October. As educators, we’ve probably heard the saying, “If you can make it through October, you can make it through the year.” October is that long stretch which often results in feeling a bit blue. No three day weekends between Labor Day and Thanksgiving break can leave us tired, worn, and sometimes wondering if we picked the right career. I can relate. Last year, August 2017 through Mid November 2017 were some of the most stressful and discouraging months of my professional life. I had just moved from California to Colorado, went back into the classroom after being an instructional coach for three years, I was teaching a slightly new content (Integrated Math 1 vs my usual Algebra 1), and did I mention I was back in the classroom after 3 years of not having to lesson plan and grade? The adjustment to a new state and a new school was harder than expected. My happiness was plummeting and it was manifesting itself as resentment toward my job and if I’m being honest, my students, which is NOT the kind of teacher I know I am. Something had to change. So what did I do differently? Here are 4 tips that are guaranteed to banish those October teaching blues.
1. Abundance Mindset
Have you heard of scarcity vs abundance mindset? If not, I would encourage you to listen to episode #163 of a podcast called, The Confidence Podcast, by Trish Blackwell or do a google search on “Abundance Mindset.” As teachers, it’s easy to feel like there is never enough time.
I’m never going to get all of this homework graded in time
I don’t even have tomorrow’s lesson planned
I don’t have enough time to go to the gym
I have so much to do I can’t even cook dinner tonight
That is scarcity thinking. When those thoughts jump into your head, you must choose to combat them with an abundance mindset by taking a deep breath and saying, “I have an abundance of time.” I found this decreases my stress and helps me get my priorities in order.
2. Make Time Off, Time Off
How many times have you had grand plans of all of the unit and lesson planning and organizing you would do over winter break only to feel crushed when you “didn’t get to it?” What if you allowed your time off to actually be time off? Sure there are a million things I could do over a break or 3 day weekend, but I would miss out on the things I want to do for myself.
Thanksgiving is just around the bend! Make the decision not to do any work. Last year I had the whole week of Thanksgiving off and I decided not to do any work. If I’m being honest, it was actually kind of hard and I was tempted to keep planning, but I also knew I needed to rest and do things I enjoy. When I went back to work after Thanksgiving break, I felt so refreshed and I knew I was a better teacher for my students after putting myself first during my time off.
3. Be Present
I find mornings as a teacher to be particularly stressful. You have to get to work on-time, make copies, prep for an activity, etc. It’s easy to let those to-do list items get the best of you and then you feel rushed and stressed when the students enter. To combat this, try mindfulness. There is a great app called Headspace which leads listeners through a 3 minute guided meditation. As a teacher I chose one day, Monday, before students come in (but after I’ve made my copies) to go through a guided mindfulness meditation and found it to really help me feel present and ready to be my best when students come in.
There is also an organization called Mindful Schools that does mindfulness training for teachers to use either personally or with students in the classroom. I encourage you to check out a training.
4. Set Boundaries
Make yourself a priority. It will make you a better (and much happier) teacher in the long run. Plan your planning time, but also plan time for YOURSELF. Practice good self-care. I’ve experimented with a few different planning boundaries and here is one that worked well for me.
Saturday: Grade my 5 question weekly Formative Assessment and enter grades and lesson plan Monday only.
Do whatever I want to do with the rest of the weekend: Explore my beautiful state of Colorado, hang out with friends, practice calligraphy, or just Netflix and chill.
During the Week
Monday: My ONE DAY to stay late after school to roughly plan out the whole week and get as many lessons planned as I can.
Plan the rest of my lessons during my prep periods.
Don’t do any lesson planning for weeks in the future after school. If more planning time is needed for THIS week only, choose one other day to stay after school.
Nothing is set in stone, but having these boundaries REALLY helped me find a better work-life balance! I encourage you to find a plan that works for you. This does sometimes mean that you might not have the most amazing lesson, but you will have a good enough lesson plan and most importantly, you will still have your sanity and passion for teaching.