How to Beat the Teacher Blues!
Another school year starts and I realize I have surpassed the 30-year mark in the classroom. I have imperceptibly joined the club of “veteran” teachers: educators who seem to suddenly show their age like former classmates at a high school reunion. I didn’t plan it like that; teaching just happened to me and before I knew it, I was hooked. However, I have to admit there were moments when I considered abandoning my post. I call them periods of the “teacher blues.”
I now realize that they can happen to anyone and the longer you are a teacher, the higher probability you will go through one of them. As an antidote to existential disappointment and possible burnout, I offer you my list of “how to beat the teacher blues.”
Cultivate optimism: Keep a journal in which you write your successes each day. Practice seeing the bright side of every situation. (Warning: you may need to stay out of the teachers’ lounge for a while).
Engage in “flow” activities outside of the classroom: Csikszentimihalyi (1990) found that “flow”—a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity—is what makes experience genuinely satisfying. Do more activities where you can lose yourself in total engagement.
Take care of your body: Exercise, eat fruits and vegetables, stay away from junk food, sleep, rest, and laugh.
Develop coping strategies: Consider yoga, meditation, or any mindfulness activity. Do not do your work on breaks or take it home with you. Get together with friends who are positive (watch out for other teachers).
Be assertive: Learn to express your needs and differences, make requests, and say “no” constructively.
Nurture relationships: Choose one or two students that you’d like to invest time and energy in. Get to know them one-on-one (eat lunch together, play a game after school, etc.) Note: depending on your mood, these do not need to be your most challenging students.
Become a mentor: Share your knowledge with a newer teacher. Consider becoming a master teacher, a BTSA support provider, a workshop facilitator or a blogger.
Choose a professional development opportunity: Sign up for an opportunity that you choose. Persuade your principal to fund it by expressing your willingness to share what you learn with the rest of the staff.
Go on a retreat: Attend a teacher renewal weekend. Go to a spa and get a massage. Walk or ride along the beach. Join others for a hike. Visit a place you have never been to before.
Change grade levels or schools: Choose something different. Sometimes the only thing you can do is shake things up. Remember, there is nothing permanent except change.
At its best, teaching calls for daily, intensive, and extensive use of both emotional labor and work (Goodson & Hargreaves, 1996). If teachers can manage the interactions between their internal values, sense of professional competence and the external environments in which they work and live, they will be capable of exercising their resilient qualities, rebounding from disappointments and adversity, and sustaining their commitment to the profession (Day & Gu, 2010).
I am proud to be a teacher, even prouder to be a veteran. Despite the ups and downs, it is a profession I will always be passionate about, and I hope, you will too.
Ayers, W. (2001). To teach: The journey of a teacher (2nd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Day, C. & Gu, Q. (2010). New lives of teachers. New York: Routledge.
Goodson, I. & Hargreaves, A. (1996). Teachers’ professional lives. London: Falmer Press