This blog post began as a September pep talk for myself. Partway through, I realized I could tweak a few pronouns, broaden the focus slightly and possibly help to get other teachers geared up for the exciting new beginning that's quickly approaching. Hope it helps!
Dear Fellow Teachers,
There's no better way to start this letter than to remind you that you are amazing. As far as I am concerned, teaching is a vocation that can't be denied or escaped...and even if you aren't religious, I still believe that God has called all of us to take on this incredible job.
But wait a second: before you pour so much energy into your students (for me, every year seems to literally bring blood, sweat and tears), take a look inward for a moment. Check your own health, both physical and mental. You can only do this job well if you're at full strength, so make that a priority. While you're at it, check your extended health plan. I use every single penny allocated to massage, and I am absolutely positive it makes me better at my job.
You do this work in large part because of your love for children, but remember to extend your compassion to parents. Some may not support schooling because they never saw that modeled in their homes. Some may have a confrontational communication style because that is what they saw modeled. Be kind and understanding while making it clear you deserve to be treated calmly and with respect.
Continue to earn that respect. Arrive and leave at professional times, dress in a professional manner that suits your teaching environment. Watch your social media presence. There is a small but vocal portion of the population who will take any opportunity to teacher-bash. Don't read the comments, and if you put yourself through that torture, don't engage. Better for us to continue to prove the critics wrong, every day.
If you have children of your own, don't get sucked into the guilty-working-parent-quicksand. Make sure that, big picture, your family is your highest priority, and understand it doesn't mean that minute-to-minute they are your highest priority. This is hardest when children are really little and so physically demanding (been there, done that), but if you're confident in your caregiving decisions, don't feel guilty about spending your weekdays focused on 30 of other people's children (or, if you're like me, spending time awake at 3 am worrying about 30 of other people's children). I remember hiring a babysitter so I could spend an entire weekend writing report cards, and I won't apologize for that. My girls loved their sitters...it's a win/win. (Or, as we always joke in our house, a Winn/Winn.) It's fantastic for any parent to model a work ethic and passion for their chosen profession.
That said, sometimes you have to unplug... or recharge.....whichever of those seemingly contradictory metaphors works for you. The school work will always be there (really, there is absolutely always something you *could* be doing) so at some point you have to leave it, or put it away. You will be a better teacher if you have other interests and hobbies, if you're physically active, if you read for pleasure and not just professional materials. Soak up your time with family (even if it's just on the couch...okay, maybe that's more for me) and friends. Teaching is a huge part of our identities, but don't allow it to push out everything else that makes you whole.
Prioritize. While test scores or other measurements of success may be on the back of your mind, make sure your overarching goals aren't quantifiable: I know I want my students to come to school feeling safe, cared for, and eager to learn. We will take it from there, one bit at a time.
Find the joy, as there is so much of it to be found. When you're experiencing the opposite of joy (you will have your own word for this and some can't be printed here) share with someone you trust, and then let. it. go. (Says the queen of never. letting. it. go. I told you this was a pep talk for me, too.)
In conclusion: Remember, you are amazing. Oh, did I already say that? It bears repeating. You are so extremely fortunate to have the privilege of molding young lives. But guess what? Those kids are also lucky beyond measure to have you. God bless them, and all of us and we embark on another adventure.
We've got this, everyone.