Saturday, August 15, 2009

Day to Day Success in Teaching

Remember that as a teacher you’re in it for the long run whether it’s the class, the school year or your career. This is a dangerous profession in that you can set yourself up for burn-out or simply hating what you do. Depression or feelings of impotence can insinuate their way into your spirit if you don't guard against them.

Let’s say you have a class where you start off okay, then things start to drift. Students may seem to lose motivation, you have some discipline problems or just a sense that strong progress has halted in your classroom. You begin to feel like you just want to get through that class every day and you’re not happy to see them.

To deal with these situations you must reinvigorate yourself every morning and not think of the big picture. Just think about TODAY. How am I going to make today a great day? Given everything else that’s gone on, my failures, their failures, what can I do today to make this class work? How do I have to change? If you go into class each morning and work with the focus on that one class or student immediately in front of you, rather than get overwhelmed by the work load, the apathy, the long term goals, or the long term trajectory of a student, you will see you can turn the tide in a class.

There will always be students who come in with negative attitudes who don’t want to learn. As a teacher, you have to win them over. Convince them not only with your arguments and reason, but with your pure exuberance and belief in yourself, subject and life. The cockeyed optimist is the successful teacher at any level. You have to believe in the face of cynicism, class after class, year after year, student after student and day by day.

If you can’t generate that enthusiasm within yourself and students perhaps it is a sign this profession isn’t for you. It’s simply tough being a cynical person, and then going in to confront the cynicism of your students. You have to be an optimist to teach well (See The Passionate Teacher on the bookshelf at the bottom of the page).

Another piece of thriving day to day is avoiding burn-out. There’s an enormous amount of work to do outside of the classroom just to stay afloat, even if you do control what you’re grading. You have bureaucratic work, collaboration, meetings with students and parents, e-mails, etc. Set schedules so you can create a rhythm for yourself.

For example, Mondays and Tuesdays might be days where you grade and organize student work. Wednesdays and Thursdays you have a set time for some exercise after school or doing something that recharges you. I would recommend that you do these recharging activities before you go home to avoid collapsing into exhaustion when you get there.

Stick to your schedule. People will ask you to meet about this or that, but you can’t let your physical and mental health consistently rank second if you are going to survive for the long term. These are not luxury goods. They are essential. We have a responsibility to model physical and emotional health to our students.

You could be the most intelligent, intellectual person in the world, but if you’re unhealthy, you are sending the wrong message to your students about what it means to be an adult. They will sense your lack of health and want to check-out of the world and model of adult life you are offering, which makes them much less likely to learn from you. Take care of yourself!


  1. I completely agree that the best way to improve your teaching is to focus on what you are doing RIGHT NOW. Live in the moment and be fully present.

  2. Yes, it's kind of like playing sports and focusing 100% on the ball, and shutting out everything else. Thanks for the comment.