Teaching can be overwhelming. The day-to-day challenges of being an educator can lead to a negative mind-set, which can make teaching unbearable and lead to burnout. Improving your mind-set is often necessary to avoid getting sucked into a vortex of despair.
Here are a few ways to reframe negative thoughts as a teacher to keep you happy, healthy, and hopeful.
1. Be Part of the Solution
It's easy to gripe about everything wrong in your classroom, and it's true that sometimes teachers have to accept the things they cannot change—but they can also try to change the things they refuse to accept.
For example, teachers in my school have trouble keeping our high school students off their phones. My friend Erin decided to buy a phone docking chart for students to leave their phones in during class. She went to the school administration to make sure she had support to implement her plan. Within a few days, phones were no longer an issue in her classroom. When she told the rest of us what a game-changer her new system was, we all implemented it in our own classrooms. Now, problems with phones are almost nonexistent.
Further reading: 5 Ways to Deal with Negative Teachers
For another example, I noticed that my low-income students frequently didn't have pens or pencils in class, which used to infuriate me. Now I do a DonorsChoose project at the beginning of the year, and I order lots and lots of pencils so I don't have to sweat it. Figure out what you can do to take away some of those minor aggravations. For the larger ones—like salary negotiations or working conditions—sign up for committees and work to make a difference.
2. Recognize That Some Things Are Out of Your Control
Unfortunately, there's quite a lot that is out of a teacher's control. For example, the school building I work in is old and decrepit. There's no air-conditioning, which makes it tough when snow days extend the school year into the end of June. Complaining about it isn't going to do much good, however, so until we get a new high school, I've brought in three fans. I might look like Stevie Nicks up there in the front of my classroom, but it sure beats moaning and groaning.
A few years ago, my friend Laura had a very serious argument with her superintendent after he broke a promise and she called him out on it. Almost immediately, she felt the repercussions. Her school environment became oppressive, and she frequently called me in tears. She felt her entire career was being defined by this one incident, and she was being labeled a troublemaker.
Laura decided to rebrand herself. She refused to let the administration define who she was as a teacher and a person. Rather than succumb to the negativity, she stopped talking about the incident altogether. When other teachers wanted to rehash the disagreement, Laura redirected the conversation. She knew she was an amazing teacher, so she just kept doing what she was doing. Laura took on jobs that no one else wanted and crushed them. She helped new teachers. She smiled and ignored the chatter. In a few months, it was almost like the incident never happened, and Laura's status in her school was restored.
3. Celebrate the Awesomeness
Sure, there's a lot to complain about in schools, but there's also a great deal to celebrate. My colleague Alec's rock ensemble performance of Queen's music was outstanding. My mentee, Julia, launched a drama club. My students are amazing, too: Emely got into Boston University on a full scholarship, and Jose won a prestigious essay contest.
I celebrate these successes in school and on social media, and it never fails to lift my spirits. It's important to make a concerted effort to focus on the uplifting parts of your job.
4. Find a Couple Vent Buddies
Teachers need two kinds of friends to vent to: one that works at the same school and one who works in a different profession. Erin is my school vent buddy, and I know I can go to her and share my feelings privately and confidentially. When I'm done, she'll offer advice or tell me to get over it.
Karen is my vent buddy who works in the corporate world. I know I can trust her completely, and she'll give me a different perspective on my problem. Neither vent buddy allows me to wallow; they're constructive and helpful, and sometimes it's just good to have someone who listens.
5. Explore the Mind-Body Connection
Teachers should schedule time for themselves and recognize that self-care is just as important as taking care of their students. There are several mind-body techniques that can help to deal with frustration. Learn how to breathe properly. Get enough sleep. Meditate. Exercise. Eat right. Take time to re-energize by planting a garden or spending time with friends. Work to build joy in your classroom. You'll be surprised at how much implementing these steps can help you cope with stress.
Further reading: Positive Parent-Teacher Communication
A teacher's job is not easy, and it's possible to get caught in a negative, unproductive spiral. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to reframe negative thoughts as a teacher and to adopt a more constructive outlook. These strategies above can help teachers strengthen their minds so they're well-prepared for the year ahead.