Enjoy teaching? How is that even possible? Some days you may feel like you’re drowning. With these six steps, you can survive and thrive in your chosen profession.
Meet Ms. Sneed
Ms. Sneed teaches fourth grade. As a matter of fact, she’s taught fourth grade for decades. Yes, the beginning of her teaching career was rocky. Oh, those first few years! As happens with most new teachers, Ms. Sneed was overwhelmed. But she endured. Over time she learned to enjoy teaching.
Ms. Sneed is one of the lucky ones. As you may know, many teachers quit after their first year or two. And even more leave by the end of their fifth year. If you visit a school, you might notice that some of the teachers who stay on are bitter and/or burnt out. How did Ms. Sneed avoid all of this – and actually learn to love her job? Let’s look at the six steps she took to first survive – and then thrive.
Enjoy Teaching, Act 1 – Survive
At the beginning of her teaching career, Ms. Sneed was in survival mode. She needed to stay afloat. More than that – she wanted to be in control. Without this, nothing else was possible. First, she had to organize everything. Second, she needed to plan. At this point, Ms. Sneed found herself drowning in minutiae. It was time to simplify.
In the weeks leading up to Ms. Sneed’s first day of school, her fourth grade teammates helped her get organized. They gave her ideas for organizing her classroom and materials.
When she got organized, Ms. Sneed’s classroom possessed a certain degree of feng shui. She experienced peace in knowing that all of her stuff was in order. Now she understood why so many teachers clamor to get into the school building during the summer. Without organization, chaos prevails.
When Ms. Sneed first began teaching, lesson planning meant following the textbook. And that was okay. After all, she was still in survival mode! As she worked through the textbook, she learned a lot about the content. When she reflected on her students’ engagement and achievement, she also figured out which teaching strategies worked best.
After a while, Ms. Sneed felt comfortable enough to try some of her own lesson planning. At first, she only planned single lessons. Then she moved into unit planning. Creating her own materials made Ms. Sneed enjoy teaching in a way she never had before.
One day, the principal asked if anyone would like to attend training for UbD, or Understanding by Design. Why not? Ms. Sneed was the first to sign up.
What she learned transformed her teaching. Every time Ms. Sneed finished a new unit, she felt a sense of pride. Her students’ reactions built her up even more. She loved hearing them say, “Wow! I never knew that!” and “That was fun!” Her heart swelled when she saw her students achieving – more and more.
Unfortunately, Ms. Sneed needed to do a little more planning. This time, it related to managing students. Over time, Ms. Sneed learned that planning seating charts and classroom rules helped. Her problems, however, were deeper than that. Ms. Sneed’s mentor helped her develop proactive and reactive ways to deal with difficult students. She also created student checklists and contracts. Careful planning helped Ms. Sneed manage her students’ behavior.
Unfortunately, the stress of teaching still haunted Ms. Sneed. “From the moment I roll out of bed in the morning to the moment I roll back into it at night, teaching consumes me,” she complained to her colleague at lunch. ” I don’t have time to exercise or spend time with my friends.”
“Let me give you a few pieces of advice,” said her friend. “As teachers, we want to tackle everything – all by ourselves. Try these five steps to simplify your teaching life: limit grading, join selectively, collaborate, display – don’t decorate, and streamline daily demands. Even fun stuff can take too much time. Think about your day – and consider where you can work smarter.”
Those wise words really helped Ms. Sneed. Yes, she still spent too much time on certain things. But over the years, she was able to let go – little by little. As time went on, Ms. Sneed joined exercise classes, community groups, and book clubs. She dated, got married, and had kids. By simplifying her teaching life, she was able to enjoy a full life (not just a life of teaching).
Enjoy Teaching, Act 2 – Thrive
After she got through those first few years, Ms. Sneed knew how to survive in the classroom. But like most teachers, she experienced highs and lows. “When you teach,” she liked to say, “you become a little human roller coaster.” In the good times, she wanted to teach forever. If only that feeling could be bottled.
Maybe it could be. As even more time went on, Ms. Sneed identified those high points: when she felt like an expert, while her students were totally engaged, and (surprisingly) as she faced her greatest challenges. “Yes, to thrive as a teacher – to really enjoy it – you must learn, engage, and then dive right in,” Ms. Sneed said to herself.
Ms. Sneed realized that learning comes in all shapes and sizes. Professional development was more than just attending workshops or university classes. To become a master teacher, she took four steps: exploring, attending, joining, and doing.
Once Ms. Sneed committed to professional improvement, she found opportunities everywhere. On a daily basis, she read blogs, articles, and even books. Over the course of each year, she attended several workshops and conferences. Ms. Sneed also joined professional groups and worked with pre-service teachers. Nothing, however, increased her expertise like doing. When she tried new strategies and activities in her classroom, Ms. Sneed’s repertoire grew by leaps and bounds.
Ms. Sneed applied what she learned in her classroom. She pushed herself to try new teaching methods and tackle big projects. As her students became more engaged, she did too! Strangely, the harder she worked to engage her class, the more she enjoyed teaching.
No longer was Ms. Sneed sticking her toe into teaching. She had learned to dive right in. Sure, every day brought challenges – some big, some small. But accepting those challenges – facing them head-on – made a huge difference.
In retrospect, Ms. Sneed believes this act alone allowed her to continue teaching for so long. “When a problem is handled well, everyone benefits,” she liked to say. “Sometimes, trouble is a good thing.”
Our little teacher, Ms. Sneed, learned how to enjoy teaching in a big way. How? She faced the good, the bad, and the ugly. First, she learned to survive. Organizing, planning, and simplifying provided the necessary structure. Second, she learned to thrive. Learning, engaging, and diving in allowed her to experience a long, fulfilling career. Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.