Restoring Hope To Your Teaching Job

I’ve noticed something lately. I have gotten a handful of comments and emails from people who seem to be teaching in what appears outwardly as a hopeless situation.

I contend that the problem very rarely is in their situation. The problem rests in the lost joy and the long forgotten hope they once had. The dream is not shattered, it simply is not in sight right now. Why have we lost sight of that hope? Because we lack focus.

My assertion is that we have lost focus because we are too busy reacting to events and items that try to wrestle our attention away from the important things. Jonathan wrote a great article about dealing with your mailbox last week. I think the concept can be translated to a number of other situations. From kids asking questions before class to phone calls to whatever else, these urgent, but not important matters can make us feel like a juggler riding a unicycle on the Interstate at rush hour.

How do we regain focus?
First of all, I think it is key to remember exactly why it is that we signed up to be a teacher in the first place. What is it about teaching that made you want to spend years in college training to do it.

Take that reason, and refocus on it. The next time a paper comes across your desk or an email comes to your inbox, ask yourself if it really is that urgent, or if it can be delayed a while longer. My guess is that most of the “urgent” situations really are only urgent for someone else. Your life will go along just fine if you don’t react immediately.

How does focus turn into hope?
Not so quick! Once we remember why it is that we started to teach and once we begin to view the so-called urgent situations at work in light of that reason, we need to step back. We need to detach ourselves from the problems that we encounter at work.

Remember, kids say mean stuff, but never take it personally. I remember catching myself arguing with a student once and she just looked at me and told me I wasn’t supposed to argue with kids. She was right.I was taking her lame excuses personally instead of just realizing that they were simply her way of not accepting responsibility.

So did I miss the hope thing?
Not yet! I’m just about there. Once we have stopped taking a reactionary type role and have begun to remove the word “urgent” from our vocabulary; after we have cut some of the emotional power that our students/administration/parents/selves have over us; then we can really step back and look at the bigger picture.

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Remind yourself frequently (hourly if necessary) why it is that you became a teacher. Remind yourself where you want to be going. Take your eyes off of the immediate cries for help from everyone else and just look for the beauty in your situation. There is some. Keep looking if you must.

So this is a general reply to some of the comments I got. I want to address some of these specific concerns that each of the readers pointed out, but I would also encourage some of my readers to use the comment sections to reply directly to them. So please feel free to click on the name, and go reply to their comment!

Also, check out the following articles:

About Joel Wagner 522 Articles
Joel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

4 Comments on Restoring Hope To Your Teaching Job

  1. Joel ~ Thank you so much for your article on hope. I was sitting here staring at a stack of papers that need to be graded, wondering how much longer I can take the stress that is piling up on me. I am in the middle of KTIP (Kentucky Teacher Intern Program–for new teachers), and the extra work that is involved with it is about to push me over the edge. I need to step back and remember why I am doing all this. It is so easy to get distracted by all the meetings and never-ending to-do list.

  2. Nice thoughts–and while you’re hoping, remember to seek a little joy along the way. Sunday night is “hope night” for me, as a teacher. After dinner, I put on some awesome music (a must) and sit down to sketch out what I hope to accomplish in the next week.

    This is much more than filling in the lesson plan book (yuck! the planner, with its uniform boxes, seems designed to make all lessons boring). The Sunday night think session is more than deciding what to DO in the next five days–it’s about deciding what’s important. Is there a story I can tell? Is there a piece of music that will illustrate a skill? If my learning goal is getting them to watch the conductor (and I know that’s one of your goals) will I be better off playing a clip of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” with all its little glitchy tempo shifts–or merely calling out “Watch me!” Or both?

    I do my hoping on a yellow legal pad, long size. I jot stuff on it as the week goes by. Then I pull off the sheets and staple them together. I have filing cabinets full of this stuff. Very occasionally, I go back and look at them, but I find that my hopes, dreams and goals change over time.

  3. @Nancy Flanagan – Wow, that’s a great idea. I started working on a simple chorale (Essential Elements 2000 Chorale on page 12) yesterday with my band. I explained that I can demonstrate a handful of things with my conducting.

    (1) Tempo
    (2) Dynamics
    (3) Attack
    (4) Note Length

    It’s great hearing a 7th grade band respond so well to these kinds of things.

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