5 Steps to Refresh Inspiration

Teachers are asked to do an infinite amount of time-consuming tasks. Some administrators excel at piling on the little tasks. But it does not have to be that way.

1. Step back and reconsider what is causing stress. Believe it or not, early in my career it was taking attendance. I would burn a good ten minutes as I looked at the list and searched for the face of each and every kid. For you it might be a poisoned relationship with a colleague that creeps in to ruin your whole day, or a particular student who always manages to find just the right pair of words to get under your skin. Don’t let whatever is causing you stress to cast a shadow over everything else in your life. Compartmentalize. Create a routine to count students and have them identify the three absent names. Minimize the space that your poisoned colleague can occupy in your world to make it as small as possible. Firmly put an abrupt end to any non-class related comments with a student who not-so-subtly bullies you. Of course you want to create a warm, healthy relationship with every student and colleague, but engaging in a negative cycle of abuse is no way to establish that relationship. Don’t engage: compartmentalize.

2. Focus on one teaching goal. Teaching is complex; don’t try to develop every skill simultaneously. Give yourself permission to grow step by step rather than demanding perfection on day one. Let go of the Facebook community that overwhelms you with thousands of ideas that you need to implement right now. While you have access to the CI Master Class, take the time to read and reflect on one essay per week. Don’t do it all at once, but don’t drop it either. Plan to change slowly but steadily over the course of a year.

3. Let go of what is not making you happy, for the moment. Have you tried Card Talk but just could not keep even yourself interested? Let it go. Is your reading program causing you enormous stress? Let it go. Are your students speaking over you rather than observing the “one person speaks, everyone else listens” rule? Develop the skills that come easy first. Practice Movie Talk and laugh with your students, accepting that this first year of CI may not be as effective as coming years. But eventually come back to build and sell your reading program to your students (which I think is the cornerstone of any truly effective language class). Eventually come back and develop the classroom management skills to keep everyone engaged and listening (which I think is absolutely essential). Return to hard but essential skills and develop them in little steps: enforce the “one person speaks everyone else listens” rule for 5 minute stretches. But also be good to yourself and pursue that which feels good.

4. Create a list of what you like about teaching. At the very beginning of my teaching career I wrote a list of three things that I enjoy about teaching Spanish: (1) exploring the cultures of people who speak Spanish, (2) getting to know my students, and (3) researching and analyzing the science of language acquisition. I would look at that list often when doing all of the other little administrative tasks of teaching to keep my mind on the bigger picture. When a parent or colleague sent a cutting letter criticizing my teaching to an administrator (yes, both has happened to me) I returned to the list of things I enjoy about teaching in order to avoid immersing myself in the petty bitterness that is sometimes a school culture.

5. Scroll down the list of likes and choose ONE to focus on at a time. I found that whenever I grew bored of exploring cultures, I could focus on getting to know my students better. When my interest into the lives of my students wavered, I delved deeper into developing my academic understanding of language acquisition. I would create teacher action research projects to test out the hypothesis in my own classroom, modifying my approach between sections and assessing the impact of those changes. When I grew tired of being a educational scientist, I would choose a country and explore its history and culture with the intention of perhaps sharing my discoveries someday with my students… or not. Some explorations were just for maintaining my own passion for the subject matter.

You do not have to be everything to everyone, at all times. Don’t make the pursuit of perfection a miserable quest; enjoy the process of professional growth.