Thursday, June 8, 2017

5 Survival Tips for a ROUGH School Year

Well, I'll admit. It was a difficult year for me. Full of challenges, new and old. But after 31 years of teaching, I know that although it might be a rough school year, I have the opportunity to reflect and grow from the experiences from the year... or I can pass on the blame. (I guess that's always an option, but may not be the most productive one.)

So as I look back on this past school year, I have identified some survival tips that have helped me get through some of those hard times. Because everyone's difficulties are different, I have listed tips that can be generalized to many situations. I hope they help you!


1. Keep it Real. There is no such thing as a perfect teacher or perfect classroom.


All teachers have their struggles. If you subscribe to other teachers' Facebook, Instagram or blogs, you often just see their best. Their best projects, their best student products, and their near perfect classroom set ups. It's similar to fashion magazines. We are led to believe that the women featured in these articles are always skinny, blemish-free and perfect. So depressing. Just keep in mind that you are seeing them at their airbrushed best. You can get wonderful ideas from these magazine articles and similarly, online teaching posts. I often say to myself, why didn't I think of that?? I learn so much from their innovative ideas. These outstanding teachers are to be admired for their successes, but remember that NO WAY are they that perfect all the time. Just like the rest of us, they make mistakes. There are days when they cry in the car on the way home. There are lessons that don't go as planned. And there are even days when they ask, "What did I get myself into?" Know this is normal for all good teachers who care. Keep it real. Brush yourself off and work to make it better.


2. Focus on what you can control and on what is already working.


Be solution-oriented, not a whiner.  We all "vent" now and then to keep our sanity, but the best teachers move on and and work to improve the situation. They seek out solutions for what they can control. If they can't control it, they figure out how to work around it. Think about the professionals you most respect in your building. I would imagine they are positive go-getters who are solution-oriented. I doubt they waste time on gossip or frequent complaining. They may not have all the answers, but they work hard to find them.


Focus on what has worked. What engages your students? Who works well with whom?  Are there rewards that your students will work toward? Make a deal with your students that you can live with. Write the goal on the board and remind them daily. Have them earn a letter of the goal word each time they meet the goal. As always, be consistent with giving letters. Then celebrate when they reach the goal. Send positive notes home. Use individual behavior plans for students who need more direction. You can find some great positive notes and editable behavior plans in my Behavior Management Pack.




3. Seek out allies who will help you solve problems.

Our job is difficult. Make your life easier by sharing issues and
collaborating with others. 2 or more heads are better than one, and when you need solutions, some of the best ideas come through collaboration. But choose your comrades wisely. I am very fortunate to have a productive team that is supportive and works hard to solve problems. But if the team you meet with daily is not as supportive or productive as you would like, seek out others in your building you can trust to be positive and solution-oriented. I had a friend in our building like that for a number of years before she selfishly retired. :)  I could always bounce ideas off Debbie and she listened. She didn't let me whine too long. Just enough. Then she redirected our conversation on a more productive path and soon I had the beginnings of a solution. I love and miss that lady! Now I feel I have taken on Debbie's role with some people in our building, but I still seek out those individuals who are "Debbie-like." Be like Debbie or find yourself a Debbie! (Debbie and I still meet for lunch once in awhile and I treasure that time with her!)
Above: Not the best picture of my incredible team, but there they are. I was using a selfie-stick that I got as a gift from a student. I need to work on my selfies. LOL (I'll have to find a picture of Debbie...You would love her too!)


4. Communicate about issues early on.


Don't wait until problems escalate. Communicate with the people involved early on.

If there are issues with a student, communicate right away with parents. Keep that line of communication open whether it is through email, notes, phone calls or face to face after school. A wise person once told me that parents believe the first person who describes the incident. Be the first person. The student's story may not jive with yours and you want your version to be heard and understood first. Let them know you are looking for solutions and not just complaining or expecting them to solve it. Be clear that you want to work with them to help their child succeed. Your words and meanings behind those words matter. Document all communications with parents. Keep a piece of paper in each student file where you can jot a quick note including date, form of communication and content of conversation. Print off and keep all email correspondence.

Communicate those student issues with resource people in your building. Don't be afraid to let the principal or assistant principal know what is going on and what interventions you have already tried. Good administrators appreciate teachers reaching out to those who can assist. It is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign that you are willing to go above and beyond to help a student succeed. I like to email my concerns and cc other resource people (counselor, teammates, or anyone else who may need to know). You may have future issues with the student and now you have documentation and proof of reaching out to others. You can't get support if no one knows you are having issues. Start the RTI process early on if needed.


5. Stay positive and take care of YOU!

A positive attitude can go a long way. I know. It's hard sometimes. But your students can sense when you are unhappy or stressed. Their behaviors often reflect your mood, so try not to make things worse with a sour attitude. Choose positive actions that you know work. Like having well thought-out plans to keep the day moving smoothly. We all know that works. Choose activities that are upbeat and keep students engaged. Remember why you are there and why you keep going back. You are making a difference. Your students need you and you care about them. They are learning from you and they are better because of you. 

Take time for you. I try very hard to keep work at school and not drag it home with me. I used to take it all home. Everyday I had a mountain of work. I have learned over the years that this was an unhealthy practice for me. I never had a place I could go that was away from work. Now that I rarely take home work, my home is my sanctuary... a place of peace where my priority is my family and myself. Yes, sometimes I have to stay later at work and I usually get to school early before others, but at least I know when I get home after a long day, I can relax and put my feet up (and have a glass of wine...).

We all have those years, so what survival tips do you have? I'd love to hear from you!


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