Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Should You Quit Teaching?

A valid question. One that I'm sure every teacher comes to at some point, and possibly revisits frequently.

So. Should you quit?

Maybe, but probably not.

I think it's natural for anyone, at some point, to wonder whether they should quit their career and start a new one. Jobs aren't always fun. I'm really skeptical of those people who "totally love every second of their job all the time it's the best wish I could work more hours!" I think it's human nature to not enjoy everything all the time, and that's okay. So while this post is about teaching, feel free to replace words like "students" and "lesson plans" with "clients" and "projects" and . . . synergy. Or something.


There are genuine reasons to quit teaching. If you never once liked it, you should probably quit. But for a lot of the other reasons, the answer might not be to quit, it might just be to rediscover why you started teaching and make some sort of change.

Teaching really isn't so bad. I do love it a lot of the time, but sometimes it can feel like I'm just wading through each day, tired, frustrated and feeling ineffective. And then comes a moment (usually just in time) where I'm blown away by a sense of purpose and gratification from some small teaching moment.

Holding onto these moments can keep me going through the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. Here are some I like to remember, and I'm sure you have similar ones.


Preface: I work with students who typically have a very difficult time learning. It's hard for them. And having to do something that doesn't come easily all day long is pretty rough for these kids.
To sympathize, I like to picture someone forcing me to play baseball for 7 hours every day. I can't hit that dumb ball. I can't do it. Stop making me try. 
Please let me stop.

By the time they've come to me, in resource, they can be pretty dejected and not very enthusiastic about learning. Would you be? So this moment, and similar ones, generally bring me to tears when it happens.

The Moment: I finished teaching a multiplication lesson to some students who have had a notoriously difficult time in school, math, and specifically multiplication. They got it! They got it! They were very excited, and so was I. They finished their worksheet and earned a few minutes of free time at the end of class, so what did they choose to do with their free time? They all turned over their worksheet and created more multiplication problems to solve. I can't tell you how I felt. I got them excited about learning!
This is akin to me saying, "No, I don't want to eat chocolate, I'd rather play more baseball!" 
 I submit that there are few better teaching moments than this.


Preface: One thing that breaks my heart is watching students struggle with things that I just can't fix. Many students have trouble at home and it definitely comes out at school, in their performance and behavior. Unfortunately, some of the students that are most in need of love, can be the hardest to love. They might not have many friends, and teachers can get pretty frustrated with them. I know I'm guilty of getting frustrated with plenty o' students, but a few unusually difficult students have somehow worked their way into my heart. I can't tell you why, but I don't only care about them, I actually like them. And this might sound funny or mean, but for some of the students the fact that I like them seems to defy logic.
The Moment: When I can tell that this difficult student really knows I care about them, and I like them, even while I'm disciplining them. Realizing you are actually making a huge impact on a child's life is extremely fulfilling. This doesn't happen with all, or most, of my students. But with a few I can tell I actually made a difference. That keeps me teaching.


Preface: A student is behind.
The Moment: The student makes progress!  
Yes, this is less powerful than the first two examples, but much more frequent and helps keep teachers going on a daily basis. Small moments of progress can sometimes brighten my whole day, or week. 

But despite the fact that most teachers experience these rewarding moments fairly often, burnout is still incredibly high for teachers. I find this really sad, because generally these teachers really do like teaching. Or they did. And some of them are also very talented at what they do, and that talent is needed. It would be a shame for them to quit teaching all together. Here are a few more suggestions on how to avoid teacher burnout.

  •  Change Schools- Sometimes changing schools really is the best option. Some school environments are not good fits, for various reasons. Even if the school was a good fit, it can still be a good idea just to get some sort of change and start fresh. 
  • Take Vacations- Yes I know teachers get summer off and a few long breaks, but that doesn't mean you can't still use a few vacation days. If possible, I would recommend taking off at least one day each month. And don't feel guilty. It could be the difference between remaining a teacher for a long time, or burning out. If a few more teachers took some non-guilt-ridden vacation days, we'd probably have a lot more of experienced teachers.
  • Work at a Year-Round School- Year-round schools provide breaks a lot more frequently than traditional schools. Typically a teacher will teach for 9 weeks then get 3 weeks off. It does eliminate the long summer break, but generally you'll still get close to a month off for summer.
  • Work Part Time for a While- It might not seem possible to work part time as a teacher, but if you can handle it financially, it might be a good idea. Some schools offer 1/2 time positions where you share a class with another teacher. This can be split by  one teacher working mornings and the other afternoons, or they alternate days. Another option is to work at a Learning Center, or to provide private tutoring. 
  • Do Some FUN Lessons- The internet is full of ideas for fun and creative lessons for just about any subject. It might take a little more prep time, but I've found when I do a really creative lesson it makes the whole day more fulfilling and enjoyable. 
  • Take Breaks- It's so hard to not feel guilty about it, but I think it's good to take a few 5-ish minute breaks throughout the day. Have your students read for a few minutes or draw. Really, it's okay, especially if it means you will be teaching more successfully after the break. You could teach at 50% effectiveness all day because you really need a break, or you could teach at 100% effectiveness most of the day, with a few breaks.
  • Realize You Can't Please Everyone- Just kidding, I have no idea how to do this. I still get really stressed when parents or teachers get mad at me and want me to do things differently. I logically know I can't please everyone, because often two parents want me to do exact opposite things. But I still have trouble not getting stressed about this. If I ever figure it out, I'll let you know.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent blog! I really enjoyed reading it! :)