Teaching on a Full Tank

ID-100294740 (1) copy.jpgIn the recent days after my grandfather’s passing, I have been in constant reflection on what it takes to be a teacher.  I walk into school each day, but it has been with a little less spark than I had felt prior to his passing.  The fire that I usually emote in the classroom has been lacking.  My energy comes and goes and I am left to the feeling that there is something missing in the work that I do.  

Teaching more than most other professions is interwoven into the fabric of our emotions who we are.  When our energy and emotion is being placed somewhere else, we are left with less of ourselves to give the students that we teach.  I have equated it to a fuel gauge.  As the energy from ourselves is being sapped out of us from any number of things, we can actually feel ourselves becoming less powerful and able to do the level of work that we expect from ourselves.  Let the fuel gauge turn to empty and we find ourselves becoming counterproductive and of little use to help others— namely our students.  When we feel that gauge begin to dip, it is time to find the time and space to allow ourselves to recharge.  

In the early years of my career, I allowed myself to continually let my gauge dip to empty and allowed the gauge to stay there.  I was convinced that no matter what I was feeling, I needed to continue to spend countless hours immersed in the never ending list of things on my to-do list.  Suffice it to say— I was dangerously wrong.  By continuing to spin my gears in a never ending cycle of work, I was only digging myself into a rut and embarking on burnout.  At the time, I thought that it would have been counterproductive to spend less time working and more time on myself when I found myself dipping into the red zone. I now know that the only way that I can truly be the person that I want to be for my students is to allow myself the ability to recharge.

Not Everything Needs to Be Done Today

While I was writing this heading, I felt myself begin to cringe.  There is something that has been been instilled in me that makes it difficult for me to be OK with not working until everything I want to do is done.  I have inherited the work ethic of the many who came before me including my grandfather.  To this day I cannot find enough time in the day to accomplish everything that I think that I need to get done.  I have allowed myself to become more comfortable with leaving some of the things that aren’t high priority for another day.  As I write this, I am still grappling with the many things that I need to do between now and the time that I wake up tomorrow.  I know that I will not be able to get all of it done and I have to be alright with it.  

As teachers we set out to perform a magnanimous task— inspiring and caring for the youth of America.  With this power comes an infinite amount of responsibility.  Between lesson planning, grading, contacting parents and engaging in the many other activities, we are left to wonder how we could ever get it all done in a day.  The truthful answer to this question is: we can’t.  At least we can’t get it all done and remain mentally sound.  Once we are honest with ourselves in coming to this realization, a lot of the pressure to complete the endless amount of work goes away.  By categorical list of things that need to get done and separating them according to their urgency, we can use our efforts more practically and exert our energy in the places of highest importance.  Think about the things that absolutely need to get done in order for your classroom to function, the things that you would like to get done, and those things that are would be nice to get done but are not necessary.  Use the list as a guide to help you work focus your energy and make your work more efficient.  Remember: there isn’t one right solution for everyone.  Be creative and be honest then adjust from there.

Make Space for Yourself

For the many who have been lit ablaze with the passion for educating our youth, know this: we have to make space for ourselves in order to make space for our students.  One of the things that I have gotten quite good at over the years is adding more things my plate.  I have become quite efficient at adding one thing after another in the endless quest for excellence.  The thing that I have always realized is that I need to make time for myself to do the things I love.  Those who know me, know that I am passionate about the outdoors.  Although I am very comfortable around and energized by people, I need some time to myself so that I can put everything into perspective.  I make it a point to try my best to devote at least one day a week to something other than my work.  Although work sometimes creeps into these days, I make sure that when it does I am leaving time for myself during the day to unwind and relax.

Although many of us can’t afford to take a full day out of their lives to devote entirely to themselves, we should make sure that we cut out time during the weeks to devote to doing the things that we love and spending time with the people we love.  We all love to be of service to our learners, but we must ask ourselves: “What are the things that make us tick outside of the classroom?”  If we do not give ourselves space to do these things, then we are diminishing the amount of ourselves that we have to give to our students.  We cannot expect ourselves to be the energetic and inspiring people that our students need us to be unless we take the time energize and recharge.  We deserve it and our students deserve it.

Positive Words=Positive Works

Jim Rohn said: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”  This is a statement that turns out to be quite true.  Look around at the people you spend the most time with during your day.  Although we are our own people, we naturally begin to take on some of the characteristics of the crowd that we surround ourselves with.  If the people in our groups find a way to speak and portray positivity, then we are more likely to take on these same characteristics.  The converse is true.  If we surround ourselves with people who like to complain rather than provide solutions, we might find ourselves slipping into the same mindset.  Be cautious of who you choose to spend your time with.  These are the people that can either bring light to trying times or perpetuate the negative side of a situation.

While at church, I was reminded that we positive thoughts create positives words and lead to positive actions.  Whatever it is that we are trying to accomplish, we must first believe that we are able to accomplish it.  If we do not believe that we are capable of accomplishing our goals, who will?  As I often remind my students: “whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.”  The greatest works have been done by people who carried themselves with a positive mind and believed that things that others thought impossible could be accomplished.  Match the positivity with patience and persistence then you are on your way to making brilliant things happen.

Final Thoughts

To teach on a full tank is to be in concert with our own truths and to allow ourselves the time and space to recharge.  It is the only way that we can truly be of service to the people that we serve— our students.  We owe it to ourselves and to our students to do the things necessary to bring the best of ourselves to the places in which we teach.  


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