2.6 It’s November. Do you know where your energy is?
We had just completed a summer of pre-service training, and a speaker had been invited to congratulate us and wish us well in our new teaching jobs. She began by asking how we felt, and we responded with overwhelming enthusiasm. We felt energized! We were becoming teachers! We were optimistic, determined and eager to start changing the world!
I expected her to ride our wave of emotion. Instead, she smiled, waited for the noise to die down and then spoke very softly. “I wish I could bottle up some of your energy now and store it for a few months,” she told us. “If I could, I would mail it to you — in November.”
Why had she picked that month?
Maybe she knew something about the first year of teaching.
By November, I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. Most of the ideals I started out with had become fuzzy images somewhere in my sleep-deprived, over-worked brain. They were there — somewhere — but I couldn’t think about them. I had abandoned my visions of grandeur and entered into survival mode. Maybe some of you can relate.
If so, what do you do? How do you find energy reserves midway through the year when you have already tapped every emotional resource available? How do you find the energy to focus on teaching when you’re wondering if you’re going to survive?
Six ways to sustain your energy
During my first few years, I discovered several means of sustaining my energy level. Here are the top six.
Go easy on yourself.
This year is not going to be perfect. Accept that now, and recognize that your classroom doesn’t have to be perfect to make a difference in the life of a student. Do the best you can. You are doing valuable work in your classroom, even though some of the kinks may not get worked out this year.
Solve a management issue.
Pick one management issue that is really draining your energy, and create a classroom procedure to address it. If you become overwhelmed by everything, then just pick one thing and improve it. Addressing it will allow you to redirect the energy consumed by that issue.
In addition, making progress on that matter will give you confidence that things can get better in other areas and provide a foothold in the mountain of management issues over which we are all trying to climb.
Invest energy at the beginning of class.
This will save you energy the rest of the day. You may be exhausted, and it is tempting to conserve your energy during that first few minutes while students are entering the room or while you are introducing the agenda. Don’t do it!
The first five minutes set the tone for the entire class period. Greet them eagerly, even if you don’t feel like it. Convey enthusiasm about the lesson at its outset, even if you are beaten down or tired. Getting students started in the right direction early means you have to spend less effort redirecting them later. In the long run, you’ll have more energy to deposit in your reserves.
Say “no” to something at school. It’s November. People at school have gotten to know you, and they’ll begin asking you to do everything — including sponsoring activities, coaching teams, serving on committees or using your planning period to cover a class. Be honest with yourself, and with your colleagues, about whether or not you can do those things right now. Help out when you can (to build relationships with colleagues and to become part of the community), but know that you can’t do it all.
One nice way to say it is: “I really wish I could, but I have a few students and classroom projects that really need my full attention right now.” Remember, sometimes saying no to an request is the best way to say yes to yourself and your students. And speaking of saying yes…
Say “yes” to something outside of school. Do whatever energizes you. It could be as small as allowing yourself a nap one afternoon (with your cell phone turned off!) or as big as making fun plans for the weekend or winter break. Give yourself some time away from the school building. Your classroom will survive, and the survival of your sanity may depend on it!
Celebrate your successes.
It is easy to focus on what went wrong during the day, but pay attention to the good moments too. One of the great things about teaching is that you have thousands of small opportunities to connect with students, even when the big things seem out of control. So tell a student you are impressed with something about her, or simply let a student know that you really enjoy having him in class. Then let yourself celebrate the fact that you were a bright spot in the day of that individual. Let the memory of that moment become a bright spot for you as well.
Let me end with a plea that you take care of yourself for two reasons — you are important, it’s the only way you’ll be in any shape to take care of your students. It’s November. You may be exhausted. Like that speaker, I wish I could package summer energy and send it to educators everywhere. In lieu of that, I hope these tips will help you make choices that help you rejuvenate, discovering energy within your classroom and within yourself.