How to shake off the “October blues” and rediscover the joy of teaching
It’s not just you: October is notoriously the most difficult month of the year for teachers.
Teachers are starting the school year with a “sense of possibility” and energized by summer, said Roxanna Elden, author and former teacher. But as the weeks pass, some of their best ideas and plans fall through. Work piles up and they don’t get enough sleep. Classroom management can become a major source of stress.
“And then you have a moment in your class that feels like your fault, makes you feel like a terrible teacher, … and then you still deal with the rest of the year,” said Elden, who now writes a weekly newsletter. information for teachers and offers confidential one-on-one “office hours” sessions.
Ellen Moir, the founder of the New Teacher Center, a nonprofit that works to strengthen the practice of beginning teachers, said the time frame between mid-October and Thanksgiving broke the “disillusionment phase.”of the school year. That’s when teachers’ morale drops when they realize things aren’t going as well as they had hoped.
This time of year is especially challenging for new teachers, but it can also be exhausting for seasoned teachers, especially as schools continue to emerge from the pandemic.
“It’s a very, very long stretch while you’re tired,” Elden said. “[You’re] hit the wall, you can barely make it through the week, and there are just endless weeks [of the school year] in front of you.”
Teacher stress in general has increased since before the pandemic, and a nationally representative survey conducted in early 2022 found that teacher job satisfaction levels appear to be at historic lows. Teachers say they are struggling with a higher than normal workload due to staff shortages, students are disengaged or misbehaving and political pressures have affected their ability to do their jobs.
In a nationally representative survey conducted from August 31 to September 15, the EdWeek research center asked more than 1,000 teachers for their advice on rediscovering the joy of teaching. Their responses ran the gamut, from setting professional boundaries to collaborating with peers to focusing on students.
As for Elden, his advice is threefold:
- Take a step back and know that you are not alone.
- Take time over the weekends to think strategically about one thing that can make a difference the following week.
- Make sure you get enough sleep.
Teachers may say to themselves, “’You should work harder, otherwise you don’t care about your students,’” Elden said. But “getting enough sleep is one of the main things that makes you fit to be in a classroom with a child.”
Here are some of the biggest tips from other teachers for getting out of the doldrums and remembering the good things about teaching. The answers, taken from the EdWeek Research Center survey, have been slightly modified.
Shake up your routine
“You have to get out of the planning rut with the same plan [or] book every year. Yes, teach the same lesson/norm, but find new ways to teach it. Plus, you get a new “fresh” moodlet every fall. They need this cheerful teacher. They need this [teacher] who once loved the job more than he dreaded it,” said a primary English/language teacher.
Another elementary teacher suggested embracing a different type of work: “Find or create a passion project. The kind you would dream of as a bright-eyed student dreaming of his class. It could be a writing club, a book club, a community project, etc. Talk to your boss. It will make you look good, it will make the teaching closer to what you imagined, and it will give you something to look forward to.
Several teachers – and Elden – have suggested changing grades or subjects after several years if the school year becomes monotonous. But even if you can’t make a big change, each year can still hold surprises, teachers said.
“It’s new every day and every year,” said a high school teacher. “Have fun reflecting and adapting your lessons and the new students you are challenged to reach and help.”
Set boundaries and stick to them
“Do not respond to e-mails after contractual hours. Don’t spend your own money, not a penny. Never give out your home phone number. In short, have the boundaries of a professional to command the respect a professional deserves,” said a high school ELA teacher.
A high school foreign language teacher emphasized “learning that we can’t do everything and allowing ourselves to accept that some things can’t happen anymore.”
A college science teacher said, “Learn to say no to the administration when they keep asking you to do more. Focus on your courses and what you were hired to do.
And several teachers emphasized the importance of self-care, in whatever form works best.
“Get up early to have some quiet time,” said an elementary school teacher. “Whether it’s for training, reading, walking or simply vegetating while watching TV. Try this moment of calm every day.
Focus on the fun of learning
Teachers said they experience joy watching students make a connection or discovery. A 1st grade teacher spoke of “the moment when students discover something other than the world in themselves”.
A primary school teacher said, “Monitor progress from the beginning to the end of the year. We do this for children, and their growth is worth it. »
“Try to focus on the kid who really needs help,” said another primary school teacher.
And several teachers recommended focusing on learning that happens every day, rather than high-stakes exams.
“Take the time to get to know your students. Create activities where students work together in small groups. Move around the classroom observing and answering their questions,” said an elementary school teacher. “Don’t obsess over state tests and district assessments. Find what interests and engages your students. The rest will come. »
Collaborate with your colleagues
“Look for supportive colleagues who are willing to help you rediscover your passion for teaching,” said an elementary school teacher.
According to teachers, professional learning communities can be a good source of energy, as can professional development, as long as it is useful. A high school ELA teacher said that “meaningful professional development with like-minded professionals – professional development that I choose” can be a spark of rejuvenation.
A high school fine arts teacher said, “Spend time observing other master teachers, even if you have been in the field for a long time.
A primary school teacher advised educators to find like-minded people and “hold on for a wild ride. Be sure to share with them outside of school so you have more in common than work.
Adopt the humor
“Find the humor in everyday life”, advised a specialized educator. An elementary school teacher said, “Find a way to laugh, every day, with your students.”
And teachers urged their peers to make time to have fun and be silly with their students in order to build strong relationships and bring joy to school days.
“Be in the moment with your students,” said an elementary school teacher. “Joke, sing, share, learn something new together for 5-10 minutes every day. Start each day with a five-minute mindfulness meditation. Challenge them to compete with you in something silly. Remember that most children need you to see them. They do the best they can with what they are given. If it’s no good, give them more tools.
‘Remember your why’
Above all, the teachers said, remember why you became a teacher. For most teachers, that reason is students and the love of learning.
“Children ARE the joy of teaching. Let them remind you why you do what you do every day. If we ignore the bureaucracy and focus our work on the children, the problems will become less daunting,” said a high school ELA teacher.
Another high school ELA teacher recommended teachers reconnect with their former students to remember the impact they are having. And several teachers said they try to find at least one positive thing about each school day.
“Look for the little things, they’re there,” said an elementary special education teacher. “That face a student makes when a concept finally clicks. The first hug you receive from a student who was having trouble logging in.