As I type, the date is January 25, 2018, the midway point of the 2017-18 school year. For sure, this is the time of the year when many teachers across the U.S. start “feeling it.” Pressures are coming from every direction imaginable. Some of us are “feeling it” from administration which might include a lack of demonstrated appreciation for your work; some from the pressures of forthcoming standardized testing; some from a toxic school climate AND culture; some from parents who are not engaged nor productively active in their children’s lives; and some from either apathetic, disengaged, undisciplined, unmotivated, recalcitrant or defiant students. The aforementioned are certainly enough to burn a teacher out or even force a teacher to reconsider whether or not teaching was the best career choice. Again, I thoroughly understand. But let’s delve a little deeper.
Somewhere in your journey called life, something crept into your head, your heart, your spirit or maybe even your soul that said, “I want to teach.” Only you know when this happened and what may have triggered it, but the bottom line is that the notion hit you. You were convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that you wanted to spend your career in the classroom teaching. But it didn’t stop there….no…in addition to this desire to teach, you also concluded within yourself that if given the opportunity to teach, your students would benefit immensely….your students would be at an advantage…your students would soar! That was your thinking and I challenge you to prove me wrong! You knew that YOU were the one that your students needed. Many of you were even intentional about where you wanted to one day teach. Many of you reading this blog post didn’t want to be in unchallenging environments. You actually desired to be in tough, economically disadvantaged urban environments or a challenging, economically disadvantaged rural environment. Moreover, many of you wanted to be in a challenging environment that had a sizable population of children of color – particularly Black and Latino children. Again, I challenge you to prove me wrong. You said about yourself, “I have just what the children of these environments need.”
But let’s go a tad deeper still. Not only did you desire to work in a challenging urban or rural environment for example, but there was a reason you wanted to work in this environment and it was very specific...it was personal! In other words, you didn’t conclude that you wanted to teach in a challenging environment for the sake of doing so. You had a PURPOSE for wanting to do so…you had a REASON for wanting to do so…you had a “WHY!” Consequently, toward launching your journey of preparation toward becoming a classroom teacher, you were driven by your “WHY.” Everything you had to do to earn your degree, your license and to land the position was all rooted in your “WHY.” When you ultimately started teaching in your “dream job” in a challenging school environment, it was your “WHY” that woke you up every morning. You didn’t need an alarm. Your “WHY” got you up and going everyday! And throughout the day your “WHY” drove everything you said and everything you did. It was your essence in the classroom.
My question then is, “What happened to so many of us?” Why are you burning out? Why are you struggling to get up in the morning? Why is going to your school to greet your students in the morning sometimes a chore? I think I can answer this….YOU HAVE LOST YOUR “WHY.” I’ll say it again…YOU HAVE LOST YOUR “WHY.” When you lose your “WHY,” burnout is inevitable! Whatever those challenges you’re facing in your classroom, that’s precisely what the motivation was for you to enter teaching in the first place. You cannot afford to lose your “WHY.” Your “WHY” has got to be your reason for stepping into that classroom everyday. Your students cannot afford for you to lose your “WHY.” Your students cannot afford for you to become discouraged. Your students cannot afford for you to lose your energy, excitement and enthusiasm, because when you do, THEY LOSE...AND THEY ARE CONSEQUENTLY DOOMED! Yes, there can be issues with administration. Yes, there can be issues with colleagues. Yes, there can be issues with parents. Yes, there can be issues with the overall environment. But as you know, your students need you at your best. They need the best you daily.
So teacher, on those days when you feel that you can’t make it or those days when you question whether you want to stay in this profession, revert back to your “WHY.” Keep your “WHY” close to the vest. Never again detach yourself from it. Keep your focus on making your children great…nothing more and nothing less. Despite the challenges of the work and the extra responsibilities that you may not agree with or feel overwhelmed by, get them done nevertheless, but keep your focus, your energy, your excitement, your enthusiasm locked into your “WHY” because again, when you lose your “WHY,” burnout is inevitable!