Tips from Teachers on Staying Energized When the Going Gets Tough

new teachers

Each year there are new teachers that already feel so burned out they decide to leave the profession. Study.com asked 2 expert teachers for their advice on maintaining your passion as a new teacher.

Teacher Retention Rates

According to a 2015 report by the National Education Association, after five years of teaching, 17 percent of teachers had left the profession. While this number is lower than researchers originally anticipated, it is still a significant number of teachers fleeing a crucial and ultimately fulfilling profession.

It's also a figure that's worth reducing. Teacher attrition disproportionately affects schools in less fortunate areas and prevents teachers from developing skills and experience that could highly benefit our students. Further, the Alliance for Excellent Education says teacher attrition can cost the U.S. $2.2 billion every year!

teacher retention

So how can schools and colleagues help those teachers stick around longer? Study.com talked to two seasoned teachers to get their expert advice.

The Value of Feedback

David B. Cohen, the author of Capturing the Spark: Inspired Teaching, Thriving Schools and a National Board Certified English Teacher who teaches at Palo Alto High School, said there are several traits that a teacher with staying power should have.

''Teachers who are going to last in the profession are those (who) are reflective, persistent, and enjoy their own learning,'' he said. ''The potential downside to those traits is that new teachers can be so focused on improvement - with so much that needs improvement - that they don't make some accommodation to their situation. New teachers need some additional dispositions then, such as the willingness to accept imperfection, and the encouragement to recognize and build upon strengths.''

chalk board

As a student teacher at Cupertino High School in the mid-90s, Cohen met Jean Johnson, an English teacher who played an important role in his learning.

''Jean had no official role in my teacher training, but she did have a lasting impact,'' Cohen said. ''Jean had probably been teaching 20-30 years by the time I knew her, and she let me know that I was welcome to observe her classes any time that I was on campus and had time to drop in. I often did that, and yet I can't remember anything in particular about the lessons - just a general sense that she was an effective teacher for all the usual reasons.''

Cohen went on to explain how open she was to feedback.

''What stands out in my recollection so clearly is that each time I observed a lesson, Jean would debrief with me and ask for my thoughts about what worked or didn't work, what could be improved or revised about a lesson or activity,'' he recalled. ''Without Jean having to say it directly, I understood from her that she valued my perspective and instincts regarding teaching, and I learned that there's no final stage of teaching where everything works perfectly and the teacher is finished learning.''

Cohen's experience with Johnson helped him realize what teachers need to do to make the best of their career.

''My advice to teachers then is to build relationships, predictably, but don't focus exclusively on the new teachers' needs and deficits,'' he said. ''Be comfortable with the long, slow process of improvement, and the daily imperfections, and leave space to celebrate each individual's strengths.''

Accepting That You'll Never Be a Perfect Teacher


Amy Sandvold, co-author of The Passion-Driven Classroom: A Framework for Teaching and Learning and The Fundamentals of Literacy Coaching, is currently a third grade teacher at Highland Elementary School in Waterloo, Iowa. Her advice for teachers is to accept that not everything will be flawless.

''My best advice for staying energized when the going gets tough is to stop trying to be perfect,'' she said. ''I served as a principal for over seven years and have some insights now that I've been 'on the other side.' There is pressure everywhere to have the perfect organization system, the perfect outfits, the perfect classroom and lesson plans…and I am here to tell you to STOP!''

Sandvold also notes that teachers need to embrace what works for them.

''Of course we need to plan and be prepared, but stop obsessing over every little detail,'' she said. ''What works for your next door teammate may not work for you. Trust your training and your own unique teaching style and talent that only you can bring to your students. Be yourself! There is no perfect lesson template, perfect management system or perfect weekly wardrobe. Students don't care if you have matching chevron patterns on everything.''

Sandvold went on to give her advice on what teachers should be doing instead of trying to be perfect.

Quote from Amy Sandvold

''All humor aside, the most important thing in the classroom is our students. They want us to listen to them, to teach them, and care for them. They know when we aren't being true to ourselves,'' she said. ''It shows in our stress level, tone of voice, and actions. Let go of the need to be perfect. If you need permission to do this, then cut this blurb out and stick it in your lesson plan book or someplace where you need a reminder. Try new things, get up and try something different when they don't work out, and be there for your students. Most importantly, be YOU!''

Looking for more insider tips? Learn the things people don't tell you about your first year of teaching.

By Jessica Lyons
January 2017
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