Grateful teachers. Is this an oxymoron? Every day, teachers face monumental challenges. Consequently, they become stressed out – and sometimes demoralized. Fortunately, there’s a cure. What is it? Gratitude.
Ms. Sneed and the First-Year Teacher
This year, the principal asked Ms. Sneed to mentor a new teacher. Unfortunately, by November Mr. Brock had hit the wall. During their daily collaboration time, he sighed deeply. “I don’t think I’m cut out to be a teacher. Maybe I’ll look for a new job.”
Mr. Brock knew that his announcement would shock Ms. Sneed. Surprisingly, she continued to gaze at him intently, and a small smile appeared on her face. Mr. Brock couldn’t believe her reaction. Had she been waiting for him to come to this realization?
“Yep. We all experience challenges as teachers,” Ms. Sneed said. “Every school year brings a roller coaster of emotions. At the beginning of the year, teachers feel elated. Everything seems bright and shiny. Then reality hits. Hours of lesson planning. Classroom management issues. Meetings. Parents. And the list goes on. By Thanksgiving, most teachers experience some degree of burnout. But this pattern is especially prevalent in new teachers.
“I was expecting you to say something like this. As a matter of fact, you held out longer than some other new teachers. To learn more about patterns of teacher emotions, I’d like you to read two articles. The first article, explains six emotional stages for first-year teaching: anticipation, survival, disillusionment, rejuvenation, and reflection. The second article, which is actually a blog post written by Matthew Boomhower, explores trends throughout a teaching career. Tomorrow we’ll talk about this more.”
The next day, Ms. Sneed was true to her word. “What did you think of the two articles?” she asked Mr. Brock.
“Well, when I read the first article, I was surprised to see a graph that showed exactly what happened to me. And I was happy to see that there’s hope for the rest of the year.”
Ms. Sneed laughed. “Yes, you are not alone. And there’s light at the end of the tunnel. What about the second article?”
“That guy seems to have a great understanding of teachers. Seeing the two graphs for teachers along the course of their careers was eye-opening.”
“Yes,” agreed Ms. Sneed. “Mr. Boomhower has hit the nail on the head. One teacher settles into the big, fat rut of disillusionment. The other accepts the challenge and experiences fulfillment throughout a long, fulfilling career.
“November is rough for teachers,” his mentor continued. “By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, it’s hard to be grateful. But the secret to a long, fulfilling teaching career is just that: gratitude.
“To help you through the dark days of November – and perhaps your entire career – I’d like to give you this teacher gratitude journal. Think of it as a little exercise in positive thinking. You can use it every day – or whenever you most need it.”
Grateful Teachers Accept Daily Challenges
“The first section of each grateful teachers journal page asks you to identify one challenge. It can be big or small. Lord knows that sometimes the smallest problems cause the most trouble.
“Yes, you’ll experience more than one challenge on any given day, but just choose one. The others can wait.”
Grateful Teachers Acknowledge That Challenges Help Them Grow
As Mr. Brock looked over the page, Ms. Sneed explained more. “Let me ask you this: If a teacher faced no problems, would he ever grow?”
“Hmm, well, I never thought of it that way,” said Mr. Brock.
“Exactly,” replied his mentor. “We tend to think of problems as pure pain and suffering. Imagine that. But without challenges, no human would improve. That’s what you say to your students, isn’t it?
“When a teacher figures this out, everything changes. Challenges become a part of everyday life. We even begin to welcome them.” Ms. Sneed must have thought that was funny. All the sudden, she started giggling.
“The next two parts of each journal page ask you to reflect on the problem – and to consider how it will help you grow.”
Grateful Teachers Understand That Handling Challenges Affects Children’s Lives
“Just as a problem well-handled helps the teacher grow, it also affects a child’s life. Can you think of a time this week when a child benefitted from a problem?”
Now Mr. Brock started laughing. “What? — Oh wait, yes. Yes, I can.” He grinned broadly. “Remember how I told you about Mark? He cheated on his spelling test, and I caught him red-handed. Unfortunately for him, I contacted his parents. That was rough on poor Mark. Fortunately, I’m sure he’ll never cheat again. It was a life lesson.”
Ms. Sneed nodded. “Right. This is just one example of how a well-handled problem sets a positive direction in a child’s life. Of course, the opposite is also true: If the teacher mismanages the problem – or maybe worse yet, doesn’t manage it at all – the child suffers.
“The next section of the journal page asks you to reflect on how your actions affect other people. Most times, it will be a student. In addition to behavior issues, you will consider academics. Although we sometimes wish we could blame others for poor achievement, teachers are responsible for student learning.
“This part of the journal may be emotional for you. When you face a challenge with integrity, you will have a positive impact on others. But we are only human. We are fallible. At times, you will reflect on how you have failed another person. Those are learning times too. You will do better the next time.”
Grateful Teachers Enjoy Teaching
Mr. Brock was beginning to understand. “Facing challenges should empower me. I guess that’s why I’ve been feeling so down. Instead of accepting problems in my classroom, I became overwhelmed. I wanted to give up.”
“Exactly,” responded Ms. Sneed. “Strangely enough, accepting challenges causes us to grow as teachers. Saying that we should welcome trouble is probably stretching it too far. However, you will find that solving problems is a big part of your teaching day.
“Grateful teachers,” she continued, “embrace the opportunity to solve problems. Consider these points:
- Our days are full of challenges
- These challenges help us grow.
- How we handle challenges impacts children.
- A grateful heart lets us enjoy teaching.”
Grateful Teachers Enjoy Long, Fulfilling Careers
Mr. Brock studied Ms. Sneed for a moment. “You’ve been a teacher for a long time. How did you keep out of that rut? What made you so grateful?”
“When I first began teaching, challenges overwhelmed me, just like you. Fortunately, those challenges caused me to become a better teacher.” Ms. Sneed glanced sideways at Mr. Brock and smiled slightly. “I felt beat up. I felt defeated. It was rough. But it got better. Day after day, I felt more on top of the game.
“There’s a part two to this story,” continued Ms. Sneed. “Once I had become more established, I began to seek out new challenges. Sometimes it meant taking a class or attending a conference. Other times it involved a special program for my students. I tried all kinds of stuff. Trying new things – learning, growing – made me the the most effective teacher possible. I can’t tell you how thankful I am for all of the challenges I’ve enjoyed.” Ms. Sneed’s face softened, and her eyes twinkled.
“You know how our staff has been using the Growth Mindset for students? What I’m talking about is the Growth Mindset for teachers. It happens when teachers embrace challenges – because they want to grow from them. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Grateful teachers can enjoy long, fulfilling careers. You can too.”