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Staying the Course: When You Feel Like Giving Up

Staying the course when you feel like giving up. Tips for new teachers

"A woman is like a tea bag--you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water." Eleanor Roosevelt said these famous words, and I believe they apply to not just women, but teachers in general. There are times in teaching when it feels like the water is very hot, and the water is very deep. But I'm here to tell you that: You are strong. You are capable. And you ARE doing it. The fact is, you are showing up for work each day. You are making a difference in students' lives. That is what matters.

Be Courageous

One thing I've learned in both my personal and professional life is that bravery and courage are only gained when we go through something tough. When we look throughout history, we don't say, "that person was so brave" without tying it to something that they did or went through. We don't say "they're so courageous" unless there's something they've been through that caused that person to need to BE courageous. The same is true with teaching. You won't know how strong you are until you're in the middle of it, and ultimately until you're through it.

Don't Give up Before You've Really Started

If you feel like giving up or are doubting that you made the right career choice, don't give up before you've really started. You have worked so hard to get to this point. You may have been dreaming about being a teacher since you were young. You might have one or more degrees under your belt that you've worked hard to achieve. You've put in hours, days, and years to get to this position. I urge you to stay the course. If you give up now, you'll never really know if teaching is right for you. Giving up mid-year, could be a decision you regret.

Focus on the Glimmer of Light

A few years ago, I took a teaching position in a new school and new district. Even though I had taught the same grade level for four years prior in two different schools, in this particular situation I found myself overwhelmed, in a toxic work environment, and had a class with a lot of needs. I was emotionally and physically drained, and I thought for SURE that teaching was not for me. It was November, and I wanted to quit. I started to doubt if I was a good teacher. I cried every night, and went to school in tears the next morning. Heck, I cried in the bathroom during lunch.

Remember, this was my FIFTH year of teaching, and I had convinced myself I wasn't cut out to be a teacher. What?! Talk about impostor syndrome! The problem was, I was focusing on the negative aspects of my job (and let's be honest, there were a lot). But my self-talk was so negative that my negative focus seemed to cloud any and all of the positives.

Check in with yourself. Are you focusing only on the negatives? Are you doubting your self-worth? Can you find the glimmer of light within your job?

Jot Down Something Positive Each Day

Taking a few moments to jot down even one small positive thing can be a great way to end your day. If we leave our school day focused on the negative, we are more likely to take that home with us. Finding even one positive in the midst of many negative things can make a big difference. If you are having a really bad day, having a "smile file" can really be a good pick-me-up.

Just Do Your Best

When I stopped focusing on just getting through the next 7 1/2 months, and put my focus on doing my best today and in this moment, and starting over and doing my best tomorrow, it helped tremendously. Your best is going to look different than the teacher next door who has been teaching the same subject for 20 years. You do Your best. Comparison is the thief of joy.

There is Strength in Numbers

I also had to realize that I could not do it alone. There is strength in numbers. Even though I was scared to death, I was honest with my principal about my struggles and made it clear that I was close to quitting. Did she work a miracle on my behalf? Nope. But I did feel a sense of relief in knowing that she knew where I was both mentally and emotionally. I also didn't feel a strong connection with any of my colleagues at the school, but I did find comfort in talking openly with other veteran teachers that I knew. Their support and encouragement helped me on the lowest of days.

Give Yourself a Pep Talk

Did the thoughts of quitting just go away? Nope. But they came less frequently when I focused on the positive and leaned on others. When the negative thoughts started to creep in, I gave myself a little pep talk, and reminded myself that I was there for the kids. I had made a commitment to my students, and I was going to keep it for them. My classroom may have been the safest, most stable place they knew, and while I might have been drowning in paperwork and didn't have it all together, for those kiddos, my being there and greeting them with a smile was a commitment I knew I could keep.

You've Got This

When I made it through that school year, I looked back and was honestly amazed at how far I had come--emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically (I was exhausted, yes). But I was proud of myself for sticking through it for the kids. I learned so much and had new tools to add to my toolkit. I didn't realize how strong I was until I was put in hot water. I urge you to stay the course. You've got this.

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