Let’s not mince words about going back into our classrooms after a vacation, esp. the summer vacation. The purpose of this post is to help us get mentally ready to go back to school AFTER the fast-approaching winter vacation.
The education system is designed, certainly unintentionally but with no less damaging results, to wear down our mental health. The professional freedom we crave isn’t available to most WL teachers, who are placed in a one-size-fits-all-subjects prison kind of mentality that comes complete with meaningless meetings and invisible power struggles that suck on our souls in the first weeks of school until we can adjust.
If this doesn’t describe you, then stop reading. I’m talking to people who get depressed when they think about going back to their jobs after needed time for rest and relaxation and self-care.
I got this from a PLC member once:
I am writing to ask for some advice and honestly also just want another teacher to talk to before I go back in a few days to finish out the second half of the year. I am having trouble with it.
I am feeling overwhelmed / discouraged in large part because planning and organization I have struggled with in the past and I’ve realized how it’s negatively impacted my classes all these years. I think I am just having a mental block for a variety of reasons, but thought maybe you could advise me on what to at least have down and ready before I go back.
This going-back from a break thing each year, speaking for myself, has caused me to live on the edge of clinical depression – and I don’t use that term casually – for my entire professional life. I thought it was because I wasn’t good enough at teaching a language and now it turns out it wasn’t me at all but the way I was teaching, with all the planning and stress and negative results you mentioned above.
We could list stress factors and then logically it would make sense to try to limit or eliminate the ones we can. What are such factors? –
- Planning. Its’ a disaster when we do it to the extent that most of us do – usually the non-NTCI people.
- The textbook (24 years for me) but also TPRS (15 years), both of which really made me feel as if I was shitty at CI until I arrived at my current path with NTCI, which works much better for me.
- Putting our inner emotional and thinking life more on our jobs than ourselves. This is insanity and yet, again speaking only for myself bc that’s all I know about, I made it all into a much more imbalanced game than I should have, in favor of the school. I needed approval that badly, I guess. But I heard once that we should only give from excess. That is, if we are taken care of emotionally and mentally physically (only we can do that for ourselves) and we have excess time and resources for our job, then that is the way to look at it. When we don’t have enough energy to to take care of ourselves and then we give from that lack to our schools and our teaching, then we will eventually run into big problems of either an emotional or physical nature.
- Not feeling confident at our jobs. This is a big one, bc the system is not set up to give us confidence. That is the JOB of administrators and yet they don’t it at all. They don’t know how to do their jobs. Instead of helping us, they judge us. The system is geared to stress the hell out of us every day. I don’t know if it’s because our admins are just stupid or untrained or if they lack compassion, or what. There is also the group of CI trainers out there right now. They advertise big results but I don’t think that a week-long conference is sufficient to bring us real confidence in a certain way of teaching. We would need a month or more. That is why I don’t present anymore, along with other factors. I remember how I’ve gone to so many conferences and presented and I didn’t really know what I was doing bc I am not actually a presenter I am a teacher. Here is part of an email that I got from a teacher who went to a training once: “My district spent a lot of money on me so that I could learn CI. I came away confused and depressed and angry.” So the idea that we can teach if we don’t feel confident in how we teach using CI (bc everyone knows now that the textbook is dead as a doornail) is another huge stress factor.
- The kids. They are just so frickin’ rude these days. They are establishing new world records for rudeness.
- Not having enough personal power. I know very few teachers who use CI from a position of strength and power in their classrooms. I can name a few off the top of my head but that’s all – Linda Li, becker and others in St. Louis bc many of them work with Jeff Tamaroff, the ideal administrator for CI teachers in my view, some of those Chicago superstars like Alisa and her team and Sean and The CI Guy Greg Schwab, and others. But really very few of us can summon the personal power needed to even walk into a building these days without some level of trepidation and anxiety.
- Stupid admins – ’nuff said on that topic.
- Stupid meetings. There are too many of them and the meeting itself isn’t really about meeting to share ideas, but meeting to be told in mealy-mouthed language”who’s boss” (that’s the real purpose of most meetings) in the eternal power struggle between teachers and department chairs and egomaniacal administrators who through excessive pride and blindness tell us how we should teach and how we are to be evaluated. That’s like a hospital administrator with a degree in hospital management and no medical degree telling a doctor how to do their practice, and then evaluating them on how they do their jobs with no knowledge of how they actually do their jobs!
- Dealing with parents. Some of them are harpies and not much different – and often much worse – than the hospital admin telling the doctor how to practice medicine.
- Grading. It takes far more out of our self-care time than we realize. It keeps us from doing our jobs well. What are our jobs? To teach the children a language when they come into our classrooms. That’s usually a 4-5 hour a day commitment that we have to do. The rest of the time should be spent on self-care, not grading. Don’t let the admins lie to you about that. Your job is to teach. That is why I push the Star Sequence and NTCI so much here – it is the only way to seriously reduce and in my own case virtually eliminate all the planning and the grading, and how I wish that I had known about the Invisibles forty years ago!
- Colleagues – who think they know how to teach a language but are too far removed from two things – the joy of teaching and the research – to be successful at it in any real way. Many of our colleagues, in order to hide their substantial insecurities about CI from us, act better than us, or suspicious of us, or both. And all we are trying to do is REACH our kids while aligning w the research, and they end up JUDGING us for trying to align with the research. Why? It’s because they don’t possess the DNA for those two essential things of teaching with joy in alignment with the research bc all of their “success” in this field was based on their grand ability to conjugate verbs and memorize rules when THEY were in high school. They inwardly scowl at us. They don’t like light. Bless their hearts. But it’s still a factor in stressing us out.
There are probably many more stress factors in our jobs that we could mention, down to the very tiny ones, like that f—ed up bathroom rule that we can never get right and kids who want to learn from a book bc their parents told them that’s the way to do that.
So I’m right there with you on this. Going back to school after a break can be soul-crushing.
This is serious stuff going on in our profession right now – this burnt out teacher stuff. Let’s fix it. We can now. We can start by going back to school after this next winter break with whatever degree of strength and confidence we can muster. Exactly how to do it is the subject of another article, but just listing the stress factors on us as we did above is at least a step in the right direction, because by listing those stressors, we can at least go over the list above each one personally and reflect on which ones we can change in our own teaching worlds.
My prayer is that we learn to eliminate them all! The ones on which we can begin this process, at least , are #s 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6, since we can’t get rid of the kids, the admins, the colleagues, the parents, the meetings and the grading. Hey, it’s a start..