3 Things Teachers Can Be Thankful For

thankful

While researching my book, Happy Teacher, I came across the work of Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology. Nobody has contributed more to the science of happiness. One simple exercise Seligman recommends to those wanting to improve their outlook on life is what he calls “Three Blessings.” He writes in his book Flourish:

“We think too much about what goes wrong and not enough about what goes right in our lives. Of course, sometimes it makes sense to analyze bad events so that we can learn from them and avoid them in the future. However, people tend to spend more time thinking about what is bad in life than is helpful. Worse, this focus on negative events sets us up for anxiety and depression. One way to keep this from happening is to get better at thinking about and savoring what went well.”

This is especially good advice for teachers, who are regularly faced with negative events, stress, and anxiety. Because of our tendency to focus on problems and deficits, we can easily start to view our jobs as a burden. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, many of us are stressed and exhausted and we wonder how we’re ever going to make it through the rest of the year.

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to step back and force ourselves to acknowledge the things we should be thankful for. The Three Blessings exercise is really simple. You just write down three positive things in your life. Since many teachers start to view their jobs negatively around this time of year, it might be beneficial for you to take a moment this Thanksgiving break and write down the things you appreciate about your job. Here are some to consider:

THE KIDS

No blowing smoke here. A lot of teachers, when you ask them about their jobs, will start their answers with, “I really like the students,” and then go on to complain about the things that make the job annoying.

  • “The kids are great, but administration doesn’t support us.”
  • “I love my students, but I’m working 10 hours a day. I’m beat!”
  • “The best part of my day is when I’m in my room with my students. It’s everything else that sucks.”
  • I love teaching the kids. I just wish government would butt out.”

Yeah, except.

Students can make or break your day. The reality is that the lion’s share of our day is spent with students. If you happen to have a great class, then you probably enjoy your job. If you have three or four kids who are really challenging, you’re probably stressed out and tired. If you have more than that, you’re probably on Indeed.com every night. All of that extra, outside-the-classroom stuff matters, but so do the kids sitting in front of you every day.

Too often, we tend to focus on those who are struggling. Poke your head into a teachers’ lounge and it is these students who are being talked about. Attend a staff meeting, and it’s the behavior of these students that is being discussed. In fact, at our last staff meeting, the principal shared the number of office referrals and suspensions we’ve had this year in the building. It was a high number, but the great majority of them came from 12 students, which represents less than 5% of the student population.

So here is one thing teachers can be thankful for: Most of our students, the vast majority in most schools, are doing their best. Most listen. Most follow the rules. Most get along with others. Most are respectful. Most try hard. The next time you get frustrated with your class, stop and count. How many are doing what they’re supposed to be and how many aren’t? Chances are you’ll find most of them are doing the right thing. It’s important to remind ourselves of that and be thankful for it.

THE PAY

I read this piece from the Atlantic this morning as I prepared to write this article. It includes some depressing information:

“While public-school teachers made $30 less per week (adjusted for inflation) in 2015 than in 1996, around $1,092 from $1,122, wages for college graduates rose from $1,292 to $1,416. Where other college-educated workers used to make just slightly more per week than teachers, they now earn significantly more.

“There are only five states where teachers make within 10 percent of what other college graduates earn, and there is not a single state where teachers earn the same or more than other people with four-year degrees.”

So if you want to feel underpaid and unappreciated, you’ve certainly got some numbers to support that point of view.

But I’d rather feel good about how much I’m paid, so I look at different numbers.

In America, most of us are rich. The median per-capita household income worldwide is about $3,000. If you have just $3,210 in assets, you are wealthier than half the world’s population. You’re better off than 3.5 billion people!

According to the National Education Association, the average first-year teacher in the United States earns $36,141. If you’re a woman–and three-quarters of teachers in the United States are–then that income puts you in the 67th percentile for all female earners in the US. If you’re a male first-year teacher earning the average, your income places you in the 48th percentile of all males. Regardless of your gender, the average first-year American teacher makes more money than 57% of all US workers. Open a phone book (if you can find one). Pick two people. Odds are you make more than one of them.

According to Glassdoor, the average US teacher salary is $47,760. That figure puts the average teacher in the top 0.35% of the richest people in the world. That’s right, teachers are one-percenters. Actually, we’re more like one-third of one-percenters. In other words, if you want to be rich, you can stop wishing. Because compared to almost everyone in the entire world, you already are.

FIND OUT WHERE YOUR SALARY RANKS HERE

Regardless of how much the people I went to college with now make, or how much other professionals with similar education levels make, or whether my pay has remained largely unchanged for five years, I make enough to live a comfortable life. I can afford the things I need, plus a lot of stuff I don’t. I’m thankful for that.

THE TIME OFF

I am never ashamed to tell people that one reason I became a teacher is because of the time off. To the best of my knowledge, I’m only getting one life to live and I want to spend as much of it as possible doing things I want to do. The more time I spend at work, the less time I have to pursue other interests. Teaching is one of the very few professions that offers a middle-class income and lots of free time, if you choose to take advantage of it.

So I am thankful that I have nine days off for Thanksgiving break and two weeks at Christmas and one week in April and two months in the summer. That allows me to spend time with my family, write, exercise, travel, read, and live a complete, well-rounded life. I’m thankful that I’m not going to spend the best years of my life in a cubicle. I’m thankful that I get to “retire” every summer. I’m thankful that I’m a teacher.

There. I feel better already.

When Teachers Should Be Selfish

selfish

Selfishness can destroy a school. We’ve all sat in meetings where a teacher complains how a new plan will negatively impact her, without giving any thought to how that plan may benefit the school and its students as a whole. We’ve seen selfish teachers hijack meetings with their own problems, step on egos, and take their metaphorical balls and go home when they don’t get their way. There are teachers who give not a single thought to how a schedule will affect others if that schedule inconveniences them. Most of the time, selfish teachers are malignant lesions that should be excised with prejudice.

But there is one thing that all teachers should be selfish about.

Teachers should be aggressively selfish about taking care of themselves.

A Crisis

We have a crisis in education. Eight percent of teachers leave every year, while across the border in Ontario, Canada, the rate is five points lower (Source). 17 percent of new teachers quit within five years, and the numbers are higher in high-poverty schools, where students are in desperate need of experienced educators (Source). Enrollment in teacher preparation programs has fallen 35 percent over the last five years (Source). One of the major causes of teachers running for the exits (or never considering the profession in the first place) is stress, which leads to exhaustion, which leads to burnout. Teachers report some of the highest stress levels of all professions in the U.S. (Source)

In some ways, teachers do this to themselves. Most teachers don’t want others to view them as selfish. They don’t want to think of themselves that way, either. We would rather be called ineffective than self-interested. We chose a profession that is all about giving and helping others. It’s one of the major reasons why our employers so easily take advantage of us, and why if districts want a teacher to attend an unpaid after-school event, show up for the school Relay for Life team on a Friday night, or do unpaid committee work, they need only to deploy the weapon of guilt. Teachers give and give and give in service to their students and their schools. They believe that doing so makes them better at their jobs.

When Selfishness is Generous

But these teachers have it backward. Vigilantly protecting your personal life by limiting the number of hours you work under what are regularly stressful conditions doesn’t make you selfish. It’s the exact opposite. Only when you take care of yourself are you able to give generously to others.

Teachers can’t help their students if they’re not at their best. It’s hard to be patient and kind when you’re stressed. It’s difficult to be observant when you’re not getting enough sleep. It’s a challenge to be energetic and on top of your game when you’re tired. When you exhaust yourself because you’re trying to do everything you can to help your students succeed, you’re actually sabotaging your own efforts.

Tired runners run slower times.
Tired spouses are cranky and short-tempered.
Tired drivers are almost as dangerous as drunk ones.
Tired engineers make disastrous mistakes.
Tired cops are more likely to use excessive force.
Tired doctors are more prone to errors.

Tired people perform worse in every area of life. Why should teachers be any different?

The best thing — the most selfless, giving thing–that teachers can do for their students is achieve a healthy work-life balance that doesn’t leave them stressed out and exhausted. They should go home shortly after the kids have left, and find ways to reduce the amount of work they take with them. They should detach from work and eat an early dinner, followed by exercise, relaxation, fun, or time with people they care about. They should get at least seven hours of sleep. Happy, well-rested teachers, like every other professional, are better at their jobs.

Give Yourself Permission to Be Selfish

You, the teacher, are the most important person in your classroom. It’s your presence that makes a difference. It’s your effectiveness that impacts student achievement more than any other in-school factor. You are the reason kids are either excited to come to school or feigning illness to stay home. Parents trust you with their children. Your district will, over the course of your career, invest millions of dollars in you. It’s your obligation to be at your best, and you can’t do that if you don’t take care of yourself.

So be selfish.

Stop killing yourself under the mistaken impression that working more, giving until there’s nothing left to give, and being constantly stressed and exhausted will make you a better teacher. Give yourself permission to relax, knowing that looking out for your health and happiness doesn’t just benefit you. It helps your students, your colleagues, your family, and your friends. It’s easier to help others when you have first helped yourself.

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Note: Many sleep-deprived people don’t realize they’re sleep-deprived. Here are 8 Unexpected Signs You’re Sleep-Deprived

You can read more about this topic in my book, Happy Teacher, and in my upcoming book, Exhausted, available in mid-October on Amazon.

Dear Teachers, Please Go Home

go home

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There is one thing every teacher can and should do if they want to be less tired and use their time at work more efficiently:

Quit working shortly after the kids have left. Go home.

There are many reasons teachers stay late at school. Some feel a sense of pride at being one of the last to leave. They believe their late nights reflect greater dedication to their students. They enjoy their reputation as a hard worker. Others feel guilty when they leave quickly. They keep working out of a misguided sense of obligation. They worry what others will think of them, fearing they’ll be thought of as lazy and apathetic. Many teachers act as if they have no choice in the matter. They’re on committees, run after-school clubs, or just have so much to do that they have to stay after work to get it done.

No matter the reason, all believe that staying late after school makes them a better teacher. But they are wrong.

Quitting, for lack of a better word, is good.

Quit for Your Health

I was jogging the other day when my back started to hurt. I tried to keep going, but it got worse. So I quit running and my back instantly felt better.

Restaurants have gone crazy with the size of their nachos.

I mean, will you look at this thing?

I get full about halfway through. So I quit eating them.

Smart people quit when their body tells them to. No one feels bad about it. But when it comes to work, we suddenly start believing we’re Superman and that no matter how tired we are we can and should just keep going.

Teaching is a unique job. One of the reasons it’s so exhausting is that we have to be on all day. To do the job properly, you need to be well-rested. You need to be enthusiastic and observant. Going home will help.

No matter when I get home, I want to maximize the time I have for myself.  On nights when I’m home by five o’clock, I’ve got six hours to do whatever I want. That’s a nice balance. Ten hours for preparing for work, commuting, and working, six for my personal life, and eight hours of sleep. Because I value my personal time, any day I get home late leads to a late night and a lack of sleep.

Getting home earlier also means you can eat earlier. Your body will have longer to digest dinner before you go to bed, and eating early gives the food enough time to settle so you can exercise without discomfort.

Quit to Be a Better Teacher

A lot of teachers stay after school because they have work to do, but they’ve chosen the worst possible time to get it done. By the end of the day your willpower is exhausted. Willpower is limited, and once it’s gone only eating and sleep can restore it. Willpower is what you need to make yourself check papers, read essays, plan lessons, and respond tactfully to emails. A lack of willpower means your after-school efforts are going to be inefficient. You’ll be more easily distracted, more tempted to check Facebook or gossip with colleagues, and more likely to head to the lounge to eat whatever you can find because your body needs fuel.

Parkinson’s Law is also working against you. It states that work will expand to fill the available time. I wrote and published my first two books, The Teacher’s Guide to Weight Loss and Happy Teacher in two months each. I was able to do that because that’s how long I gave myself to complete them. Because of the topic of my next book, I planned an October release. I started working on it in May. The book is taking me longer because I gave myself more time to do it, so many days I don’t write much and on some days I don’t work on it at all (I write long blog posts like this one instead).

This is Parkinson’s Law at work, and it will strike you as you sit at your desk after school. Instead of working until you complete a certain amount of work, give yourself 30 minutes. You’ll be more focused, your work will be of better quality, you’ll cut out any distractions or cute but unnecessary extras, and you’ll get it finished. Give yourself less time, and you’ll get more done.

Quit to Be a Better Person

Psychologists discovered something they call the morning morality effect. Basically, you’re a better person in the morning. Your body needs glucose for pretty much everything, including willpower and decision-making. Since teachers expend a lot of willpower and make a ton of decisions, we burn through glucose pretty fast. When it runs out we’re tired, cranky, impatient, have stronger cravings for sweets and other junk food, and we experience stronger emotions. All of which lead to bad decisions. The morning morality effect explains why you’re more likely to ruin your diet at night than in the morning, and why people are more likely to commit immoral acts like lying, cheating, and stealing in the afternoon. School is not a place you want to be when you’re more likely to make bad decisions. Go home.

Quit Because Science Says To

Many teachers reading this will still stay after school because they believe it’s the only way to be effective at their jobs. They’ve fallen victim to the culture of overwork. So a fair question to ask is:  Do longer hours make you more productive?

The research is clear. More work doesn’t equal more output. In one study, managers couldn’t tell the difference between employees who worked 80-hour weeks and those who just pretended to (which actually sounds worse). Numerous studies have shown that overwork leads to stress that causes health issues, sleep deprivation, depression, heart disease, memory loss, and greater alcoholic intake. Researchers have also found that working too much impairs your abilities to communicate, make judgments, read others’ nonverbal language, and modulate your emotions.

Also, your cat will miss you.

So go home. Eat dinner. Hit the gym. Kiss your spouse. Watch Netflix. Play Uno with your kids. Leave work at work. Detach. Live your life. And when you’re tempted to choose more work over all those things, remember this Arianna Huffington quote:

“Have you noticed that when we die, our eulogies celebrate our lives very differently from the way society defines success?”

You can read more here: Stop Working More Than 40 Hours a Week.

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Related Content:

Why American Teachers Should Work Less

Stop Complaining About Your Teacher Salary If You’re Working for Free

Why Teachers Are So Tired

 

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As a Teacher, You Need to Appreciate the Daily Work You Do

Guest Post by Alice Clarke

Alice Clarke is an experienced and passionate teacher who has dedicated more than 3 years of her life to inspiring young minds in the classroom. Today, Alice likes to write about innovative educational approaches, the struggles that teachers face and ways to make their work much more enjoyable.

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For many teachers, self-worth and value come from the appreciation that they get from students. While this is a great and important form of validation, self-appreciation can go even further.

The job of a teacher is a really challenging one – it involves a lot of quick thinking, experimentation with different approaches and compassion. This is why, as a professional involved in education, you need to reach some level of self-appreciation.

Most professionals out there crave at least a little bit of recognition for the work that they do. Teachers are far from an exception. If you want to feel inspired as a teacher, you have to start giving yourself the kudos that you deserve. Here are a few simple ways to introduce the change in your life.

Build Your Self Confidence

The first and probably the most important thing to do is to build your self-confidence. Not only will you feel a lot more satisfied with the work that you do, you’re also going to act as a role model for kids who doubt themselves and their abilities.

Be the thing that you want to inspire in your students. Such a change could be difficult at first. So many teachers feel under-appreciated and pressured by the school administration, by parents and even by their students. Still, you have to recognize the importance of the work that you do and the manner in which it can shape up the life of a young individual.

Children are watching you all the time. They’re incredibly intuitive and perceptive. Even if you think that low confidence isn’t showing, children have a way of picking up such vibes.

This is one of the main reasons why you have to understand how crucial your role in their lives is. Celebrate every single success and recognize your role in it. If you take pride in your accomplishments, you will also make it easier for others to respect and honor you.

The Positive Impact of Small Gifts

Sometimes, we all need a tangible object to stand as a token of appreciation. Getting cards and small gifts from students is definitely that all teachers adore. Giving yourself little presents is another excellent idea that you can practice to boost self-appreciation. Once the inner change begins, chances are that students will also take notice and their attitude will change.

A gift doesn’t have to be expensive or even bought. You can write about the things that make you feel great at the end of the work week. “Collecting” such memories and getting to relive them in the future can be tremendously inspiring.

Accept responsibility for the successes of your students. True, they need the potential to learn and excel academically. It is you, however, who has inspired them and guided talented kids in the right direction.

Finding access to better teaching supplies is another great way to increase your level of self-appreciation and creativity. Negotiating such challenges with the administration can be notoriously difficult but the outcome will definitely justify the effort.

Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Every school has at least one stellar teacher – a person that kids adore, that gets along well with everyone and that seems to be out of this world. If you compare yourself to this person, chances are that you’ll never feel the level of self-appreciation that you deserve.

Stop comparing yourself to others. Once you do, you will recognize the merits of your professional approach.

Your teaching style is unique. You’re not the young educator who gets along effortlessly with kids and who has adopted all of these cool, hip hi-tech techniques. You can accomplish a goal in your own way, which is something to celebrate.

There’s no need to think about how others are doing it. Focus on your own methodology and observe the response of students to it. Chances are that you’re getting much better results than you would have ever expected.

Try New Things

While sticking to your own teaching style is definitely a good idea, you shouldn’t be afraid of experimentation.

Learning new things and pushing yourself a little bit further every single time will show you the amazing professional potential that’s hidden inside you. We are created to learn throughout our lives. While your methodology could be highly effective, chances are that the world of education offers many new and amazing techniques to try.

Keeping your work exciting and fresh is probably the best way to refrain from getting jaded. Even the most devoted individuals will experience professional fatigue every now and then. When the routine and boredom set in, the mission of a teacher will suffer.

Be brave, be bold, and do new things that both you and your students will enjoy. Don’t be afraid to push the envelope. Some of these experiments will potentially fail but at least you’ve tried. Attempting something new can give you amazing ideas to broaden your horizon, work better with kids and get satisfaction out of the work that you do every single day.

Validation comes from the inside. While getting recognition from others feels great, it may be a long time before you are thoroughly appreciated for the work that you do. This is why you have to work towards recognizing your professional self-worth. As a humble teacher, you may find the task to be daunting at first. With the passage of time, however, you will find out that self-appreciation opens new opportunities and it ultimately makes you a better teacher.

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Related Content:

20 Free Ways to Recognize Teachers

The Best Way to Thank Your Child’s Teacher

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The Most Offensive F-Word in Education

 

I was speaking with a teacher about the new reading program her district adopted. She lamented that administration had told the teachers, in no uncertain terms, that the program was to be implemented with strict “fidelity.” She said the word with unmistakable disdain. Like how most people say, “phlegm.” It’s no wonder. There isn’t a teacher in the world that likes the word fidelity. It’s the most offensive F-word in education, and for damn good reason.

The reason administrators demand fidelity is blatantly obvious but never admitted. Ask your curriculum director why you can’t supplement when you see the need, and you’ll be lied to. He’ll prattle on about a “guaranteed and viable curriculum” and how it’s “research-based” and “Board-approved.” He’ll tell you it’s Common Core aligned.

All nonsense.

The real reason districts demand fidelity is they don’t trust their teachers. They don’t respect their abilities, dedication, or decision-making. They believe that, left to their own devices, teachers will ignore the standards, use ineffective practices, and, I don’t know, run around with their pants around their ankles while singing Neil Diamond songs. Put simply, when a district tells you to teach with fidelity and never supplement based on your observations and analyses of student outcomes, it’s sending a clear message that they don’t view you as a professional.

Such a district’s opinion of you is so low it’s willing to put the education of your students in the hands of a huge corporation, whose only motive is profit, ahead of you. You might think that such unbending faith is the result of compelling evidence of a program’s efficacy. You’d be wrong. Johns Hopkins researchers found that districts primarily rely on piloting and peer recommendation when selecting new programs, not evidence that it actually leads to higher student achievement.


But we don’t need rigorous research to tell us what is blindingly self-evident: If there were a program that consistently raised test scores, every school would be using it. The fact that neighboring districts tell their teachers to implement two different programs with fidelity is all we need to recognize the folly of placing unfaltering trust in such programs.

Fidelity does real damage. It destroys teacher morale. New teachers quickly learn that they won’t be permitted to use much of what they just learned in college. Skilled teachers become exasperated at being micromanaged and distrusted. All teachers resent the loss of autonomy. It’s bad for teachers, and it’s also bad for districts. Autonomy is positively associated with teacher job satisfaction. Research shows that when teachers perceive a loss of autonomy they are more likely to leave their positions. Demanding fidelity leads to resentful employees, greater instability, and higher costs associated with attrition.

The worst thing about fidelity is that it harms kids. A student who struggles to read is stuck with text they can’t access. A student who can’t pass the grade level test is consigned to failure for nine straight months. A program that doesn’t work must be taught the entire year. And those students must spend every day with a teacher who is demoralized, frustrated, and feeling like a failure while that teacher is simultaneously hamstrung from making the very changes that would lead to improved student performance and higher personal well-being.

Perhaps the most galling aspect of being told to implement a program with fidelity is that teachers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If a teacher judges halfway through the year that the program is ineffective and decides to break from it to help students do better, they risk getting reprimanded (or worse) for insubordination.

If teachers do as they’re instructed — if they play the good soldier and follow their marching orders– but their students don’t succeed, you can bet that the people who decided fidelity was such a good idea won’t be falling on their swords. They will not accept responsibility. They won’t be writing to the Board and explaining that teachers really shouldn’t be held accountable for state test scores because all they did was what they were told to do. They won’t offer to resign from their jobs if a teacher can be scapegoated instead.

The irony of all this is that if a teacher pledged strict fidelity to an unproven program, every administrator would think her lazy and incompetent. Imagine such a conversation:

Admin: How do you assess your students?
Teacher: I give the test included in the program.

Admin: Do those tests give you good information? Do they help inform your instruction?
Teacher: Doesn’t matter. That’s what I’m using. All year. Even with kids that can’t read it. And it doesn’t matter if the tests inform instruction, because I’m just going to open the book and teach what it says to teach anyway.

Admin: What will you do to address the needs of learners who struggle with the content?
Teacher: Probably not much. I’ll look in the program to see if it offers anything that might help those students, but if not, I’m not going to pull from any other resources or use evidence-based interventions unless they’re included in the program.

Admin: What will you do if the assessments indicate that students aren’t learning the content; that your instruction isn’t working?
Teacher: Keep going! I’m certainly not going to investigate other ways of teaching. I’m just going to stick with the program.

Admin: It appears that this program to which you’re so devoted is relatively new. There haven’t been any studies done to determine its effectiveness. Doesn’t that give you pause?
Teacher: First of all, there was a study done.

Admin: Paid for by the company that created the program.
Teacher: Nevertheless. There was a study. Also, it’s Common Core aligned.

Admin: Well, they say it is. In bold colors on the cover of every book. But that doesn’t mean it actually–
Teacher: Yes it does (puts fingers in ears and hums).

So what’s a teacher to do? What they’ve always done when their bosses make bad decisions. Nod their heads, pretend they don’t mind being treated like a cog in a machine, swallow, once again, that bitter taste of disrespect, and then do what’s best for students and hope they don’t get busted.

If you get fired for doing that, at least you can hold your head high, knowing you did what was best for kids. It beats getting fired for blindly following dumb mandates made by people who don’t even have enough respect for the professionals they’ve hired to let them do their jobs.

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Tell us your fidelity horror stories, and feel free to leave other offensive words in the comments.

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Other articles to check out:

Why Student Disrespect Shouldn’t Bother You

Those Whiny Teachers

Why Bad Teachers Are Hard to Find

 

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