Yes, I love my job, but…

One of the drawbacks of blogging about your work is that there’s so much you just can’t say.

The situations I cannot write about — because they might irreparably harm relationships or violate student privacy — are often the very problems we need to discuss.

Because I self-censor day-to-day frustrations, I know that in my writing, I sometimes sound a little pollyanna-ish about my job.

I love teaching, it’s true, but not every day is filled with inspiring stories or solutions to vexing problems. Like every teacher, I have days that make me want to run out screaming, bury myself in a book at the beach and think about what comes next.

I had a few of those last week.

Since I can’t write about the situations that trigger these feelings — at least not right when they happen — I will instead focus on that last part: What comes next?

Not in the sense of quitting and moving on, but: How can a teacher set aside the emotional toll of unreasonable policies, politics, parents or principals to face the next set of students with energy and passion?

While corporate office workers surely deal with the same frustrating situations and unreasonable demands, at least they can take a break and head for the water cooler or out for a walk. Not us. We end an unsettling parent phone call, and we have 35 kids waiting for us. And if we aren’t on top of our game — or if we vent our frustration onto them — our bad day will get even worse.

I wrote previously on this blog about the student whose parents threw a book at me during a meeting years ago. When I returned to U.S. History class that day, my stomach was clenched, hands shaky, voice unsteady. I could hardly even focus on what we were learning that day.

I couldn’t sleep that night, either. I kept replaying the situation in my mind, rehashing everything that was said, wondering why the parent was so clearly unreasonable when I was being fair.

Over the years, I’ve learned how to calm down and keep my cool, and it’s made life a lot better, even when absurd things happen.

The first step is just that: Keep cool. When someone is being unreasonable, say as little as possible. You might want to engage and say something like, “Your daughter got a low test grade because she didn’t come to class” or “Your student wasn’t made editor because he doesn’t get along with others” — but those comments are not helpful. They only invite angry responses — and denials — and fuel the fire.

The second step is: Focus on those 35 kids in front of you. They are not to blame — they are there to learn. Also, you are their role model for how to deal with a tough day, and teenagers have plenty of them. I’ve found that on bad days, if I pour extra energy into each lesson, it helps me forget about everything else. It also makes me love and appreciate my students, because I always feel better afterwards.

The third step — and I’ve said this before — is find a mentor who can listen and help. Don’t vent to the teachers’ lounge; that only adds to your bitterness. Find an experienced colleague who will listen and help you cope, rather than building up your indignation.

Every teacher has bad days, and how I wish I could write about more of mine. But I’ve realized over time that I have most of the responsibility and control over my mood, my motivation and my enthusiasm. I won’t let unreasonable people or policies deter me from doing what I love, no matter how hard they try.

 

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