Here is a real post to make up for yesterday's non-post :-)
I've been thinking about why some teachers stay in teaching for so long, while others get burnt out more quickly. Also, there are teachers who maybe have been teaching for too long, and are no longer happy or fulfilled by it. And there are people who become teachers to only to realize it isn't their thing. Teaching is not for everyone, nor can just anyone teach. It's probably better to recognize that and move on than to remain and become jaded and bitter, and gradually hate the profession and the kids.
All of this led me to think about why or how, after almost 21 full years, I still truly love teaching. Do I get aggravated by administrative initiatives and to-down leadership? Yes. Do kids sometimes get on my nerves? I would be lying if I said no. Do I wish I had more flexible hours? Of course. Overall, though, I still feel satisfied and happy with my profession. I've thought about doing other things, maybe getting a doctorate, teaching at the college level. That may still happen (because mid-40s is the new mid-20's?), but for the immediate time being, I'm good.
So, I'm sharing some things I have found help me, even on the worst of days, even when I want to go home and cry, even when I question if I am reaching my students. Every teacher should find her own things, of course, if these don't work.
1) Be nice to everyone. No matter how crappy you feel in the morning, or what is going on at home, do your best to smile and interact with your colleagues, staff and students. It means a lot, and you will see the returns in people smiling back at you and caring for you. Reach out to people for help. Also, even if you aren't the most social person, try to come out of yourself to ask people about themselves - in the copy room, the lounge, at lunch. Small talk may be small, but in our society it's important. It might make you feel more a part of a community.
2) Be efficient with your time. If you take advantage of most of your preps and maybe some time after school, you might feel more prepared for the next day and you can catch up on grading. When my kids were younger, I would cart papers home and back to school, untouched. Then I decided that my time at home with my kids was time I could never get back. I started leaving work at school, and going home empty-handed unless there was something I didn't get to and really had to finish. This was when I had 100 plus students and was collecting work almost daily. It worked well for me to get to school early to prepare, use my prep time to correct in a really focused way, so that I didn't have that additional stress at home.
3) Try to get outside once a day.This one might be impossible for many teachers. I sometimes just walk outside and take in fresh air for 2 minutes, or put my face up to the sun. If I have more time, I drive somewhere close to get a coffee. Just to breathe in different air, stretch your legs, and relax your mind a little. I know we can't all manage this, but if you can I recommend it.
4) Take advantage of as many valuable PD opportunities as you can. (Notice I wrote VALUABLE). Ask to go to conferences in your field, join associations of teachers of the same subject. See if there are any free conferences or professional learning communities in your area. My principal has been supportive when I have asked to go somewhere (especially if it does not involve the school paying because of budget issues), and I always offer to bring back information or present to groups of colleagues if I think it will be helpful or new information. In our area the Western Mass Writing Project and the Collaborative for Educational Services offer a variety of quality professional development.
5) Lastly, find an outlet. When I first started teaching, I didn't have time for an outlet because I probably spent 3 hours every evening preparing. Then I had kids. Then I studied for my Master's. Now that I have "more time" I have found that outlet for me - dancing. My dance group, Grupo Folklorico Tradiciones, is a group of 6 women, all in education in our area. We meet weekly to rehearse, and our rehearsals, while hard work, are also therapeutic. We often start and end rehearsals by sharing challenges or stories about our kids, our jobs, our health, our families - whatever. And we laugh. And laugh. And laugh. Sometimes we cry. It's like group therapy, only free. We always feel better afterwards, and we know we have each other for support.
There are many alarming reports out there about how fewer young people are going into teaching. I'm not surprised; again, it's NOT easy. To be a teacher you have to be "on" all the time - there is no down time. You have to keep so many balls in the air while also maintaining your own sanity and keeping your family going, and just doing life and "adulting" (I love that this has become a verb). I encourage new teachers to find what works for them, and try to stick with it if it is their passion. And I hope that veteran teachers will have already found their balance, their outlet, and that they will stay the course if it is their passion.