Saturday, February 28, 2015

5 Ways to Remain Sane in the Classroom

I'm good at calming others off the ledge of panic.    I put on my soothing, simple voice telling them it all will be okay and find all the necessary ideas and items to solve their problem as best I can.

Whenever I have a problem though it is difficult for me to take my own step down off that ledge.  In short,  I bury my panic and stress.  I push it to the back of my mind; I bury myself in papers, grading, and excuses; I don't come out of my hole.  I don't want to have the chance for someone to look me in the eye and see that panic there - and help me solve that problem.  Lately, as I've seen myself falling into my old funk of hibernation, excessive caffeination, and excuses, I have found these five strategies to remain sane in the classroom.  

1.    Find that one person you can be vulnerable with.  

While I know how simple it is to avoid human contact in order to avoid vulnerability, it is SO important that you find that one person with whom you can share your issues and stressors.   It is easy to get wrapped up in what you are worried about -- state testing, evaluations, that unmotivated student, the overwhelming pile of grading, that moldy smell coming from your fridge that you've not cleaned in several months-- that you don't reach out for social connection.   

Try creating a pact with another colleague or a close friend.  Ask them to try to note when you crawl into your hole and ask them to please be forward with you and come drag you out... possibly with the scent of espresso and cream .... and talk with you.  Because you need it--- you know you do!  

2.   Stay organized.   

My students know when I am stressed-- they take one look at my desk and know.  Piles of papers scattered across it; post-it notes dispersed all over the computer and desk; an inability to find anything needed for today's lesson.   Not only does the desk get messy when I am stressed, but the messy desk stresses me out more.   It's like one more thing I've added to my growing list of stressors.

In order to curb this problem, I've created a habit this year where I clean the desk each day before leaving school - organizing stray papers, creating a space for whole class collected work,  binders for each unit I teach, PARCC items, year-three teacher assessments, and more.   The goal is just to create as much clean space as I can.   I also create a to-do list on a post-it note for the next day.  This allows me to leave school at school - unless I have something specific I need to take home to work on.  The stress stays there ... or dissipates because I have a clear plan and a clean place to work.  

3.   Find something, non-education related, to delve into.  

One of my colleagues runs every day.  Another loves to shop (although her credit card doesn't love that habit).   My mentor teacher spends time gardening in the spring, summer, and fall.  I don't really like exercise, my husband, like my colleague's credit card, doesn't like me to shop, and dirt in the garden is not my thing.  I love to read.   Curling up with words and my favorite beverage are a favorite pastime of mine no matter the season.

My problem is that as I read - I always feel that I need to find a way to use the readings in the classroom.   I've determined that this is a problem.  I need to read for me first- my enjoyment, my relaxation.   I've started reading books again that I want to - without the pressure of needing to finish the whole book or finish it in a particular time frame.   I've found myself discussing the books I'm reading with my students; but, it is more as a conversational piece during transition times.  In the long run, it does benefit my students; however, it was something I wanted to do - not for work, but for me.  

4.   Keep record of the moments that inspire you.  

If you were to pull up the photo app on my iPhone and flip through the images, you would stumble across many pictures of student work.   Each time I come across a piece of student work that makes me go "Wow! This student gets it!" I take a picture.   Then, when I'm frustrated, I open that app- sitting at my desk after a long day of work-- and remember why I do this job.

I love those WOW moments - students discussing how a text might be written for a complex purpose (one I had not even thought of), students creating beautiful language or making connections with a text, a student's narrative of her aunt's death  that required a box of tissues while grading.   Those moments are why I teach.  I need to remember those.  

5.   Find others in your profession who inspire you to keep going.  

My partner in crime colleague - the other English 9 teacher in my building - was on maternity leave for some time this year.   During this time, I realized how much I leaned on her for inspiration.   Her and I build off of each other's ideas, tell each other when we are crazy, and laugh about the chaos and awkwardness of freshman.   I'm so glad to have her back.

This past weekend, I was at the conference for language arts teachers in my state.  Over 400 ELA teachers, all in one building, inspiring each other to discover language, learning, and more and passionately give students that same love.   It is hard not to be inspired by other amazing teachers who want to change student's lives.   

This post was inspired by Sarah Brown Wessling's Teaching Channel posts - REBOOT: How to Reboot When You Can't Stop and REBOOT Reflections: 5 Lessons for Staying Sound.  While I've found these 5 things are ways to stay sane throughout the year, Sarah's writing deals more with getting stagnate in teaching and she has a 5 day REBOOT that helps you get passed that.   Definitely worth a try!  


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