Welcome back to the Teacher Health series here at Teach On A Mission. I'm so glad you decided to carve out some time to join me in this reflection and consideration of ways we can build up teachers and bring them a healthier lifestyle.
In last week's post, Part One of our Teacher Health series, I shared some details around the not-so-secret trend that's occurring in education today... teachers not entering the field in the first place and teachers leaving the field once they get there.
I believe that this exit of teachers en masse is largely due to the unsustainable, super-human pace that's necessary to be effective and a "good" teacher.
This week I'm going to start by sharing a little secret of mine. One that, now that I think about it, I don't think I've even mentioned this to my husband.
It's not a dirty secret, per say, but it's one that reveals my flawed perception of the teaching field when I first entered it and, therefore, the larger, collective perception of what it means to be a "good" teacher.
I graduated from college with my Ohio teaching license in 7-12 Integrated Social Studies back in 2009. This was smack in the middle of the lovely recession we had when new college grads had the highest unemployment rate at a whopping 25% (maybe even higher, but that's the number I recall at the time), so I went a year with no job, subbing all over Timbuktu including various long-term sub positions just to reach that 120 day mark which would earn me one year towards the state teacher's retirement system.
Phew, I did it.
Then late winter, early spring rolled around and it was go time to obsessively watch all school district's "Employment" pages on their websites and sending in my resume AS SOON as they had any position open that I would qualify for.
I'm proud to tell you after an ego-crushing year of barely getting interviews, let along job offers the year before, that next year I got not only multiple second and third round interviews, but even 2 job offers! I was officially an adult!
And a teacher! I accepted a teaching position at a high school just outside of Cincinnati, Ohio teaching AP Psychology, Sociology and Intro to Psychology. I was beyond stoked. And beyond crazy-stressed considering I had only taken two total courses in psychology and sociology in college, so not only was I learning this whole ACTUAL teaching thing, but I was also learning brand new content.
To say I barely kept my head above water that year is the understatement of the century. But, hey, that's everyone's first year of teaching right?!? Right. As if that commonality makes us all feel better. Maybe a little, but it still sucked.
Don't get me wrong, I love teaching, but I don't care how much you love teaching, your first year is just INSANE. There's no other word for it.
Let me back up a bit though. In one of my many interviews with the school that I eventually was offered and accepted a teaching position from, I was asked this question:
In your opinion, what makes someone a good teacher?
Now, I do not have a great memory. Just ask my husband. Wait, no don't, because he'll just give you a giant eye-roll and say "yep - her memory sucks."
But my answer to this question, although I'm not really sure why, I remember every word I said. Here's what came out of my mouth.
Their willingness to put the time in to make it work.
I believed this to MY CORE. And my interviewer ate up every word. I can't speak for the folks who interviewed and eventually hired me, but I'm willing to bet that my eagerness to hustle, because that's exactly what this sentence is defining, is what ultimately got me the job.
So let me rephrase what I said into a sentence of what I really meant...
If a teacher is willing to hustle, that is all it takes for him/her to be a great teacher.
Got a problem - hustle, figure it out.
Got a long to-do list - just hustle.
Something not working - it's because you aren't hustling enough.
Student scores not great - you're not hustling enough.
Student behavior off the chain - yep, you guessed it, you're not hustling.
Are you offended yet?
I hope so.
Because I look back on that interview, and repeatedly work through the memory of that answer and I cringe.
It's one of the few moments (ok, there's more than a few, but I can't really name them off the top of my head right now) that I would, if I could, reach back in time and back hand myself. Knock some sense into my incredibly YOUNG, naive, and philosophically flawed self.
I genuinely hope that you are offended by 22-year-old Mandy's answer to this interview question and here's why.
It means that everything in education that may become problematic, or may prevent a teacher from having great scores is all the teacher's fault. It's ALL on the teacher. As if the teacher is the only factor influencing their students' education and ultimately their scores.
And this is glossing over the fact that the way we measure student, and therefore teacher success, is incredibly flawed, and way too high-stakes. An unhealthy amount of consequences are riding on how 8, 13, and 16 year olds do on some tests. Just sayin'.
I should admit something here because I just talked a lot of smack about hustling your way through to make it in life.
Listen, hustling is my life game. It's what I have always known and believed. And I've been rather successful because of it.
From being in just about every club in high school while playing sports and holding a part time job, to my husband and I building our own home, to my career where I believed working 60+ hours a week was all I needed to do to be successful... yea, hustle has been my middle name for most of my life.
But it, as well as its results - whether good or bad - defined me.
And I would bet I am not the only teacher, or at least 22 year-old Mandy is not the only teacher who believes this through-and-through.
This culture in education of "just hustle" runs deep. Just consider how teachers and schools are attacked and blamed for individual student and the world's problems today. And it's because the schools aren't working hard enough, or at least that's the underlying message.
But that's not what this post is about. We're not here to whine about the culture and how corrosive it is for teachers. Except to say that's what's causing mostly 26-30 year old's to say peace-out to this career field.
Yea, that's what I'm saying.
This "just hustle" culture is what's driving teachers right out of schools.
But how in the world do we get out from under this pressure to "just hustle" - just make more resources, differentiate more, reflect more, assess more, just work longer, harder, faster????
It is one of our utmost goals here at Teach On A Mission to not just rant about and focus on the issues of education today, but rather to face them head on with tangible, practical steps of action teachers can take TOMORROW for a more sustainable career. Keeping teachers in the field. These are some steps I hope will help you take those actionable steps.
First, we must collectively, through encouraging conversations with each other, decide that hustling isn't what's going to make us good teachers.
Again, it's what's going to drive us to a second career.
And our hustle rubs off on our students, as if their amount of hustle is what defines them.
Do we need to take any amount of time to stop and consider how this "just hustle" culture has impacted our students? I think you're perceptive enough to know how bad it really is right now.
Now teachers can't all show up to work tomorrow and say to their students or to their administrators that they aren't adding anything to their to-do list this week.
That's saying no to your job - probably not a good career choice.
Instead, when something new comes up, we need to think of what else can give. As many of my idols in the productivity space preach, when you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else.
So when you see that new idea on Instagram, and o my goodness it would be so cute or cool to make that lesson happen in your classroom, think twice about the time it will take to implement that compared to what you already have planned. Sure it would be cool, but would implementing it on your limited time table make it as effective as it could be if, say, you gave the planning it's due focus?
When you notice a new classroom decor theme or type of interactive notebook you could use with students as you peruse through Pinterest, recognize its coolness, then JUST SAVE IT FOR LATER.
I'm not trying to stifle your creativity here, but I am trying to slow your constant must-do-better-go-getter, at least during the school year.
Take a breath and remember that you made some fantastic choices for your classroom over the summer or right before the school year started or maybe over that long break when you did some reflecting and tweaking. Help your future self by trusting your past self. Trust the changes you've made previously, make small tweaks as necessary, but don't throw it all in the fire just yet.
Instead, save it for later. This will take practice - and a giant helping of grace and patience with yourself. At least it did for me.
You'll need a good system to help you truly reflect and save ideas in a way that will be easy for you to recall and quickly act upon later - like over the summer. Take the first month of summer break to just take deep breaths and relax, then come the second month of break, get back in the game - a bit. At least enough to think on and make some quality changes in your classroom that will resolve some issues you've noticed in the past year or so. Changes that you'll stick to and wont' change until next summer - so make them good.
Now, I am a Google gal - through and through (that should totally be a new hashtag). Because of my fondness with Google, I always have a running Google doc for the school year where I type in all my ideas, and drop in images as needed when I see something I really want to try.
Pinterest is also good for this. It can be quite overwhelming to spend time in Pinterest, though, so be aware of this and browse with caution. There really are some great ideas in that giant ocean of creativity. I have a few boards on Pinterest if you'd like to check those out.
Another tool is Google Keep. This is one that I've heard so many great things about from colleagues and friends, and I really need to give it a try. You can create various lists, and seamlessly add things you find online directly to those lists. I'm kind of geeking out just writing about it, so I'm heading over there real quick to get started.
The main point here being, save it for later when you have the time to give new ideas their due focus and can truly reflect on and plan for their effectiveness without sacrificing your other responsibilities during the school year.
Second, we must redefine what it is to support teachers.
Here's the thing. When a teacher is busy "hustlin," guess what she's not doing... connecting with students.
She's too busy making the next powerpoint she needs for tomorrow's lesson, or searching endlessly on the internet for better ways to engage her students.
Granted, these are ways that will eventually allow her to have impact with her students, but the time in between her research, content creation, implementation and her connecting with students is a very wide gap.
I don't think I looked up from my computer or the work I was doing to just show up each day and actually LOOKED at my students the first three years I taught.
Of course I did, I knew my students - but much more than their names, behavior tendencies, and scores in my class - yea, I had no clue who they were.
Teachers need support in areas that they are just expected to be total rock stars at when they get a job - like content creation, for instance.
There are MILLIONS of teachers in this world. Thousands upon thousands that have taught the exact course that any other teacher in any given school is assigned to teach this school year (and let's not even acknowledge the world-changing effect of being assigned a NEW course to teach every other year). Why is it that any teacher on this earth should be making brand new resources for their classes?
Why must a teacher create all new resources for their classroom, especially in their early years when they are just getting used to the trends of teaching in general and their school they are brand new to?
Now you may be thinking, when you got your job or took on a new course, you got materials from the teacher before you and they were awful or not your style.
Or you didn't get resources from anyone at all - it just wasn't an option for whatever reason.
I hear you. Seriously, there are folks who start as a first year teacher and don't even have a mentor teacher to help them in that tumultuous time. So, I get it that you didn't receive any resources.
And that's my point - this is where we need to revamp and get creative in how we support teachers.
Here's what I propose...
Elevate teachers as the experts.
Not textbook companies. Not administrators. This is not to say that these two groups don't have valuable input, but when it comes to what I will implement in my classroom, I want to hear from someone who has been in my EXACT shoes... I want to do what they did.
Just as we have a fitness trainer, a medical doctor, and life coach on call via the world wide web, teachers can have a mentor or expert teacher they call on for support.
You can get online nowadays and chat with a doctor to diagnose and prescribe medication for most small ailments you're having. You can get on social media and find your fitness inspiration, grab a workout and get to it everyday of the week - and they are probably inspiring you in more areas than just fitness.
This model can support teachers as well.
No longer are the days where our professional development and creative inspiration are limited to the schools in which we serve.
There are so many teachers out there that can serve as experts, we just need the platform that will allow them to be seen and serve as experts to other teachers.
This platform needs to be one that supports the teacher-expert in ways that allows them to stay in the classroom. That's our ultimate goal here at Teach On A Mission, right? To keep teachers in the classroom longer. So this platform serves that role in two ways - keeping the teacher experts in the classroom, and supporting other teachers in ways that makes their daily work-life sustainable.
This platform doesn't exist yet. But I'm working on it. And if you'd like to be a part of it, please reach out to me at [email protected]. I would love to chat.
In the meantime, get out there and find someone. Instagram is the platform that did this for me a couple years ago. I found teachers I related to and used them as mentors and inspiration that, honestly, revived my love for teaching.
I also hope, if I dare say, that I can serve as that mentor for you. I currently mentor 50 AP Psychology teachers in our common content-specific area, but also others in flipping their classroom. In fact, the wait list for Flipped Classroom Formula, my online course that gets teachers, step-by-step, flipping their classrooms is open now. The course will launch in May, but you can get on the wait list now to be sure you don't miss it this time around.
And I also want to give you support in this area of teacher health right now. So I've made a PDF printable for you to work through to kick start the candid, internal conversation (self-talk) that needs to happen for teachers so we can eventually get to the candid conversations that need to happen on the bigger level. Grab your Teacher Health Reflection Guide here (or by clicking the image below). Sit with the guide for a bit and really reflect on areas where you can make some changes to prioritize yourself when it comes to making decisions in your classroom.
We can't do this job alone. We just can't. At least not in ways that allows us to be truly effective teachers in sustainable ways that keeps us in the job for more than 5-10 years.
And it's high time that when we open our classroom doors for collaboration that what's on the outside of our classroom doors is not just the hallway to the teachers who work in our building, but instead is the wide open highway that gives us access to the thousands of teacher-experts that are available across the world.
Hustlin' is NOT what's going to keep us in the game of teaching - it's what's driving us to second careers where we'll work less or make more, or BOTH.
There are actionable ways to SAY NO to hustling.
That's it my friend. I don't have a list of "10 ways to make your day better". It's not that kind of post. Ain't nobody got time for 10 steps. But I hope that in these two small, hopeful steps (and in this whole series on Teacher Health in general) that you find contentment in knowing you CAN do this. You have control of you, and YOU are the number one influence on students' education.
Here's to you.
Until next time,
If this conversation has you wanting more tips, strategies, and frames of mind to better consider your health as a teacher, I want to GIVE you a free PDF titled The Teacher Health Reflection Guide to do exactly that.