I was having coffee with a teacher friend the other day. Now that it is August she’s starting to think about “back to school”. As we were having coffee, she looked at me intensely and said, “This year’s going to be different. This year, I’m going to do all my prep work ahead of time. I’m going to have all my clothes ironed and laid out the night before. I’m going to pack my lunches. I’m definitely not going to get into the politics, either. This year is going to be amazing!”
I looked back and smiled. She said the same thing last year. And the year before that. By Thanksgiving every year, she’s already burnt out, cranky and miserable. It’s a bit like a new year’s resolution with her, except that it happens at the beginning of the school year, rather than the beginning of the calendar year. Nevertheless, six weeks later, her motivation is gone and the days seem very, very long.
Here are seven to keep your new school year resolutions, if you make them.
1. Be true to yourself. If you’re not the kind of person who irons your clothes and lays them out the night before during your summer holidays, you’re not likely to do it during the school year. That’s OK.
2. Make one or two small changes, rather than half a dozen. Maybe you like to think big and dream big. Rather than doing it all, pick one or two things and do them really, really well. For you, that may mean doing your lesson plans a few weeks ahead, rather than the whole year.
3. Keep your eye on your prize. If you pick one or two small things to change, that becomes your goal. When we’re overwhelmed or tired, personal goals go out the window. Focus, focus, focus and never lose sight of what you’ve set as your goal.
4. Set weekly goals. Rather than setting a goal for the whole school year, set a small goal every week. If your goal is to have your student’s work corrected and handed back to them within 3 days, then set that as a weekly goal, rather than a yearly one.
5. Write your goals down. Write them in a day timer, an online calendar, a notebook or a scribbler. Write them anywhere that makes sense for you, but write them down.
6. Be kind to yourself. There will come a week when you’re tired, when the kids get to you, your administrators don’t seem to understand you and when you’re frazzled. When that happens, take a step back and say to yourself, “I am giving everything I can right now. It is enough.”
7. Remember that your goals are about you. My teacher friend gets all worked up when she perceives that her colleagues have it better than her, that they’re better teachers or better organized or whatever. Chill. Every single teacher has gifts. Every single teacher has weaknesses. Every single teacher makes a difference. That includes you.
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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.