The Art of Teacher ContentmentHey y'all! I know you're curious about what I mean by "The Art of Teacher Contentment." We've all seemed to join the self care revolution. We've read the motivational quotes, we've worked toward practicing self care more frequently, we (hopefully) have learned to say "No" to extra duties at work, and we're eating healthy and exercising more frequently (you can stop laughing at that one now ;-) ).
But what I mean by "teacher contentment" is as simple as what it sounds like. Being happy with where you are in your teaching adventure. We've all heard it's the journey, not the destination, that's important. Being content where you are and appreciating where you are in the journey is an art form.
My first few years teaching, I was a wreck. I worked my butt off. I lived and breathed school. I spent weekends planning and cutting things out, and was asleep by 8:30 most nights. (I did teach kindergarten, so there's that.) But as I've taught a few more years, I've come to view teaching as a journey for myself just as much as school is a journey for my students.
But it didn't come easily.
Teaching is hard y'all. I know you've heard, "Those who can't do, teach." But that's a load of crap. Teachers do everything. And so many new teachers get thrown into a classroom to sink or swim. They're expected to know all the things, have all the answers, and still ask questions. Do you see the oxymoron there?
To learn to be content where you are takes skill, but it will be the most liberating change you can make. Here's how:
1. Acknowledge that you don't have all the answers.
It's hard, I know. We expect to get out of college with the skills to tackle all that teaching has to offer. What an eye-opening experience the first week brings. Not only does NO ONE have all the answers, a lot of time, admin doesn't even have the answers. It can be frustrating, especially for my fellow Type A teachers, but knowing that you're not alone in this becomes comforting. It's just another part of the process.
2. Steer clear of Negative Nancy's.
For the first 5 years of teaching, I never ate in the break room. Why? Because that's where the complaining and gossiping happens. You can't be content where you are when all you hear is negativity. Now, I eat in the break room a few times a week, but if the negativity starts coming out, I head back to my classroom. To be content, don't let the negativity monster take over your conversations.
3. Don't take it personally.
You know that kid that just told you to F off, the one that said they hate you, the one throwing the temper tantrum? Odds are, it has nothing to do with you. 99% of the time, whatever the behavior is, it's not a reflection of you. Sometimes kids melt down because they're tired or hungry. Sometimes it's learned behavior from family. Sometimes, it's because they just had a negative encounter with someone else--a parent, a sibling, a fellow classmate, another teacher. Sometimes, asking a student to take out their book and get to work is their last straw. It doesn't have anything to do with you. You just provided the last straw and the place your student felt safe enough to fall apart in.
My momma used to say, kids who behave well at school act up at home is because that's where they feel safe and know their meltdowns are understood by their parents. Students who meltdown at school either: A) don't have any other tools for expressing themselves, or B) know that you are their safe place. Both of which mean YOU have the power to guide the student's behavior. Is it an easy fix? Not always. But when you choose to not take it personally, you will feel empowered.
The same goes for dealings with parents. Sometimes parents actually have a grudge, but most of the time, it's a lack of understanding and communication. Developing relationships with parents will give you huge strides in tackling some of the most challenging student behaviors.
4. Don't forget who you are.
Most of us ARE teachers. Teacher brain doesn't shut off easily. No matter what you're doing on the weekend, when you find that great sensory bin material, the perfect color of Astrobrights paper, or that cool artifact from the tourist shop on your road trip, you have to get it. You NEED it for your classroom. I get it. But don't forget who you are OUTSIDE of being a teacher.
I forgot for awhile, especially the first few years. But the things I enjoy, I still make time for. Road trips on the weekends. Family. Yoga. Music. Food. Books. All these things serve a purpose for me and help me unwind. All of which lead to contentment.
5. Keep it together.
Staying organized is one of the best ways to reduce stress. When things have a place and the visual clutter is gone, it calms the nerves and things seem manageable. I'm a planner. I sit down with my pacing guides and standards and create a general outline for the school year. It helps me keep it together knowing that I have a plan of action for the whole year (mostly, cause things always change). Whatever you need to do to feel put together, do it.
You can't function if there's chaos inside you. Up until recently, I was not one to meditate or buy in to any of it really. But taking a few minutes a day to just sit and breathe will do absolutely amazing things for your well-being. Especially during lunchtime or your prep. Slowing down your thoughts makes them clearer and easier to decipher. Embrace a few minutes of calm and quiet each day so that you can be your best self for you, your family, and your students.
No one can do everything. As you make your to-do list, mark your priorities. Many times, the things on my list take a distant 3rd or 4th to whatever is going on at home. Family and your health come first. The "must do" things for the classroom should come after. Things have a way of getting done one way or another. I'm not saying to let it all go, but prioritize what needs to be done now and what can wait a little bit.
When my kids were little, their schoolwork, dinner, bath, and bedtime routine took precedence. When they went to bed, I got as many of the "other things" done as I could. Yes, it felt like I was always going, but my kids knew they were my priority and that mattered most to me.
Now let me be clear: When I say "teacher contentment," I don't mean that striving to be better, thinking outside the box, or trying that new lesson is bad. Those things are always important. You can't become a better teacher if you always stay the same. But you can find peace in your place in the journey.
What do you do to find contentment in your journey? Let me know in the comments. I hope you found some peace in today's post and you know you're not alone in this crazy thing called teaching.
Have a wonderful week and stay cozy.