The hustle and bustle within my classroom’s four walls can get quite chaotic at times; but as a teacher I wouldn’t change it for anything. But when the children leave and that strange, yet calming silence creeps up on me, it leaves me a few, rare minutes for reflection, for stepping back from the noise and the neediness, and getting some perspective on my life as an educator. I love this work, but how do I sustain this pace, this energy, this passion?
We rarely get enough time for it, but reflection is a critical part of our profession. It not only makes us better educators, but more well-rounded individuals. Admittedly, there can be a dark side to these meditations for us teachers. Sometimes, in the silence, feelings of isolation and inadequacy can creep in. Is it just me, or are we all practiced experts at forming delusions of being “the only one” struggling with the daily onslaught of challenges: like the fear of deadlines paralyzing our every move, or trying to be social but wondering “how much is too much?” I really think that if you’ve felt like this, so have the rest of your colleagues!
So how do we get out of our personal echo chambers of worry and isolation? How about a friend? Have you ever just felt like you needed a friend? Yes? I was there once, too. Our students are our priority, but our own mental health has to trump all else. (Remember, our students will benefit from our investment in mental health!) I think that an investment in friendship is an important investment for our individual and professional health, and I want to invite you to think about that.
So please allow me to introduce the importance of friendship, the powerful potential of mentorships, and the flat out satisfaction that comes with sincere companionships. We want these things; we need these things. Here are 5 reasons you NEED TO leave your comfort zone this school year and have some conversations aimed at creating at least one successful relationship!
- If you are a new, young teacher, it can be tough to fit in.
How much work is too much? How many times should I volunteer? Do I attend outside of school outings with others? I like to describe myself as an introverted extrovert (those of you who relate know exactly what I’m saying!). I enjoy being social and in the company of others, but we’ve all been in those situations where everyone else is among their clique, and there you are, trying your best to mesh, but totally aware it’s time to high tail it out of there.
Nevertheless, you need to make an effort. Show. Your. Face. I can’t stress that enough – by performing simple acts of kindness, or just by acting as an empathetic listener, you WILL be recognized, and that is the best way to slowly integrate yourself into the crowd. Give it time; I’m still warming up myself!
- As much as you may feel like it, you are not alone.
As a young teacher reflecting on our world of social media, I know it can build us up and give us wonderful ideas, but it can also tear us down within a fraction of a minute. How is everyone so perfect? How do they have that much funding for all of these products? When do they have all this time to dedicate to the beautiful aesthetics of everything they do? I’m just trying to teach the curriculum and do my job.
Don’t get stuck here. Stop relying on ONLY yourself! Just look at the staff directory; I guarantee you that you are not the only member of the faculty at your school! Go visit a few classrooms, talk to others in your subject area for content-based ideas, talk to others to integrate cross curricular ideas into your room, and please, talk to others who share the same students. Do you know how many others are feeling this way, but are too afraid to speak up? If you seek, you shall find a companion who is feeling the same way. It all starts with a simple, but ever-so-brave, “hey, I have a question!”
- Everyone can use a little help sometimes, so ASK FOR IT.
As a second year teacher, I tried to log as much as I could of what I did the prior year. Through all of my lesson plans, weekly reflections, and my ten million mental notes, I am fully aware there are areas in which I can significantly improve. Sure, I can get ideas from social media and my own musings, but sometimes it’s best to drink in the wisdom of others. Whether it be questions about how to enhance first week material, implementing mid-year imperative concepts that I may have struggled with, or completing essential legal documentation: ASK without hesitation, ASK for a second opinion, and ASK again! It’s okay to ask for help, you do not and will not ever know everything, and neither will your colleagues! Extending a hand is one of the most pure and kind gestures one can perform, and you will find that many will take pleasure in sharing their wisdom.
- Mentoring helps the mentor, too.
You may ask yourself, how could I possibly help my mentor? How can I help someone who has so much more experience than me? Being raised in the digital age, we younger educators do have an advantage – we can help seasoned teachers with new programs, new ideas, and insight on ways this generation of students can be stimulated through more individualized, exciting approaches. I’ll never forget, at the end of my first year, my mentor shared with me how I had helped her and taught her throughout the year. Just our simple, weekly meetings, which began as a means to address school-only material, quickly led to talks about life and how we view all kindsof situations. Looking up to her so much throughout my first crucial year is something I am proud to admit. This experience leads me to tell you that friendship truly knows no age or level of experience; rather it stems from the raw honesty and kindness that you share with others almost effortlessly.
- We all need someone to laugh, cry, and vent with.
I’ve learned that sometimes, during our breaks we need to run into that one person’s room to vent about school-related stuff. When you close the door, you can just exhale and let it out. Keeping all of that frustration bottled up can lead to premature teacher burnout. So make it easier on yourself and give yourself a chance at career longevity: do yourself a favor, and find a friend! Beyond that, you just need to cross over into someone else’s room and forget about school for a few minutes, talk about life – the good, the bad, the funny…everyone has a life outside of school (believe it or not!) and you need to stay connected to your whole self while you are at school.
I’ve interacted with many people in my field, but there are typically a select few who truly stick by your side. They contact you during the summer, they can’t wait for girls’ nights, they answer those late night texts when you’re up planning, and they’ll always be there to print your last minute sub plans.
5 days a week, 180 school days, and sleepless nights – you need someone to bring you back to earth. Friends are true treasures and they’re important to have for all aspects of life. Go knock on a door, say hello in the copy room; always extend a hand, because you never know what rewards may come – maybe it’s just a simple smile to a co-worker, or maybe it’s a lifelong friend who was thankful you said “hi” on that rainy morning when they needed it the most.
- Casey Downie