I have had days that made me question my career choice. I have had weeks in which I actively sought out job leads and updated my résumé. At one point, I sat down to make a pro/con list for leaving the classroom, which is ironic because you’d be hard-pressed to find students who say I’m not one of the best teachers they ever had.
When the students just weren’t responding the way I expected and when I just didn’t seem to execute the lessons the way I imagined, I would slip into a bout of teacher blues. I felt ineffective, incapable, and intimidated. It was lonely. My peers always seemed to be on rockstar status in the classroom during these episodes while I was the rejected wannabe weeping in the audience.
What made it harder was the inability to vent about it. I learned quickly that people had (and still do have) a carefully crafted image of teachers that did not include irritation or discouragement. Everybody wants to see us as peppy cheerleaders in bright, embroidered sweaters with high levels of serotonin fed by the mere existence of children and SMARTboards. We’re not allowed to be sad, and if we find ourselves struggling, we’re not allowed to do so publicly.
It took me a while to realize that despite people’s inability to see the humanity in teachers, my feelings and concerns were valid and okay. It was difficult to embrace that I could be a great teacher and still have feelings of inadequacy and desperation. After all, I was working with human beings, not computers. Unlike humans, computers do exactly what you tell them to do every time, so you know that when there’s a malfunction, it’s likely user error.
But. That’s just not how teaching works. It isn’t always the teacher’s error when kids don’t do what they’re shown or told. It isn’t always the teacher’s inability to make the content relevant. Students have free will just like everyone else, and that gets lost often in the daily push for teacher accountability. We end up being the scapegoats for things that are, quite frankly, out of our control, and often times, we do it to ourselves. We demand perfection from us, forgetting that the road to it is not easy. We forget to plan for the bumps along the way, and when we encounter them, they can send us into a downward spiral of “You’re just not good enough.”
How do I beat the teacher blues? I do it like any other mental health battle. I make a crisis plan, and then I follow it. Sometimes I’m back to my normal self before I get through the list, and other times I have to go through it twice.
1. Verbalize it.
Find a teacher buddy, a mentor, a journal, or a friend. It doesn’t need to be a back-and-forth conversation. You just need to say what the heck is bothering you. If it’s your students’ behavior, say that. If it’s your classroom management, say that. If it’s terrible test scores, say that. No matter what it is, you have to identify it. That is the only way you will be able to beat it. “I don’t know” isn’t going to be an adequate answer because you can’t strategize for it. Make your reflection meaningful, even if it exposes your weaknesses. It’s important to know what you need to work on in life. That goes double for teachers.
2. Assess it.
Are you feeling this way because of something you’re doing or not doing? Is it an external factor that’s impacting your classroom? How much control do you have over what’s bothering you?
Let’s say your students aren’t responding to the activities you’ve been assigning. Ask yourself:
- What type of work am I giving?
- Have I provided sufficient instruction and scaffolding for success?
- What is my attitude when I’m presenting?
- How much activeness do the kids have versus me?
- Has this been teacher-centered?
- Do the students truly understand my expectations?
- Is there a way to teach this using inquiry-based, hands-on learning?
- Have I shown them how these skills are reflected in their lives?
3. Own it.
Your students might be doing the absolute most (and not in a good way), but you can take that and develop a strategy to nip it in the bud. Their issue may not even be about your class. They could be manifesting it in your room for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with you. Perhaps that means a temporary restructuring of your classroom procedures and settings. Sometimes “lockdown” is necessary to get the point across. Other times, students will respond to you expressing what you’ve noticed and asking them to explain. The latter has always proved effective for me because it showed that I cared about their voice. They’re kids. They need structure, consequences, and most of all, understanding. You have the power to offer all of that. You can teach them about appropriate outlets for their dissatisfaction with life. Plus, during the discussion, you might learn that you’re doing everything right. 🙂
Stress relievers are also beneficial during this time. Develop a hobby. Get a massage. Take up boxing. Find non-teaching outlets that make you happy, and dedicate time to them. You don’t do yourself any favors by cutting out the fun stuff because you’re “busy with work.” If anything, that will contribute to your teacher blues, and that’s not what you need.
You’re human. What you feel is valid. It’s okay to not like your job sometimes. No, that doesn’t make you a bad person, and it doesn’t make you a bad educator. No matter what others may want you to believe, you do have the right to feel emotions other than excitement and joy, and your students will reap the benefits of you being an actual human.