Teaching is hard…I mean really hard. We leave our teacher preparation programs with these Pollyanna dreams and hopes about what we want to do and accomplish only to walk into our first classroom. Many of us are shocked as these environments and cultures are dramatically different from where we student taught, had envisioned working, or our professors told us it would be like. From the first staff meeting during in-service week, you know that it is game time and every day counts. Even with the most supportive school administration and mentor, there is still a pressure to perform: to make sure you are teaching the whole child, growing kids academically, teaching the standards and the curriculum with fidelity but also trying to infuse it with your own teaching style and personality. Again, teaching is hard. No wonder people begin to give up and move to a different career within the first five years of teaching.
So how can we help prevent burnout and ensure folks are successful? Here are our top six strategies that we believe make a difference, regardless of the job you have within education.
Building positive relationships with your colleagues
We have all heard it before, relationships are the most important thing when it comes to education but this also is true when it comes to your relationships with colleagues. If you surround yourself with negative folks that continuously vent and never celebrate the positive, you will find yourself starting to think the same way. We have to train our brains to see the positive, the possibility, and the potential our work can have on those around us. Being an educator is an amazing job and it has such an incredible impact on the world that we can’t waste time being negative. Our advice to you, if you can’t find positive colleagues within your building, seek out folks on Twitter. The more connected you are to positive educators, the more positive our outlook will be.
Many districts offer official mentoring programs for new principals and new teachers. These have their pros and cons and I often feel like they can easily become an arranged marriage of sorts. Regardless if you have an official mentor, it is vital that you take the time to find someone that can help you navigate the new waters of your job. For example, new teachers have a million questions about how to access the school wide calendar, the expectation of posting grades, the appropriate way to communicate with parents and these are often questions that come up after the fact. Many times we hear folks say that they don’t know what they don’t know. Having a mentor can help as they can provide you with a heads up and support as you work through understanding building norms, expectations, and traditions of the school.
Finding balance in your life between personal and professional is extremely hard but it is vital for your well-being. As educators we are by nature caretakers but we can’t forget to take care of ourselves and this goes beyond the occasional splurges on wine, chocolate or massages. How are you managing your daily stress and workload? How are you taking care of yourself emotionally and physically? For many, this might be the hardest area implement, at least it was for me, and it was only at the intense insistence of others did I start to understand the importance of balance. Balance, you can’t leave home without it.
Be open and keep growing
Sometimes we walk into jobs and we feel that we have to pretend to know all the answers or that we have to be near perfect to find success. This thought process is completely false when it comes to education. As educators, regardless of where you are in the number of years you have been teaching, we all have to be open to learning and growing. Sure, as a new teacher your learning curve might be a little steeper than others around you but remember that with time, you will get there too and things will become easier.
One thing at a time
We all have things we want to improve on but it is near impossible to do it all at once. Especially being new to a job, there often feels like we need to improve on everything and this can often be overwhelming. Instead of getting bogged down in the laundry list of areas to tweak, just focus on a few key areas that are most likely to have the largest impact on your classroom and students. Need help figuring out what to start with? Check in with a teaching partner, mentor, instructional coach, or even your administrator for some guidance as we are all stronger as a team.
Take advantage of the breaks
Some of the best advice I received a few years back was to make sure to take full advantage of the time we had off from school. So when Winter Break or even Spring Break rolls around, use this time to recharge, refocus, and reflect so you are ready to go full steam ahead when you return to class. If you don’t slow down during these breaks, you will feel it as the year progresses and fatigue catches up to you.
John George currently serves as the principal of Dexter McCarty Middle School in the Gresham Barlow School District. He was the Oregon Middle School Principal of the Year in 2014. Prior to serving as a middle school principal, he was a turnaround principal and a district office administrator. George specializes in instructional improvement and turning around struggling schools and districts. Connect with George on Twitter @duckfan66.
Rachael George is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2015 and currently serves as the principal of Sandy Grade School in the Oregon Trail School District. Prior to serving as an elementary principal, George was a middle school principal of an “outstanding” and two-time “Level 5: Model School” as recognized by the State of Oregon. George specializes in curriculum development and instructional improvement as well as working with at-risk students and closing the achievement gap. Connect with George on Twitter @runnin26.