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We all feel it... that awful, pervasive gnawing away at our daily peace by the feeling that we are never doing enough. Yet, despite the endless to-do lists and our best intentions to get more done and be even more efficient, we never seem to get ahead, right?
In this episode, we are going to talk about the four reasons we too often buy into the myth that we are not (doing) enough, the benefits of NOT believing it for both ourselves and for our students, and the first steps to take towards more peace and less anxiety in your teaching.
In many ways, we are still caught in that treadmill of thought – that the more we accomplish, the more accomplished we are. No matter how fast we go, we feel like we should be going faster. We can never do enough, go fast enough.
But, is that true, or is it time to leave behind this kind of outdated thinking? Is it true that when things are done faster, they’re better? Do we tell our students to rush through their work so they can get on to the next thing, without any consideration for the quality of their work?
When we’re teaching a lesson, is it true that the faster we go, the more the students will retain? No – in fact, it’s usually the opposite.
Is a nature hike BETTER because we race through it, or is it better when we take our time and truly savor the smells of fresh pine, the sound of water the distance and the promise of a waterfall, and pause to take in each magnificent view when it opens up in front of us?
Even though we feel constantly compelled to do all the things because of external pressure, instead of asking ourselves “How can I cram more into today?” what if we instead asked, “What is most important for today? or What could I remove or not do that would give me some relief in this moment?”
When we take the pressure off of ourselves and focus our attention on what really matters, it opens space for more creativity and for our inner wisdom. We don’t need to do as much as we think we do. We don’t need to say “yes” whenever someone asks something of us. We don’t need to keep changing our bulletin boards every month. We don’t need to be on every committee. We need to instead ask ourselves, “What can I do less of? What can I remove from my plate to give me some relief?”
But, what if we decided to have a different reaction? What if, because all we can ever control in any situation is our own response to it, what if we chose, when we see those beautiful Instagram feeds, to say to ourselves,
“Good for them. That's awesome. What they're sharing doesn't say anything about me at all. It doesn't even have anything to do with me. It’s inspiring to see these great ideas, and I get to benefit by being inspired by them to use or create these kinds of things for my own students. What might I create or do to inspire my own classroom? What feels right to me for my own personal teaching style and for my students?”
Do you feel the empowerment in those statements?
And then, you realize that you are actually doing it… you are finally learning to actually play a guitar. It’s finally beginning to make sense to you and you are suddenly so grateful for all of those individual practice sessions because you realize that wow – that really is the foundation of learning to play music. And, I couldn’t have skipped any single one of them or I wouldn’t be able to play this song or that one, because all of those notes will be needed in different combinations in order to play whatever I want.
And so it is with teaching. Each day you come to your classroom and you feel the struggle of getting your timing right and actually planning the exact amount of content you need in order to give your students the bite-sized pieces of information they can handle in order to move forward in this or that concept.
And, it’s hard because you rarely get it right but you keep on trying every single day, and it feels like you aren’t making any movement forward but then suddenly - and you’ll love it when this happens - you begin to notice that today, in fact, you had exactly the right amount of content planned for your students in order to complete the work they needed and it actually felt effortless. Why? Because you’ve been practicing all of this time and so finally, all of the pieces that needed to come together have come together and now, you wonder how you struggled so much with this at all in the first place.
The art of teaching is like that – just like learning to play one scale, your timing of lessons will then be connected to the individual daily practice of handling students who are challenging you becomes easier and easier because you now have a bag of tricks that always works with this kind of student. At what seems like the same time, you realize that you have become quite skilled at learning to handle challenging parents with the ease and grace of someone who knows how to not take it personally as an attack but with the awareness that this a parent who is likely scared about their own child’s success and what it means about them, not their child, if they fail.
My point is that all of these are individual skills and talents that require time and patience to practice and to eventually master. And, teaching requires a lot of skill in a lot of areas, and so it isn’t your fault if you are struggling. It’s completely normal.
However, what you do have control over is your response to the daily challenges of teaching. Compassion for yourself, patience as you practice, and awareness that everything is okay and just as it's supposed to be as you are learning, and will continue to improve over time is all you need to be successful.
Every day we work with children who do not “get” things the first time we teach them. You will not get things right the first time, either, because you, right now, are working to find ways to process all that you need to learn so you can apply it in your own way.
So, why not choose to enjoy the journey? Doing scales on a guitar is a lot more meaningful and enjoyable if one day, you know you will be able to play “The Sound of Silence.” Trust me, I’ve been there (and I've heard this very transition with our teenage son who is teaching himself to play the guitar). And, over time, I hope you allow yourself to laugh more instead of choosing to struggle and beat yourself up, as I did too, whenever I did something less than perfect in my classroom. You CAN enjoy the journey and give yourself some grace and patience as you learn this incredible skill and art of teaching.
And one day, I promise you – you’ll realize how far you’ve come and how much you’ve learned, and you’ll be so glad that you continued to work on this art.
Here’s what I mean by that. Whether or not you decide to ultimately stay in the classroom for your entire teaching career, the focus and attention that you put on the art of learning to teach well now will serve you for the rest of your life.
When you have those days and those moments of feeling like you aren’t (doing) enough or that you aren’t enough in general, I encourage you to focus less on the stress and struggle of the current moment and realize that what you are doing right now is just what is happening right now. It isn’t an indication of your ultimate success or failure as a teacher. It’s just a moment in time when something feels hard.
But you’re in teaching for the long game. You’ve already put in the effort and the time and the financial investment to earn a degree to become a teacher, and the more you keep your eye on the long-term benefits of mastering this art now, know it will serve you for the rest of your life.
I am a better teacher for you now because I have worked on my art for 20 years already in a multiple of different contexts – teaching overseas on a bamboo mat in Japan, teaching preservice education students at a university, teaching children and teachers online, and teaching new teachers now through this podcast, and I will continue to work on the art of teaching for the rest of my life, because I am a teacher, because it’s my passion, and because, no matter in what context I find myself in, the art of teaching is my ultimate aim.
Okay, so what does this mean for you practically in terms of your everyday life, right now as a teacher?
Now, you might be saying, “Well, all of this sounds great Lori, but HOW am I supposed to do all of that?”
Well, it starts with first giving yourself permission to slow down and focus on doing less in your classroom and doing it better. Nobody else is going to give you permission to do that. Take a look at what you are doing throughout your school day and look for ways and moments to let in more light, more breathing space. What is one way you could streamline what you are currently doing to remove a little bit of the overwhelm? What is just one area you could focus on that would give you some relief?
Secondly, spend less time on social media comparing yourself and giving attention to how that teacher down the hall is doing things, and instead, focus your attention on your own classroom. Ask yourself what you and your students need most right now, and trust yourself to get quiet and get inspired to come up with your own ideas.
And finally, celebrate your small wins every day. It might feel like you are only doing scales and that the work you are doing is meaningless, but in reality, you are creating magic. You are learning the individual skills now that you will use for decades moving forward in your teaching career. It might not feel glamorous, but we both know that the individual letters in the alphabet might not seem that important in the beginning either – but then wait – those letters spell words, and those words create sentences, and those sentences write stories, and those stories create worlds, direct translations from our dreams and our imaginations. They’re magic realized. Right now, you are learning the alphabet, and that my friends, is something to truly celebrate.
So there you have it. I hope this was helpful for you, and I would be deeply grateful if you would share this episode with just one teacher who you know needs to hear this right now.
I hope you have a wonderful week, and remember: just because you are a beginning elementary teacher, there is no need for you to struggle like one.
Bye for now,
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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