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This might be you. You've wanted to be a teacher all your life. You studied your heart out and finally got your first classroom all to yourself. However, the realities of the classroom are causing you to question your competence and your ability to do this work for the rest of your life. You're overwhelmed. You may even want to quick. Before you do, listen (or read) my interview with "lifer" Kirsten Beyer. She shares how she made this profession more sustainable.
"I ran head first into my classroom; ambitious and alittle bit naive. I basically hit a brick wall right away."
I am one of those people who wanted to be a teacher for my whole life. Both of my grandparents on my dad's side of the family were educators. My great grandfather was a college professor. My mom is not a teacher, but she works in education as an occupational therapist, so I grew up being around teachers and was always drawn to the profession.
As a first year teacher, I guess I was just so excited to finally have my own classroom. I had spent the past years and years of college being in all these other teachers' classrooms, getting all these ideas, and I ran headfirst into my classroom. I was a little bit naive and basically hit a brick wall right away.
I felt like I was working nonstop. I had gone into my classroom feeling really confident in what I was going to do and very quickly felt defeated. I felt like I had no classroom management. I wasn't doing a lot of the things I believed in. I was getting up very early. I was basically coming home and working until I crashed and fell asleep and then woke up and did it again. And the weekends were no exception. I wanted to do everything and I couldn't.
I could never live up to the expectations I set for myself and also that others had set for me. I had been one of those people in college that every teacher I worked with and every supervisor I had kept telling me what a great teacher I was going, but I was feeling like I was barely kicking rocks for these kids. After getting started in the classroom, I remember thinking, "I understand why people leave this career in the first five years," and was truly on the fence about if I thought I was going to make it to year five.
(quick aside) I don't know about you all, but listening to Kirsten drop those truth bomb sounded a lot like my internal monologue, my first and second years teaching. The good news is she had an incredible professor during her undergraduate years in college who really set her up to tackle this challenge head on, and so the rest of this blog is going to be dedicated to the three tangible steps that she took in order to overcome this problem.
Step 1 - Engage on social media
In college, one of my professors made it an assignment that we all had to make our own personal learning community online. The point of that was that we had built some really strong lifelines in our classroom, but she couldn't guarantee that we were going to have that in our first years of teaching. We started finding bloggers and Instagram accounts and all these different people to help us find what we needed in our professional learning.
In my first year of teaching, I ended up unfollowing them because I found it overwhelming to look at their very "together" classrooms. But, towards the end of my first year I started wanting to know what they were doing in their classrooms and I started to find helpful ideas and resources. That's how I stumbled upon Angela Watson.
"One of my favorite parts about it is that once you have the materials, they're yours forever so they don't go away. I can still go back to them whenever I need them year after year. "
Step 3 - Join the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club
In her book, Angela Watson frequently referenced her 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Then, somehow everything was lining up for me to join the club. Several of the teachers that I followed on Instagram that I really looked up to started talking about how they had done the club and how it changed the way that they looked at teaching.
For people who don't know a lot about the club, it is a group of educators who have decided that they want to create a more sustainable work life balance and that they want to work smarter in their classroom, and I think that that's really important. You can find professional development about becoming a better reading teacher, about strategies to differentiate your math instruction, about organizing different materials in your classroom, but there are so few learning opportunities out there for educators about how to create a sustainable work life balance.
The program gives realistic, bite-sized, and manageable strategies to work smarter. So a good example of that is Angela really pushed me to not check my email more than four times a day. So I then put into my schedule designated times to sit down and read my emails and answer them. Instead of wasting two or three minutes on an random emails all throughout the day, I was really focusing and being very intentional about when I responded and, thus, maximizing my time. Two more strategies I picked up that I love are her list making strategy and her paper sorting system. I go back to those year after year.
Essentially, she helped me to build more sustainable habits.
One of my favorite parts about it is that once you have the materials, they're yours forever so they don't go away. It's just like owning a book. You still always have those materials. I can still go back to them whenever I need them year after year.
Carla Rivera-Cruz (CRC) is an educator and entrepreneur committed to helping like-minded educators reach their fullest potentials.