I recently wrote a raw blog post essentially pouring my heart out about how grateful I am to have fallen back in love with teaching. If you haven’t read that blog post yet, you can check it out here. It’s been a few difficult years for us teachers, in a profession that was already very challenging.
Naturally, the question I got in response to that blog post was, “so what changed?” I don't have a quick and easy answer. It’s hard to pin down because it’s a mix of things.
In an effort to share some of that magic, I put together a list of 11 things that I did or changed that helped me to fall in love with teaching again.
Now, don’t get me wrong… an ease on the restrictions of the pandemic, among other things outside of my control, helped to beat teacher overload, too. Read on to learn some of the changes I made to help beat teacher overload and overwhelm.
I'm putting thing one first because I don't think I would feel how I do about teaching, without therapy. Going to therapy has been paramount in processing some of the stress and anxiety I had related to teaching. Like all of us, I had some others things to work out, too. Going to therapy has aided my level of overwhelm and anxiety in life which has trickled into teaching, big time!
I started going to therapy consistently in 2022. Before that, I felt like my problems “weren't big enough.” If that's you, too, I really encourage you to go. There isn't a certain requirement for the size of problems or the amount of problems to see a therapist. 😉
Staying on Top of Things
I started to pay attention to what I could do to help me beat that teacher overload feeling. I started to notice the difference in my level of anxiety when I was fully planned and stayed on top of tasks that weighed me down, like grading. So, I made a plan for staying on top of those tasks, week after week. The more I stuck to this, the more my teacher overwhelm dwindled. I mean, yeah, I can “wing it” like any great teacher can but it doesn't leave me feeling good! In fact, it usually has me feeling frantic and ready to crumble if anything unexpected is thrown my way (like losing a prep time).
Healthy Routines and Outlets
Sticking to the healthy routines and outlets that support me. This tip is probably obvious but I find that when I'm struggling the most, these are things that go out the window. I rarely find time to exercise when I'm at my most overwhelmed. Whenever I'm feeling frantic, I rarely spend time winding down before bed in a healthy way. For me, getting regularly exercise, especially outside, and practicing good sleep hygiene makes the world of difference in how I feel about everything, teaching included.
Setting boundaries was a contributing factor into gaining more balance in my professional and personal life. One of the things that would make me anxious outside of contract times is when I checked my work email on my phone (which I did often). Seeing reminders of deadlines approaching or questions from students' parents, my mind would start racing.
To deal with that trigger, I started to toggle “off” my work email on my Gmail off in the evenings and weekends. That way, if I really needed to log in and attend to something, I could but I wasn't coming across these emails at all hours of the day. Setting boundaries with when I would read and respond to emails is just one example of how I learned to maintain balance.
Letting Go of Things I Can't Control
Okay, I'll just say it. Many teachers are control freaks. I am guilty of this as well.
There are things that get under my skin that can quickly impact my mood if I'm not careful. Here's the thing I learned… what if I just decide that it doesn't impact me? What if I learned to just let them (or at least some of these things go)?
I started to say the expression, “not my circus, not my monkeys” a lot. In my head, of course.
My Weekends Are For Me
I used to plan on the weekend. Sunday morning, I would make my coffee and I would spend the next couple of hours planning. I even told myself that I liked to do it this way.
The thing is, I didn't realize that there was another way. Now, I avoid planning on weekends.
It wasn't until I started to use my prep times for planning that I realized how much I could get done within those time constraints.
Do you know what I actually like doing on Sunday mornings? Not planning.
Focus On What Matters
There is always so much you could be doing in teaching that you literally cannot do it all. You can't possibly keep up with all the trends, have a perfectly organized classroom, try all the classroom management strategies, test out every fun idea that you see, etc.
Instead, I like to see all of the things above as opportunities to be creative, when I have the energy and time. I do like to try new things in my classroom because, to me, that's the fun part of teaching. But when dealing with teacher overload and overwhelm, it's not the time to tackle all of these things.
I started to figure out what my “must dos” were in teaching.
For me that's creating solid weekly plans, staying on top of grading and regularly communicating with students' parents. Those are three areas that I focused on every single week to beat the teacher overwhelm.
Systems & Routines
Systems and routines are as calming for teachers as they are for students. The funny thing is, we don't always create routines for ourselves, as adults.
The more routined and systematized I got about completing those reoccurring tasks, the easier it was to get things done. The less overwhelmed I felt.
One of the routines that I put in place was including a plan for my prep (or planning) time in my teacher schedule. For example, I had 60 minutes of prep time on Mondays so that was designated as my planning time. I would get as much of the next week planned as possible. Tuesdays, I had 30 minutes, so I would complete any planning that didn't get done the day before. I would also complete any random to do tasks like making copies. On Wednesdays, I also had 30 minutes and I would use that time to write my parent newsletter for the following week.
Another system that helped me to stay on top of grading was to have students come to me with assignments for a quick check. I would quickly go over it and note their level of understanding.
In my district, we would use a 4 point scale so I would give the a 1, 2, 3, or 4 for assignments and projects. It was as simple as reading it over and writing a 1, 2, 3 or 4 on their assignment and in my grade book. Easy, peasy!
Lean Into Personal Passions
The whole “my 5-9 after my 9-5” trend that was all over social media in 2022 helped me realize that I didn't do a ton in my 5-9 after work. That was something that I worked to change.
I wanted to enjoy my time outside of teaching and not just live for the weekends. So, I made an effort to lean into my passions more. I tried more new recipes, spend more time reading, and carved out more time to work on Learn Grow Blossom stuff.
Focus on Enjoying My Students
This one is simple. I made a conscious effort to be more present with my students and to enjoy time with them.
They are the best part of the job. This means more small group time, chatting with students, sitting with them as we co-create art, etc. When I make a conscious effort to enjoy spending time with them every day, the job became even more fruitful.
Try New Things To Keep Teaching Fresh
This is why I'm so passionate about teaching. You never have to do something the same way. There are infinite things you can try in the classroom. Different ways to structure your day, a zillion projects to try, so many different classroom management strategies… I could go on.
The point is, sometimes trying something new in your classroom can actually reignite your spark and get you excited! Some things I tried in 2022 that contributed to my excitement about teaching were, new project ideas, starting math rotations again, and recording my ancedotal notes on fresh new note-writing pages.
Teaching can be incredibly rewarding, but it isn’t without its challenges. Especially in times of teacher overload and overwhelm, it can be difficult to remember why we fell in love with teaching in the first place.
However, by taking care of yourself, establishing healthy routines and habits, and proactively seeking out ways to stay motivated and explore new ideas, you can rediscover your passion for teaching and find a renewed sense of balance.
Enjoy these tips? Want more?
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