I’m so upset. We were just told we are only allowed 150 copies per month. That’s all. 150 pages for copies. And they count front and back as two copies. So now I’m going to have to go to Kinkos and make my own copies. Keep in mind that my county wouldn’t pay for textbooks for their state dual credit class. So I copied the entire textbook to help them pass their test. Now that’s well over my limit. Seriously. How am I supposed to do this job with all these crazy limitations? —Kinkos Here I Come
You sound frustrated and with good reason! When a job that is already complex, dynamic, and demanding is made even more difficult, it really adds up and can feel spirit-crushing. It sounds like limits on copies is one of many limitations that make you feel unsupported.
Hopefully, you can share your concerns with other teachers, band together, and talk to your union, administration, and school board about options and solutions. If you are searching for words, try something like, “We’d like to talk about our classroom budgets. Many of us are feeling the need to spend our own money on basic supplies for our classrooms. We’d like to come to a consensus on better options together.”
I’ve worked in a context where we had to count copies, too. I remember my colleagues sharing their copy codes to help each other out to get through the month. Teachers seem to always “make do.” Yes, teachers are famous for spending their own money to support work. And most educators would say enough is enough! One way to improve the situation is for teachers to stop taking on the burden of paying their own money for copies. With a united front, you may be able to effect some change.
I do want to acknowledge that your effort to support your students and give them the resources they need for dual credits is coming from a good place. You copied an entire textbook. That must have taken a lot of your time! With that said, this approach is not sustainable for you or your students. Moving forward, how do you feel about finding an ally in an administrator to help provide loaner textbooks so future students can borrow what they need to reach the dual credit goals. Textbooks are SO expensive! Also, it’s necessary to remind your leadership about copyright and fair usage laws, too.
Depending on your students’ access to technology, you can replace some tasks that would be completed on paper with the computer. There are MANY technology tools available. What about turning this setback into learning about tech resources such as Nearpod, Google Classroom, Seesaw, Flipgrid, Kami, and more. For some apps, you post a picture of the page students would normally complete by hand and convert it into a Google Document for interactive use. Using a document camera and providing loose-leaf paper is another workaround.
Coming from an ecological point of view, we could all do better with our paper usage. Sometimes, we don’t think twice about the amount of paper that is being used. Americans use 68,000 million trees per year to supply their paper needs. Since you do have an allowance, I’m sure you are asking yourself if you really, really need to make copies. How could you flip the script and look at this limitation as an opportunity? Using this situation to build your students’ awareness to be more conservation-minded and use less paper is worthwhile. You might want to share some beautifully done read-aloud books about trees. Giving kids the chance to make real-world connections and problem solve issues they care about sparks motivation and relevance.
Moving forward, there will always be things out of your control. Now is a great time to reflect on work/life balance. Here’s a gentle reminder that you are in control of your one wild and precious life.
At the end of the day, after lunch, I have an 8th grade class of approximately 20 students. Fourteen of them are boys, and six of them are girls. It is pure insanity and one chaotic occurrence after the other. I honestly feel horrible because I hardly even notice one half of the room (my girls), whereas I am essentially trying to control the chaos with the other half. I am not sure what to do. My co-teacher and I have tried to incentivize this class with outside time, candy, behavior tracking that equals rewards for meeting expectations, etc. I find myself mentally and physically exhausted at the end of the day, mostly because of this one class. How can we end the day in a more positive way? —Stop The Chaos
When a class spirals out of control, it takes a toll on everyone. Chaotic classrooms are intense for you and your students. So many of us have experienced the mental and physical exhaustion that creeps up because of repeated classroom management issues and beginning levels of emotional intelligence of the students. Hang in there! Take a deep breath (for real), and let’s explore some options.
The reality is … there are no quick fixes. Most teachers agree (and sometimes dread) talking to parents about what’s going on is a logical first step for these repeated behavioral issues. In a private meeting or call, you might say, “I’d love to team up with you to learn more about your child. We’ve been having some challenges as a class. I’ve been noticing some behaviors, including _____. These behaviors are getting in the way of learning and building a respectful community. I’m open to hearing your ideas of what you think works best for your child. ” I haven’t met a teacher yet, who finds this to be an easy task! And I work with A LOT of teachers who effect real change because of the investment in families. It takes courage to work through the issues, but it’s worth it.
As you work through these challenges, reflect on how you are showing up. Are you frustrated, scattered, raising your voice, shaky, making audible sighs, tense, angry, impatient, feeling powerless? It’s understandable if you are experiencing some of these things. Developing your teacher presence takes honest reflection, patience, and some deliberate practice. It starts on day one when you are setting up norms and expectations. Having some easy-to-remember techniques that help you find moments of calm in the middle of the storm is important. When students are out of control, take several long, slow, deep breaths. Use a quiet, deliberate voice. As you circulate, lean in and use proximity to ask the kids to circle up to talk. Try out the language, “I feel… when… I need…” as an authentic way to get the conversation going about the current reality and leaning towards a more ideal state.
It sounds like you have tried various techniques, from asking for help from a colleague to employing different reward systems. We’ve all heard that extrinsic rewards may yield some positive results in the short term, but long-term benefits fade. Set up a classroom culture that centers on modeling clear routines and expectations. Collaboratively unpack what respect looks, sounds, and feels like. Construct an anchor chart, and keep the ideas alive and well and not just wallpaper that sets the stage. When there are setbacks, compassion is key for yourself and your students. The American artist, poet, activist and author, Cleo Wade says:
“When the world asks us big questions that require big answers, we have two options:
- To feel so overwhelmed or unqualified we do nothing.
- To start with one small act and qualify ourselves.
So today I’m doing what I can with what I’ve got where I am in my own way.”
I feel like quitting. This is my fourth year, and it’s already way harder than any other year. We have to do more professional development, learn an entire new literacy program, take a math endorsement class for the second year in a row, and plan a leadership day at school for parents to attend. On top of that, my anxiety is peaking, and my husband and I are dealing with unexplained infertility. I’m burned out, and it’s only September. I don’t think I can handle a year of this. Any suggestions? —Enough is Enough
It’s time to push the pause button and evaluate your next steps. You have options! Living and working as a teacher in a global pandemic is no small feat. The pandemic is pushing teachers out at a rapid pace. Most teachers agree that although they did the best they could with virtual, emergency teaching, face-to-face is better for the kids. And yet, for so many educators, it’s feeling more like a lose/lose situation because of the health risks, workload, and anxiety.
In addition to COVID, many of us also feel heavy-hearted about climate change, political divisiveness, bias/prejudice, the mental health crisis, and more. It is clear that your ginormous workload and setback with infertility are weighing heavily on you. Burnout is REAL. You can stick with teaching, or you can quit and pursue other work. Whatever you decide to do, you are still a good human!
Before you make your choice, it’s helpful to visit a metaphorical oasis where you can take refuge, feel safe, gain some relief, and get sustenance to help you make the best decision for you. Let’s imagine your oasis. What kinds of things bring you joy and meaning? What kinds of things do you do to manage your chronic stress? Take a moment to come up with a few ideas.
My oasis includes sleeping in without an alarm, listening to music, walking in nature, watching The Great British Baking Show, doing yoga, and reading/writing poetry. After I identify what feels like an oasis to me, I add these self-care ideas to my calendar across the week. I don’t try to do everything every day, but rather one or two things a day that helps me feel replenished. Hey, what about taking a personal day to catch your breath and write about your oasis!
If you decide to stick it out and stay in education, reflect on and refresh your “why.” Why did you become a teacher in the first place? What inspires you at work? How is your “why” evolving? Since workload is the main issue that is promoting a sense of burnout and stress, talk to your grade level team about the “working smarter and not harder” approach. I’ve seen grade-level teams successfully take on different responsibilities and share the heavy load. Bill Withers’s song “Lean On Me” says it best!
Also, don’t be shy to talk to your administrator and/or your union representative about workload. Seeking a little more ease can give the much-needed space you need in your very compressed schedule to feel more effective and lessen the feelings of burnout.
If you decide that it’s time to explore something different, trust that renewal is possible! Elizabeth Lesser says, “When you feel yourself breaking down, you may break open instead. May every experience in life be a door that opens your heart, expands your understanding, and leads you to freedom.” Maybe you realize that the stress has seeped into your family and health, and teaching has lost the meaning it once had. The difficult times that we so often dread and fear can be the very things that open you up to live a more true, aligned life. This breaking open is a gift. Wishing you much patience, peace, and heaps of self-compassion as you explore YOU.
When the year began, my assistant and I got along great! However, as time has gone on, I’ve noticed that she’s 10-20 minutes late every day. She speaks over me or interrupts me while I’m teaching to add what she wants. She rarely leaves her desk to help me walk the room to keep students on task. I’ve said something once because she was supposed to be supporting an emerging reader with her test but instead was checking her phone throughout. I was flabbergasted! I have mentioned a couple of things to her before by asking her nicely to do it a certain way, but every time I do, she acts aggravated. How do I handle this professionally? —I Didn’t Sign Up For This
Schools are communities that are built on solid relationships to serve kids and families. When educators work well together, it’s good for everyone, especially the kids. You listed out so many specific behaviors that are considered UNprofessional. Showing up late to work every day is just not OK! That alone must be so frustrating for you, because you can’t count on your assistant. In addition to the lateness, it sounds like the communication is strained, which is a major drain. You already have a FULL plate, and this stressful working situation is a lot to manage. You really didn’t sign up for this at all! Yet here you are.
We’ve all experienced how small conflicts that aren’t addressed can build up and often fuel feelings of resentment, frustration, and anger. Even though it is hard and takes some courage, try talking to your assistant again, and, this time, ask someone on your leadership team to join you. Having support and another pair of eyes and ears is especially important!
To start mending the working partnership, decide what issue you will focus on first. You could say, “I’d like to talk and reflect on what’s going well in our work and areas to grow. I can feel the tension between us, and it’s making the work even more challenging. This definitely is not good for us or the students. With that said, I do feel hopeful that we can mend our relationship.”
So, what else can you do? As hard as we humans try, we can’t really change someone else. However, we CAN focus on bringing our best selves to the table by listening well. Engaging in active listening builds understanding and compassion. Try the paraphrasing technique with your assistant to gain perspective and trust and deescalate reactivity by letting your assistant you are showing up and seeking understanding. “It sounds like _____. I’m hearing you say _____.” Remember to use “I” statements and focus more on behaviors versus attitudes.
Jumping to conclusions is so easy to do, especially when emotions are rising up and raw. You are an advocate for your students, and they need you to be. AND remembering to ask clarifying questions can enhance mutual understanding. See how these simple sentences contribute to improving your communication: “When you said _____, did you mean _____? Please say more about that _____.”
Lastly, explain why it’s important for teachers to get up and circulate to monitor student progress, so that the next instructional steps are based on your students’ needs. Maybe you can model how to jot down notes in a strength-based way.
Wishing you some hopeful energy as you work through this unsettling and frustrating situation. Emily Dickinson says,
“‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all… “
Do you have a burning question? Email us at [email protected].
Illustration: Jennifer Jamison