The Long Game: Teaching as a Career, Not Just A Job

So, here’s an honest confession:  I’m feeling really burnt out this school year. I’m tired. I’m so tired that it’s 9 o’clock on a Tuesday, I’m having a drink, and I honestly cannot come up with some pretty introduction to this post. After staring at the white screen of my computer for a few minutes, the only thought running through my mind is that I’m really freakin’ tired right now.

There’s a whole host of reasons why this is true. I’ve completely changed my workout schedule, and the hours I put in at the gym have admittedly made it difficult for me to do, well, anything at the end of the day.

Still, I think I’m finally starting to understand what it means to teach as a career, not just as a job.

For the first time, I’m in my third consecutive year (fifth year overall) in the classroom and, frankly, at any job I’ve ever had. This is the first time I’ve stayed at a position this long. I’m a little like the bachelor who has jumped from relationship to relationship and finally decided to stick with someone past the honeymoon phase.

Honestly, that’s what the past two years have felt like– the honeymoon phase. I loved every minute of my job. I was always thinking of ways to try something different and new. Just like in the first few months of a relationship, I was eager to spend all my time focused on impressing my partner(s) and giving them the best.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still eager to give my students my best, and I still love my job. But after two years it’s much easier to become complacent with the routine of your classroom. You’re able to read the room better. You run into similar problems and pitfalls from the years before. Yes, the kids are different and wonderful and marvelous in their own way, but it’s easy to rest on your laurels and continue on your merry way down the path you forged for two years.

Just like any relationship, though, I am fighting stagnancy and complacency as much as I can. I don’t want to end up getting so burnt out and bored doing this work that I forget all the reasons I returned to the classroom in the first place.

Here are a couple of things I am trying to do in order to make sure I stay sharp.

  • I am reflecting on my work as often as I can. My school allows teachers to conduct academic research as part of our workload. This year, I am researching how narrative writing affects identity development, and taking a critical eye to my practice will help me improve it in the future. Caveat: you have to ensure that you actually make time for this. I failed to set aside time at the beginning of the quarter and am having to play catch up now.
  • I am extending my work as much as I am capable. This sounds crazy (and frankly, is a little bit) since teachers are busy enough as it is,  but it also allows me to connect with other educators and, again, consider my own practice.  Beyond writing for EdWeek, I’m still a Hope Street Group Fellow and now working as a community manager for Sevenzo, awesome education incubator. Does this mean less quiet, sitting-around time? Sure, but by putting myself in spaces with innovative and inspired teachers, it helps me make sure I feel that way myself.
  • I am spending less time online. Now, I had mixed feelings about sharing this one, because I think the time I spent in online spaces like EduColor is what helped me return to the classroom and helps me be a better teacher to begin with. That said, I have spent the large majority of my life operating in mostly digital spaces. This is the first year I’ve really felt involved at a more face-to-face level as an educator, and I’ve been trying to be a better friend/partner in the physical world. A lot of my life last year, if I’m honest, revolved around doing a thing for the photo op. Now I’m just… doing it. It is new and, frankly, exhilarating. I still want to return and engage more in the digital space (I miss my people!), but this has been a new avenue of my life to learn to balance in.
  • I am trying to make space for and be kind to myself. This is the hardest one. When you first enter into a relationship, you end up losing yourself in it. You want to spend all your time with it; you every waking moment feels devoted to it. That’s how I felt about teaching when I re-entered the classroom. That’s no way to have a healthy relationship with anyone (or anything), though. I am trying to make sure I still am a person outside my classroom with the fitness and making space for human relationships and the acting. The next one should say, “with the writing,” but I’ve been horribly slow on that front.

 

It admittedly hasn’t been an easy road. Yet as I sit here finishing up this post on a Wednesday morning while my 7th graders do their own freewriting, I am reminded just how blessed I am to be around these kids who consistently make me feel hopeful.

In a world that has been increasingly more frustrating, my students have been the anchor that makes me feel sane. They are a reminder that I am playing the long game– it’s not just about surviving this day but building a relationship with them that hopefully helps them make the world a little less frustrating in the future.

 

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