There have been a couple of posts on teacher burnout one from Matthew Bell (@Matt4Newport) titled “Everyone’s Fire Goes Out (But It Doesn’t Have To)” and Edutopia (@) titled “End of the Year Burnout: How to Finish the Marathon in Stride“. Both are great articles (and great follows on Twitter), but the approach of each is different.
In the Edutopia article, we are talking about that teacher who’s running on empty right now, a few days left, grasping at straws. Ideas like reconnecting with your kids, talking about summer plans, and allowing for some freedom in learning are all mentioned. It’s a great read for those just looking for that little push towards the end of the year, who may just be wanting that last piece to finish the year out strong. Part of our writing over the last few days has been reflective, looking at memories, what we’ve done well, and what we could have done differently this year. All of this certainly has its place.
Matt’s article gets a little deeper. He’s looking at that teacher who’s feeling that end of the year yuck at the beginning of the year. We’ve all gone through it that time where it just seems like there is no end in sight, no beacon at the end of the tunnel. He asks some pretty pointed questions to those teachers who’ve lost that drive the first being, “How can we continually reignite the fire?” They get better throughout the article and it’s a must read for all of us, first year or twenty-fifth year, we all need to question what we are doing, why we are doing it, and how can we get better at it.
As I write this, I’m feeling as though I’m in both categories. I’m burnt from the year, but in a deeper sense too. I walked into this year feeling awesome: I’d had these kids before and we did well last year, made some good progress, and had some fun along the way. It’s amazing how the feel, the tenor of a class can just change on a dime. This is in the top three in terms of the toughest years of my career. There are many different factors that have taken place, but to say I’ve struggled is an understatement. And with a smaller class, I’ve felt that much worse because I’m dealing with half of the students that other classrooms are. Half. It’s been enough to make me question much about myself as an educator for certain.
So, how do I bounce back? What can I do to recharge myself for a 19th season of this? Three things pop up into my head: family, gardening, learning.
1) Family. We are reaching that point where our family is going to start moving apart in a very physical sense. My oldest daughter turned 16 so is suddenly more mobile, starting to feel her freedom. She’s always been a homebody, but has discovered a new friend group (fine artsy people) and is starting to go with them. Our youngest will be 14 soon and has always been that free spirit, never afraid to take off and try something new (much to our chagrin). Our involvement in 4-H had curtained family vacation for a number of years, but last year we just went, road tripping to Chicago then St. Louis and finally Iowa City (Jazz Festival is always a treat). We’d started looking at traveling to the East Coast, but my wife suggested letting our children pick. Almost in unison, they said “Grand Canyon”, so away we are going! We’ll be on our way towards the end of June and I look at this as week that we’ll be together and reconnect, strengthening ourselves as a group. We’ve all been pulled and pushed this year with many changes both both daughters and more responsibilities for my wife, so we need this together.
2) Gardening. I love my garden. I love the fact we grow all sorts of food, process it, and how we can be a little bit self-sufficient this way. I love it when my wife and I can take our lawn chairs, a glass of wine, and sit in the middle of it watching the stars come out. It’s a place for me to reconnect with the earth, walking barefoot in the grass and dirt, (avoiding the dang thistles), making sure everything is in its spot, protecting plants, and battling weeds. It’s a spot where I can work off frustrations and think through problems. As my wife works and my daughters are swimming, this is will be my time for me to just be.
Learning: This one has a few parts. First, I’m going to a tech conference in Dubuque in mid-June. I’ve found this conference to be refreshing because it’s not just techie, but it’s all sorts of education that goes along with it: science, social studies, math, ELA and others. Plus, it’s a way to make those face to face connections with people I’ve been tweeting with (or at) for the last three years. Next, I’ll be working on curriculum. Now, with kids moving around and my wife working, not all my time will be spent in the garden (though it might be nice). I’ve got math to continue to refine, ELA to really dig into because quite frankly, I’m not sure HOW it will be look next year. I’m very much someone who can just pick up and go, but after a while, a plan is nice too. I hope to see more of a plan that aligned with our common core standards. I also need to really pick up the pace with science. We’ve purchased many FOSS kits with good reason, they are awesome. However, they don’t really work well in 30 minute chunks, my goal, how to make this work while including, you guessed it, more literacy!! Finally, I’ve decided to do a 15K in late July, so I’m really going to be learning what my body can tolerate. I’m 43, not in bad shape, and I can run four miles at a time, about half of a 15K. I’ll be finding a training program and really working this summer to drop another 10 – 15 pounds while gaining some more stamina.
So, that looks like a pretty good plan for renewal right? 🙂 It’s very bold and challenging, but yet, if I’m going to keep teaching, need to find that way to relight the fire. Like I said, this year has been one for the record books with the different behaviors and attitudes that have found their way into our room. With 30 students next year, this summer is one to push myself to find a better, more efficient ways of doing things AND to shake off this “yuck” that’s settled in. I owe it to my family, my co-workers, and my students to do this. They all need me at my best, and that’s where we’ll be aiming for!
If you’ve gotten this far, thank you. One of the reasons I’ve not written much lately is because that underlying feeling of “I’ve failed these kids”. It’s good to push that out, put it words, and hopefully, start letting it go.