I’ve walked in to dozens of different schools around the country (and outside of it!) in the last month. In fact, I’ve been working with teacher for the last 14 days in a row, and I see the prep that goes into the school year. Teachers pour hours and dollars into making sure everything is ready for the first day of school: moving boxes, cleaning out last year’s papers, decorating doors and bulletin boards, putting their students’ names on desks, searching for just the right configuration of furniture to create the best learning environment possible. The energy and light I feel during these “back to school” weeks is incredible.
As I reflect on the past two weeks, I’ve been privileged to work with teachers in different areas on very different paths. Some teachers sign up to come our workshops voluntarily, only receiving knowledge and continuing education credit for their three days with us. Some teachers receive a stipend to come and learn how to be better for their students. They are all doing whatever it takes because they all want the same thing, however: to see their students succeed.
But as I continue to work with teachers in our project schools over the course of the year, I see that light and excitement gradually fade. Sometimes, we get discouraged because we feel like as teachers and educators, we don’t matter. Certainly, teachers are not respected as they should be. Teachers face challenges and pressures on a daily basis – from legislation at the state and national levels, to the constant demands of curriculum, IPM testing, and NWA growth scores. The emphasis on student achievement and teacher evaluation is overwhelming, and I’m a little worried about the future of our profession as many educators have decided it’s not worth it, creating a shortage of qualified educators.
But teachers today have a very profound job, and if you have still chosen the path of a teacher in today’s society, with all the demands and pressures, you have a special light burning inside of you! We don’t want that light to burn out!
Sometimes, when I walk into a school, I feel like there are a lot of burned out lights. When we get going with our Math Initiative and teachers feel empowered and equipped to really help students understand math concepts, they get excited and I get to see lights turning on as teachers reignite their desire to teach.
During one of my workshops last week, as teachers were introducing themselves, one particular teacher told us she was never very good at math, she didn’t like teaching math, and she felt like it was really hard because her students were at risk and she didn’t know how to help them. I could tell by her body language that she was feeling incredibly defeated and beaten down. She was at the workshop voluntarily, even though she could only come to half of it, and towards the end of her time there, she came up to me with tears in her eyes. She was in her 25th year of teaching and said, “I came in here today almost on my last straw, ready to quit. After hearing your presentation, I’m excited to teach math again!” I was able to help her break down concepts into digestible pieces so she could actually figure out how to integrate teaching with CPA (concrete, pictorial, abstract means) into her lessons, she can start teaching with inquiry and help her students engage.
We get excited about the new school year because it’s a new, fresh start, and our lights burn bright! But by the end of week one, the same pressures and demands from last year start to arise, the negativity begins and the lights start to burn out. When things don’t go the way you planned, whether within your personal life or within the school building, you can choose to combat the negativity with positivity. You can choose what color your light will shine.
Will it be red? Will you be on alert? Angry? Defensive?
Will it be blue? Will you be defeated? Sad? Discouraged feeling like nothing you do makes any difference?
Will it be green? Will you have a positive attitude? A growth mindset? A fresh outlook?
Will it be yellow? Will you maintain your enthusiasm and passion? Burn bright with excitement, positivity, and purpose?
Many times when we’re feeling discouraged, we can’t control the situation, but we CAN control how we react to it. It’s hard to see the good things that are happening in our classroom and the ways we’ve touched children’s lives. Hold on the feeling of why you are doing what you do.
Keep your light shining. Don’t let your light burn out.
SIS wants to wish you the best of luck as you begin this new 17-18 school year. Teaching is a profession where you get a new start every year. When you do start feeling discouraged, find something you are doing well and try to focus on that. There are a lot of things that can drag you down in life, but if you can overwhelm the negative with positive, your light can stay strong.
One of the reasons teachers often feel overwhelmed is that they have so many things to implement. In our Math Initiative schools, as we work to truly change mathematical mindsets, we have a golden rule: you can’t do it all in one year. So, what is the one thing you think you can implement? Pick one. That one change, though seemingly small, will compound over time and will help your light burn stronger and brighter. True change comes with a series of small changes, rather than one giant shift.
Here are some things to try:
- Start doing number talks (5-7 minutes) 3 or 4 times per week
- Help students do problem solving with model drawings
- Use 3 acts tasks in the math lesson once a month
- Help students better communicate their thinking using our journal templates
- Implement a performance task at the end of every unit to see if students understand the real world application of what they just learned
- Create a math salad bar in your classroom and use it all year
- Use CPA (Concrete, Pictorial, Abstract) instruction when you know kids are struggling
Remember, you can’t do it all this year, but you can do one thing that will challenge you, help your students, and keep your light shining.