Why bright shiny things are not the answer
The new school year has started and most people here in Australia are a week or more into their new class. I remember when I was first teaching and every year I would imagine how it was going to be when the next batch of shiny eyed cherubs landed in my room. I would spend hours programming, preparing and trying to ‘up the anti’ on what was happening in my room. Inevitably I exhausted myself before school even started. And then of course, what came from that was actually not good. Because I had gone from being highly excited, optimistic and motivated to crashing down amongst the weight of all the complicated ‘stuff’ that I had planned for my students. Sound familiar?
If you are feeling less than prepared right now, it could be because
- You are still tired from 2020
- You had things worked out with last year’s students but your new students are at a different point and need something different
- You are teaching a new grade and what you imagined was going to work like a charm, just isn’t.
- You have misjudged some aspect of your programming.
- You have arrived at a new school and are figuring out where you fit, what the school wants from you and how to reconcile your expectations with the reality of your new workplace.
- You are an early career teacher worried that you are going to mess it all up.
So what do we do when we find ourselves in the middle of a maze? Everyone reaches this point when we realise that things are not what we thought they were going to be. We think, “Am I really cut out to be a teacher?” or “Do I really want to do this again?” or “Everyone else seems to have it all together. They are sharing resources and planning on Facebook and, in the staffroom, they talk about how they are going to go hiking this weekend because they have everything worked out.” Meanwhile you are in your room feeling like a complete fraud.
When we find ourselves in a position of genuinely doubting our own intelligence. Of doubting that we have what it takes to achieve the ambitious goals we have set out for ourselves and our students, it’s really tempting to get more complicated. When we feel stuck, it’s common to go out and try and find something bright and shiny and new. To go looking for that magic thing that will make everything better. But invariably what we end up doing is overcomplicating our programs, our classroom and our thinking.
So I want to share some suggestions for you this week. My number one hot tip is that when you feel like you are suck, keep it simple. Don’t try and find something new to implement. Don’t spend hours trawling your subscription teacher resource site or Teachers Pay Teachers looking for the magic bullet that will make everything better. I can tell you from experience, it does not exist.
The way that you get over the ‘sucky’ feeling of “I can not possibly be trusted with these children, what were they thinking when they hired me?” is by reflecting on what you already have, what your goals are for your students and how can you make those goals more accessible to the children. We need to get the simple stuff right first. How can you pull back? How can you adjust? How can you refine repeatable instructional routines to lead your students to the skills and knowledge you aiming to build? How can you respond to the developmental and emotional needs of students? I guarantee that if you ask yourself "What is is that my students need from me right now?" you will get a much better result that focusing on how you can be the perfect science of reading teacher.
If you are already feeling exhausted, give yourself permission to keep it simple. I’m not saying dumb down. I’m not saying spend every afternoon colouring in and watching movies, but instead focus on what matters.
Action to get out of a slump
- Small, positive actions get you on the path to where you want to go. Repeat and refine your routines over and over until you and your students have some fluency in working with them.
- Evaluate your program. Physically get out your program with three different coloured highlighters.
Green – highlight the things that are already working and children are responding to in green.
Orange – Highlight the things that you can see potential in, but perhaps need some tweaking, in orange. This is where your focus will be.
Pink/red – Highlight the things that you have been overambitious in (either in student readiness, timetable capacity, your own time to prepare) in red. Just don’t do them. You might revisit them next term, but for now, they are not on your radar. Also include things in this category that are really creativity projects for you and might not actually meet the needs of your students right now (Think, completely creating a yearly planner from scratch or reworking all of your classroom resources to match the term's theme).
- Shine a spotlight on both you and your students’ successes. When we set ambitious goals and targets, it can feel like an enormous mountain to climb. Break the journey up into small steps and remember to celebrate along the way. Use your data as feedback and base your decisions about how 'worthy' you are in that rather than the doubting whispers in the back of your brain.
Whether you are at the start of your school year or in the 2nd half, unslumping yourself is not easily done (Thanks Doctor Seuss). Please know that you aren’t alone in the way that you feel. Reaching a point of ‘I don’t want to do this’ or ‘it’s not what I thought and it feels hard’ is a perfectly natural part of learning. You might have been a teacher for 16 years but every class that lands in front of you requires you to adjust, respond and learn.
To brighten your day and keep you on track I have created some motivational posters for your classroom, staffroom or to have as your phone wallpaper. You can download them below.
You can also find a network of likeminded teachers committed to action in my new Facebook Group 'On the Science of Reading Bus' here (remember to answer ALL the questions and agree to the group rules)