How to Keep on Teaching Even When You Don't Feel Like It


There are days in every teacher's career when you feel like you can't face your classroom. You may find days where you sit in your car sipping your coffee psyching yourself up to enter the building. But have hope, there are strategies to get you through those tough days.

Bad Teacher Mornings

If you have taught for a while, you have probably experienced a morning very similar to this one. You woke up early, yet are still running late. Everyone else in your house (i.e. your spouse, your children) are dressed, lunches packed, and ready to leave before you even have your clothes on. You are essentially tardy, in spite of the fact that you were up before their alarms even went off. Finally, you leave the house, only to realize halfway to work that you never brushed your teeth or even, if you are a woman, got around to putting your makeup on before you ran out the door.

Or another event that often happens on mornings such as these, you realize the idiot light is on in your car because you forgot to put gas in the night before. So you spend half of your commute weighing the be-late or run-out-of-gas dilemma. Does any of this sound familiar?

Mornings like this are days where you are hard pressed to motivate yourself to teach. They are days where, perhaps, you wish you could just throw a worksheet at them and retreat behind your desk with a cup of coffee and a donut. Or perhaps, you wish you were an administrator and could just shut your office door and hide for an hour or two until you get yourself together. On those mornings, trying to teach may seem daunting, but there are some tried and true strategies to help you push through and teach on the days you don't feel like it.

Think Like an Athlete

Sometimes on mornings such as these, you have to approach teaching from the point of view of an athlete. If you think every professional athlete or even an Olympian wakes up every morning thinking 'I can't wait to go work out for four hours today,' then you might be slightly disillusioned. On mornings like these, teachers and athletes need to practice their routine to get themselves motivated. For a swimmer, it might be a certain set of stretches followed by a jog to warm up the muscles. For a baseball player, it might be a drill involving running bases, and throwing pitches. Teaching is no different; you need to find a routine to get you going in the morning and use it to your advantage on those days where you don't want to face your students.


So now let's apply this to a teacher's morning. To face those mornings when you don't want to teach, you need to develop your teacher game-day routine to get you going every morning. For some teachers, it may involve getting up thirty minutes early so you can get some exercise: yoga, aerobics, a quick ride around the block on your bicycle. Something to get the blood flowing in the morning. The side effects of exercise will help you in the classroom. A brief morning exercise will help you be more alert during the day. It will also help naturally curb any anxiety or depression you feel about your day. Finally, a little bit of exercise will help you deal better with any stressful situations you may face during the day.

Find Motivation in Your Students

Sometimes on those days when you don't want to teach, you have to find motivation in the reason you entered the classroom in the first place: your students. Look for inspiration in the common reasons teachers keep teaching. Some of those reasons involve engaging our student's curiosity. So how do you turn this into a reason to teach?

On those days when you don't want to teach, turn it into a teachable moment in your classroom. Have your class brainstorm a list of topics that they are personally curious about. To tame any administrator who might wake at your door, you might even give them a lens that fits into your class content. For example, if you are an English teacher you might ask students to brainstorm a list of books they would love to read (even if it involves pulling up your school library catalog). For a history teacher, you might ask students what events in history they would like to know more about. Then pick one, and explore it together as a class. A lot of times your student's energy can bolster you on those lack-luster days in the classroom.

Woman Reading

Modeling curiosity for your students is another way to lift your spirits on those days when you don't want to face your classroom. It can be as simple as raising a question to your students such as 'Why do the Northern Lights happen?' or even 'How did the Eagles manage to lose last night's game?' Pick a question that interests you, and see if it sparks something in your students. Most of the time you can find ways to tie the question back to the content you teach. For example, there is science in football and art in current events. Take five or ten minutes and talk about it with your students, or depending on the question, you might even peruse the internet for research. Activities like this show students that you are curious too, and that motivates everyone in the room.

Another strategy is to keep a journal to look at when you are feeling down about the teaching profession. Some of the entries might be your journal entries where you wrote about a particularly great day you had in the classroom. Maybe it was a day a struggling student was successful at skill in your class, such as multiplication tables. Maybe it was a beautiful poem or story a student wrote as part of a project on the World War II. It could even be cards or notes your students have given you. You may have snapshots of yourself with students you want to include. It can even contain any quotes you find inspirational along the way. When you have days when you don't want to teach, take a few minutes to peruse your journal while your students work on their get started or independent practice. It will bolster your spirits and your teaching.

Sometimes Motivation Starts in the Car

So sometimes the only cure to your bad mood is what is known as bottom up processing. This means essentially what your brain processes is driven by what your senses bring in, rather than what your brain already things. Aromatherapy is successful in relaxing or stimulating the mind because what the five senses bring in is what drives our thoughts.

On the road

So think about your morning, and how long you may spend in your car driving to your school every day. The car is a great place to start bolstering your spirits thanks to bottoms-up processing. Put together a CD or digital playlist for your car of your favorite uplifting songs. They may be religious, contemporary, or a mix of both. The energy of the music you choose is what is most important. You even name it the SOS playlist - for those days you feel like you are sinking fast. The positive energy of the music will have a positive effect on your brain, and make it easier to face your day. You can even keep an extra copy on your desk for your planning or short lunch break to lift your spirits. Your positive energy will translate into your teaching, and keep you going through your lessons.

Acceptance is Key

Sometimes when you have those days when you don't want to teach you feel like a failure, but that isn't true. In any profession, workers experience days when they don't want to do their jobs. That is true whether you are a lawyer, doctor, gardener, and even teacher. It's normal, and it's okay. You have to accept that you will have days like this, and you have to find strategies to push through and persevere. Keep in mind, just like you have days you don't want to teach, your students will have days they don't want to learn. It's natural for everyone to have a bad day now and then. Find inspiration and positive energy wherever you can, and use it to bolster your spirit.

By Rachel Tustin
September 2016
teachers teacher burnout

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