How will I make it to the end of the year? This was a question I often asked myself when I felt completely overwhelmed, inadequate, and defeated. Year 5 of teaching was one that pushed me to my limits, but I learned so much about myself.
As much as I felt like quitting, deep down I didn’t want to give up because I had made a commitment to my students. Each day took every ounce of my energy and strength. Making it to the end of the school year seemed so far out of reach. If you’re feeling this way, I want to share just a few things that helped me during the day-to-day.
1. Set interim motivation goals.
Basically, these are mini-goals. As author Daniel Pink says, "squeeze out a little more motivation" with the power of 5. Maybe it's grading 5 more assignments, or entering 5 more grades--what usually happens is we do even more than five things. I would tell myself, “I can make it 5 more school days.” And sure enough, I made it through the week and felt good. Then come Monday, I would stress again and remind myself that, "I can make it 5 more days." Setting attainable goals helped me narrow my focus. And let’s be real, sometimes it was, “I can make it 5 more hours.” But this reframing really helped me.
2. Jot down three positives from the day.
It’s so easy to focus on the negative that we overlook the wins. Keep track, because all those successes both big and small add up. You are making a difference. When I'm having a really tough day, I love being able to look back at all the wins throughout the school year. This "smile file" can be a great pick-me-up.
3. There is strength in numbers.
Reach out to colleagues. I know sometimes it can be worrisome that it will look like we don't know what we're doing if we ask questions. Find a shoulder to lean on, and in the same way, provide your skills and expertise wherever you can. There is strength in numbers.
4. Don't leave prep work for the morning.
One of the sure ways to create undue stress is to wait to run copies, prep materials, or lessons until the morning. Always have your copies done at least the day before. I repeat, do not run copies the morning of your lesson. Running to the copier in the morning is bound to lead to problems. From paper jams or a line at the machine, the last thing you want is to have to revamp your day because you couldn’t make copies in time. I’ve been there, and it sucks. You can read more about my batching system here.
5. Write yourself a morning checklist.
Before you leave school at the end of the day, write yourself a morning checklist. I don’t know how many times I would get to school in the morning and immediately feel overwhelmed by the number of things I needed to get done but didn’t know where to start. As I was scrambling to do a million things, the bell would ring. Writing a checklist helped me prioritize tasks so that as soon as I entered my classroom I could start a routine and get things ready.
When things get tough, I like to remember that courage and strength are gained by going through the rough waters. Eleanor Roosevelt once said that like tea, we never know how strong we are until we're in hot water.