Student teaching can be a time of tremendous stress, and stress can take a huge toll on both your mental, emotional and physical well-being. Teacher health is a top concern, so let's talk that through a bit.
I want you to make it through and get your certificate!
The first thing you need to get through your head is that you are not in this alone.
Your learning laboratory
When you are a student-teacher or brand-new to your career, you are expected to be learning. Therefore, don't hesitate for a second to ask somebody for help if you feel that you need it.
Of course, any teacher should be willing to ask for help at any point in her career, but it does get harder the longer you are in the classroom. Therefore, if you need some input, now is the time to ask for it.
This goes beyond asking for observations or assessments; it can mean asking for input during collaboration on how to teach a particular standard. Or getting feedback on why your kids aren't understanding how to properly punctuate a sentence.
Don't expect that other teachers will have perfect answers to your problems. Rather, expect that having a professional conversation with another educator will help your mind process ways to improve.
Eventually, you'll find a way that works for you, and asking for help can dramatically speed up the rate of self-discovery. It can also show other teachers that you are not too proud to get input. This can help cement relationships and also make other teachers feel safe coming to you for input if they notice you doing something particularly well.
I’m going to make the plea that, if you are feeling overwhelmed in any aspect of your teaching, do not wait until it is taking a toll on your personal life. Anything that's affecting your personal life will affect your classroom life, as well. Ask for the help that you need before your students suffer the consequences.
Finding a kindred spirit
Rest assured, Classroom Caboodle is here for you to provide guidance and insights. However, it’s no substitute for finding a fellow teacher with whom you can have frank discussions and – when necessary – commiserate.
This person does not have to be in your school. In fact, you might be expecting a bit much if you think that you will be able to find a kindred soul amongst the staff of a particular school. If you do, great. But hedge your bets by staying in contact with the other graduates of your college education program.
You don't have to restrict your search to other teachers in your grade level or even your specialty. I have had some of my best one-on-one relationships with high school teachers and elementary music teachers.
You meet other teachers everywhere you go, especially when you are involved in district-level training. It's much more important to find someone with whom you “click” than someone who perfectly matches the same job description you have.
Look for these people, treasure them, and do your part to keep these relationship going.
In some of my writing, I’ve made a big deal out of the fact that kids can’t afford to lose a year of progress in elementary school, and they really can’t. But that’s a lot of pressure, isn’t it? I can get kind of intense on that topic, I know.
So now I need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and state another fact: Kids won’t make any progress if their teacher isn’t there to teach them. And by “there,” I mean completely present, every day, healthy in both mind and body.
School is hard on dedicated teachers – sometimes very hard. Even if you can avoid the illness that comes from exposure to new germs, you will find yourself very tired on Friday afternoons and completely exhausted by the time winter break rolls around.
It’s not just the physical movement that’s necessary to keep your little pack together; it’s the mental effort of absorbing new concepts nonstop.
So please: be self-aware and recognize the signs of approaching burnout – that’s the ultimate case of “falling down,” and it’s very hard to get back up from it. There is only one cure for it, and that is adequate time off to decompress and rebuild your strength, attitude, and enthusiasm.
- Protect your personal time at home in the evening by avoiding idle chit-chat during the day when you could be correcting papers.
- Protect your personal time on the weekends by setting aside clearly-defined hours to work and not allowing yourself to go beyond that, even if it means your lesson plans aren’t perfect and you have to improvise a bit in the classroom. I know you’ll be working on the weekend – all teachers do – but you have to set limits and stick with them.
- Protect your personal time during breaks by limiting your projects to a very, very small list. Again, I know you’ll need to get some work done, but give yourself a very small bite to chew – you can always take another bite if you find that you have time.
In short, take good care of yourself. That’s an order!