5 Pep Talks I Frequently Need to Give Myself as a Teacher

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I don’t think it’s any secret that teaching is a challenging profession (especially when you’re a middle school teacher, like I am). You’re expected to work overtime without extra pay, keep up with all the state-, district- and, school-mandated paperwork and agendas, ensure that “no child is left behind” (or whatever the latest political statement is on the matter), and regularly contact parents. That’s not to mention all the obvious parts of your job that you’re expected to accomplish, like actually TEACHING something and then evaluating your students on that teaching.

For the past two years, I’ve been really lucky–I’ve had GREAT students overall (with very few behavioral problems mixed in), and I’ve finally reached the point where I’m fairly confident that I can call myself a “decent teacher.”

But on weeks like this week, where I’m a week and a half away from the end of a trimester (which means hundreds upon hundreds of essays and tests to grade over the next 10 days) and I’m feeling cranky from a lack of sleep and I wanted to shout at a kid in my 3rd hour to just keep his mouth shut for one whole minute already…I find myself giving myself pep talks in order to make it through another day.

Here are some things you’d hear me saying to myself on a regular basis (if you could read my mind):

1. Focus on progress, not just proficiency.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m VERY proficiency-focused: I love the challenge of taking any kid–at whatever ability level–to the point where he can truly be considered “proficient” at whatever I’ve just taught. (Bonus points for me if it’s the first time he’s ever encountered the material or if it’s something he’s always struggled with and now all of a sudden understands!)

This focus has often served me well, as it helps me to try and do whatever I can to help the students who aren’t quite there yet and also to have high expectations of everybody, no matter their ability level when they start the year.

But sometimes, my drive to make all my students proficient at everything all the time just makes me downright depressed.

Take this unit that we’re wrapping up now, for instance–I’ve been covering research skills with the kids, including how to cite sources, summarize and paraphrase information, and find accurate and reliable data on the Internet, much of which is brand new for the students this year (especially citation stuff). And here we are, about 8 weeks into the unit (at the very end), and all I’m feeling as I look through their tests and their book projects (where they were supposed to utilize all the info I’d covered) is absolute depression and a vague sense that the unit was basically a failure.

And if you look only at the percentage of students who were proficient, I would be justified in classifying myself as a failure. The latest scores on the last formative test (mid-unit test given before the final) were as follows:

1st hour: 48% proficient
2nd hour: 17% proficient (my 2nd hour has always especially struggled)
3rd hour: 50% proficient

Sure, you could argue that this was a mid-unit test, so it’s hardly fair to judge my performance as a teacher on a formative assessment. But this test was given 6 weeks into the unit! I am beyond frustrated, to say the least, and I’m absolutely praying that the last two weeks of hard review and practice and examples and more practice will pay off on the final test.

But even with all that aside, I made myself look at something else today, too—I made myself compare the students’ pre-test scores with their latest mid-unit score, and with very few exceptions, pretty much every student has made progress (some very significant progress), so that made me feel *slightly* better about life in general.

I have to give myself the “progress, not just proficiency” talk on about a monthly basis to keep myself sane, btw…

2. Even though I often try and treat my students like miniature versions of adults, they are still kids, SO DON’T GET FRUSTRATED WHEN THEY ACT LIKE KIDS!

Oh man. Can I be honest? I never wanted to teach middle school. There are still plenty of days I wish that I didn’t. As much as I try and treat my kids like they’re responsible, thoughtful, well-adjusted adults, the fact is that they’re not. So when they try and call out obnoxious comments in class to try and get me off topic or they leave the essay that I spent forever making comments on behind on their desk (or in the trash) or they don’t stack their composition notebooks  (or their books, or the paper stacks at the front of the room) like they’re supposed to, it can be REAAAALLLY easy to get annoyed.

And I sometimes do.

But then I remind myself—“Hey. They’re 12 and 13 years old. Of COURSE they’re going to act like idiots sometimes.”

And it makes me feel just the tiniest bit better about life.

3. Even though they ask me a question I literally just answered, at least they care enough to double check, right?

Ugghh…I will never get used to how many times you have to repeat everything as a teacher. But lately, I’ve tried to take the more positive outlook by reasoning that I’d rather have a student ask again about something that I just explained rather than just not say anything and not do the assignment at all (or not attempt to understand the concept ever).

The student might be a little late to the game, but at least he showed up, eh?

4. Patience is a virtue, and I’m fortunate enough to have hundreds of opportunities each and every day to work on it.

I often thought in my first few years as a teacher that teaching has got to be one of the best ways to prepare to be a parent, and I was right—having to deal with 150 students daily (some of whom are difficult to get along with, rebellious, disrespectful, or just downright obnoxious) has made caring for one very sweet baby seem to be a breeze in comparison. Even when my daughter is cranky and clingy and nothing seems to console her, I find that because my patience is endlessly tested as a teacher, I actually have a lot more of it in general outside of the school, too.

5. We’re only “X” number of days away from the next break. I can do this!

When all else fails, I remind myself of one of the greatest perks of being a teacher–the fact that we get really regular vacation breaks scheduled in (thank goodness!).

And if nothing else works, that somehow always manages to carry me through the worst.

Fellow teachers (or parents)—-what pep talks do you give yourself on a regular basis?

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