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  • Writer's pictureTeacher's Workshop

Happy Teacher, Happy Student

Updated: Jun 6

Teachers have a lot on their plate right now. So let’s think about how to scrape some off for the dog or perhaps consider who cooked what and how we can make it tastier and healthier next time.

The truth is that teachers can’t just imagine happiness. It’s futile to aggressively push a positive mindset on someone who has little to no control over the circumstances of their life, especially their work life. But it’s good to reflect on what makes teaching hard and what makes it amazing. If teachers are excited about having the creative freedom to do what they know works, then students will share in their energy and enthusiasm.

Here are six things I tell myself to stay happy every day as I walk in my classroom and shut the door:

1. Prioritize learning over assessment

Over the years, assessment has caused me more stress than anything else. Grading takes time away from lesson planning, researching, professional reading and learning, communicating with parents and students, and conferencing. Assessment helps us know where our students are, but students don’t learn from frequently taking tests and quizzes. Learning (reading, listening, and taking notes) should always take up more class time than assessment (writing, speaking) and feedback.

2. Make learning fun, be spontaneous, and … human

Children long to learn in an environment where they feel comfortable and at ease. I knew life was hard last year, so in the winter, I started every class with an uplifting song. Their life at home can be hard. Any teenager usually buts heads with their parents or friends at some point, so school should be a place where they can laugh and find relief from anything they are going through at home. The news and social media can also be disappointing to say the least. They come to class looking for answers, but also to laugh at it all. They want to hear and tell stories through conversation, fiction, video, graphics, and recorded audio.

3. Life comes before work

Our work is important and has the potential to change individual lives and improve society, but in the grand scheme of things, we teach a tiny fraction of the general population and it’s not worth putting our work before our family, friends, travel, and personal pursuits. The good news is that we can be effective teachers without bringing work or stress home with us. We shouldn’t want school to be a source of stress for our students, but rather a place where they can put in a hard day’s work and then relax, and it should be the same for us.

4. Focus on the future, not the past

It’s easy to get hung up on the things people say or how we handled a situation. Schools contain a lot of different personalities and there’s always a temptation to not be professional. The longer you teach, the more you realize how there is a story behind every behavior. In the end, the only thing that matters is future behavior. The objective is to always keep up with the work, not catch up on work that might prevent a student from future success.

5. Tune out the noise

People have plenty of unflattering opinions about teachers and it’s easy to get fixated on what is wrong with schools, politicians, and culture. There’s no shortage of things to be disappointed in, but there’s no doubt about it, we have the best job in the world. Children come into our classrooms wide-eyed and eager to learn about everything. We make a difference in the lives of our students by being ourselves, by caring about their growth, and showing them how to problem solve and stay positive about whatever comes their way. They go to school to learn how to learn, as much as they do to soak up information.

6. Defend your choices and autonomy

However we try to make the best of our circumstances, there may be situations where it’s important to stand up for what’s right and articulate what you know works in the classroom. Education has seen plenty of fads and research that doesn’t stand the test of time. At the same time, we need to update our pedagogy and curriculum in a way that adapts with the times and the changing needs of our students.

Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers

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