiasm that brought me to this profession. In addition to my work in the classroom and for the University, I have done all of the above and in 1981, I started my own consulting, publishing, and distribution business. (How this happened and what I learned along the way are described in fairly great detail at https://janebluestein.com/2012/whats-a-purchase-order/ ) This work has taken me down some very interesting paths, including, early on, publishing books by other teachers and distributing educational resources for about 50 different publishers, neither of which I have time for today. I still love to write and above all, love to present to other teachers and parents and look for opportunities to do so whenever I can. Sure, my energy at 61 is not the same as it was at 21, but there are so many possibilities available to me now that didn’t exist 40 years ago, and I’m grateful, if slightly overwhelmed at times, for every one of them because it’s been these challenges to learn new things and grow my own career that has kept my passion and enthusiasm alive all this time.

Strive for Balance

  • Pursue a Hobby. What did you do for fun before you started teaching? It’s easy, especially when starting out, to have your entire life consumed by planning instruction, preparing or finding materials, marking papers, contacting parents, doing reports, exploring resources and areas of instruction, and all the details that teaching involves. Squeeze in as much time as you can, even if only one day a week, to indulge a passion unrelated to teaching.
  • Learn something new. In addition to professional development classes, conferences, and literature, make time to expand your horizons in some area that has nothing to do with your work. Whether knitting, rock climbing, gardening, carpentry, yoga, or learning to play an instrument or speak another language, a new activity will challenge your brain in different ways, and can help you recharge and engage with your job in new ways as well.
  • Travel. There’s something special about going to new places that broadens our understanding of the world and our sense of place in it. The experiences you have on the road will follow you back into the classroom, if only in your sense of perspective. (I’m actually writing this from a hotel in Sedona, Arizona.) I love my work and still need a clear-my-head break from time to time, especially, when I can, after a period of intense work demands or before starting a new project. I find even a few days in a different environment helps me face the challenges I left in a very different state of mind.
  • Get help if necessary. On a good day, teaching can be stressful and overwhelming. It’s normal to have days when teaching is more struggle than satisfaction, but if you start noticing that the work seems to offer little joy or creativity, if you’re feeling angry and resentful much of the time, if you’re support team isn’t especially supportive, or if you’re starting to second-guess your capability, talent, or even choice of careers, find someone to talk to, preferably a professional. And if you find yourself losing your sense of motivation to depression, addiction, a destructive relationship, or other stresses in your life that make teaching unbearable, that’s a pretty good sign that it’s time to reach out. Look to your district’s Employee Assistance Program, if one exists, or a private counselor or 12-step group. Trust me on this. You do not need to do this alone.

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