Friday, January 12, 2018

The Languishing Teacher, Part Two

If you skimmed my last blog post, you know that I wrote about all the reasons a teacher might get really tired of... well, of being a teacher.  I wrote about the risk for the weariness to turn into frustration and bitterness—which, in the world of education, is a crappy ending for everyone and everything.  Today, I'm writing about ways to avoid that slump. 

It starts with one thing:  Changing things up.  Somehow, and in some way, scattering the chards of predictability is the best way to renew the excitement and enthusiasm we felt when we first started teaching.  Remember that?  It was nice, right?

Let it be said that I know how difficult it is.  Change hurts.  Change is scary, in a grumpy, childish I don’t wanna way.   It’s like being the new kid in someone else’s well-established routine; no one wants that, right?  We want to be comfortable and confident and stay put.  That’s our instinct, no?

Truth:  For some of us, sometimes, change is exactly what we need.  And if it’s time for a change, there are lots of ways to find it.  Here are a few ideas.

Try a new grade level.
Many, many times, I’ve seen a teacher move to a different grade level and re-discover passion for teaching.  A friend of mine taught fourth graders for twelve years before plunging into a seventh grade role.  Shoulda done this 5 yrs ago, his text read after the first day in his new role.  LOVE IT.   Moving out of a comforting job and into a new one never feels good, there at the start—but I've found it almost always ends well.  

Look to instructional coaching. 
Many districts have coaching roles in place, and though the jobs are not always easy to get, they can be a fabulous change.  Instructional coaching moves a teacher to a place to consider pedagogy, practice, and purpose.   Which is so fun… and brings lift to a languishing career. 

Do something extra-curricular. 
You know what’s fun?  Leading a club.  Directing a play.  Organizing a school-wide program, assembly or activity.  Coaching a team.  In my career, I've coached track, cross country, and basketball—it was great fun and it made me a much better teacher.  

I know, I know, I know—mid-career, there are children and after-school real-life commitments beyond the school day.  But if you can swing it, adding something to your responsibilities— in a way that lifts your school, or lifts up some kids who need a great experience— can feel really, really good.  It can remind you why you went into teaching in the first place.

Get involved in your bargaining unit.  I was a building and district union representative for several years before I moved into administration, and let me tell you something:  It was a gift to spend so much time with people who were out there defending the work of teachers.  I’d never been surrounded by such passion and purpose as when I attended NEA events.  I’d never had my beliefs about teaching so clearly articulated and defended.  I’ll go to the grave defending public education because of the time I spent doing union work. 

Go back to school.  Sometimes career rejuvenation requires a different degree.  But that’s fun, right?  It starts with setting the goal of landing a particular supporting role and then finding the appropriate program to help you get it done.  Counselor.  Administrator.  Reading teacher.  ELL teacher.  Special Education Supervisor.   The caveat here—or, more accurately, the truth—is that there are limited positions that come available.  For every school, there is only one counselor, one or two administrators, and one or two coaches.  But if it’s something you’d like to do, you can start working toward this goal by establishing yourself as someone who knows a little something about being a whatever-you-want-to-be.  With the right degree and the right frontloading, you’ll find yourself with a whole new career.

Fire up the professional networking.  I swear I’ve found a renewed energy and enthusiasm just by participating in a simple Twitter chat.  Really.  One hour, on the couch with a cup of coffee and a snack, reading the rapid-fire responses of other professionals—that’s all it takes for me to feel a burst of renewed focus.  And there are hundreds of ways to connect with other professionals—social media, professional organizations, curricular study groups, book studies, committee work, and advocacy work.  Throw yourself out there and watch your professional network grow, grow, grow.

Attend a national conference.  It ain’t cheap, I know.  But it doesn’t cost as much as years spent dragging out of bed to go to a job you hate.  So start saving your pennies, book the plane ticket to somewhere new and different, and listen to presentations by people who have passion seeping from their pores.  It'll be awesome, I tell you. 

Present your expertise to others.  Presenting your knowledge can be as simple as sharing an idea with your department—or as complicated as filling out a presentation proposal and being a speaker at a big conference.  There’s a unique excitement to standing in front of colleagues with the opportunity to share what you know.  It’s a confidence builder and, paradoxically, simultaneously, a humbler.  It will spur you to dig deeper into yourself and be fabulous.

Consume.  Read, read, read the work of other people.  Consume their words and seek more.  Absorb it all and think about what it means for you.

Produce materials.  If your ideas are good and you feel confident, think about ways you can create something to share with other teachers.  Maybe a blog with some your best teaching ideas?  A new method or experiment you can load up on Pintrest for others to use?  An article for a publisher?  Or maybe, to start, just a tweet to advocate for you and your teaching bretheren.  Doesn’t have to be much—but it will help you feel like you’re giving back. 

And then, if none of these ideas seem to be a good idea, there is always this:

Be the very best at what you are already doing.  Seek to be fantastic.  Using some of the other ideas listed here—improving social networking, trying new instructional practices and classroom management tricks, or becoming a master of content—you can find yourself being one of the most masterful teachers in your building.  The reputation will build on excellence, and with a bit of time, you’ll be known as an expert to others. 

Okay—I’m going to stop here, though I could go on and on.  As I said last week, I feel like this is an important conversation to have—why should the energy and dreams of teachers ever wilt away?  I love encouraging teachers to think about other things they can do to keep themselves sharp, and talking with them about staying committed to excellence—no matter where, when, and how they end up doing what they do.


  1. Great ideas. I’m finding it frustrating teaching can “lock” you in at a location. Sure you can change buildings but not districts when you have experience. I wish more schools were staffed on philosophical beliefs. I had this once. The climate and conversations were thoughtful and stimulating.

  2. Jen,
    I enjoyed reading this. It always saddens me to sit beside a teacher and see the joy in the work is gone (especially in teachers who once had such great light). I've been thinking a lot about it lately, and your tips certainly speak to the ways to find new energy. For me, connecting with others via social media and blogs has helped to freshen my thinking. Of course, professional reading is always another plus --- as are just general self-improvement books.

    I ask myself how I can help bring that light back. What role do we all play in lifting one another? Strong teams, a focus on children, and a return to conversations about authentic learning (and maybe some good literature...wink wink) always liven a room of conversation.

    Thanks for sharing. This a topic near and dear to my heart.

    1. Oops...This is a topic near and dear to my heart.

  3. Jen, this post is very affirming to me! I try to help teachers who get stuck in a rut realize there are ways to feel better about the prodession they were called to do. Your post has great advice and reminds us to keep a growth mindset no matter what we choose to do.


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