“Pursue confidently your dreams of being a teacher. Teach every day as you once imagined you would. Don’t let today’s obstacles keep you from yesterday’s dreams.” – Robert John Meehan
Anyone that has worked for any length of time in an early childhood classroom has had “one of those days.” You know the one—the one where your lesson plan flopped, the one where it rained all day and everyone was stuck inside, the one where a disgruntled parent expressed his/her disdain about something that happened in your classroom, the one where simply everything seemed to go wrong! At the end of a day like that, it’s easy to feel discouraged, to feel like you don’t want to come back and try again tomorrow.
You are not alone. All teachers have felt like this at one time or another. Let me say that again—ALL TEACHERS have felt like this at one time or another. The question is, how do you reflect on “one of those days” and find it within yourself to come back and try again, and again, and again?
- Each day, have a Plan A, Plan B…and sometimes Plan Z! Take the time to set up your environment, consider your children’s needs, and plan activities that are interesting, enriching and hands-on. Make sure that you have a backup plan in mind (and oftentimes, more than just one) should your first set of ideas fall flat. If it rains, can you do your gross motor activity inside? If the children aren’t interested in reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar, would they maybe like to read The Very Quiet Cricket instead?
- Reflect on the day: At the end of the day, take a few minutes to think about what happened in your classroom today. What did you like about your day? What are some things you’d like to change? If you had the chance to do those things over again, how might you have done them differently?
- Let it out: Sometimes all the reflection in the world can’t solve a problem that has factors you simply can’t control. Sometimes you just need to let your feelings out – keep a journal, find a trusted friend who you can vent to (but remember to maintain confidentiality), or scream into a pillow!
- Practice self-care: When you’re not at school, do you like to exercise, watch movies, spend time with friends and family, or have some other hobby that brings you happiness and peace? As natural caretakers of others, educators often have difficulty making time for themselves. For your own mental, physical and emotional health, DO IT. You’ll be a better teacher, and a better person, for it.
- Know when to go: There comes a time in the career of some educators when they realize they just know they need to leave the classroom and move on to something else. Maybe they want to pursue another aspect of the early childhood field—administration, advocacy, consulting, or working with adult learners. Maybe they want to move on to another field entirely. Whichever is the case, if you choose to leave, leave on a high note. Continue to give it your all until you find another position—allow the children and families you worked with to always remember you fondly.
Battling burnout is an all too common occurrence for those of us who work with young children. Every day we pour from our own pitchers in the hopes of filling many smaller ones. The key to hanging in there for the long haul is to recognize, appreciate and love just how those little pitchers eventually fill us right back up.
We all know that working in the early care and education profession can be exhausting and stressful. As adults, we set the tone for our programs. If we are in a negative mood and are putting off vibes that we are unhappy, children can and will feel this and often times react in negative ways. Here are a few ideas that my colleagues at 4C for Children shared with me that they have used to recharge throughout and/or after having a tough day:
Pamper yourself. Treat yourself to something special! Some ideas include: reading a book or taking a hot bath. Or perhaps getting a mani/pedi is more your style. Sometimes enjoying a sweet treat is enough to recharge during a 15-minute break. It is okay to do these things for yourself in order to maintain a level of calm.
Commune with nature. Spend some of your lunch break and take a walk or find a quiet place to immerse yourself in the beauty of the outdoors. Terri, a 4C Professional Development Specialist kept a pair of binoculars with her to watch the birds that inhabited the tree line off of the parking lot. She found this very relaxing and rejuvenating on stressful days. Sitting under a tree can be grounding and can quickly recharge you with enough energy to make it through the rest of the day.
Ponder the positive. Bridget, another member of 4C’s Professional Development team kept a memory box of items that she kept from her classroom. On particularly rough days, she would go home and look through the box and think of all the positive events that she had experienced in the classroom. 4C professional development specialist Alissa commented that finding some alone time and thinking of pleasant thoughts can also be helpful on stressful days.
Involve the children. If you cannot get away or take a break—because let’s face it, it can be difficult to do—find ways to involve the children. Sing a silly song or put on your favorite, child-friendly music. Some of my favorite go-to albums included “Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies for the Film Curious George” by Jack Johnson, “Not for Kids Only” by Jerry Garcia & David Grisman, and “Let’s Go Everywhere” by Medeski, Martin & Wood. Music is one way to bring people together and can quickly turn around the dynamics of the program. Bridget also shared she would bring out a favorite book or art activity for children to do and this would often times help engage children and ease tension.
So the next time you are feeling tense or a little stressed out, remember it is important to model the behavior we expect to see in children. By taking care of ourselves, we can teach children how to do the same. How do you plan take care of yourself? However you choose to take care of yourself, it is important that you take the time to do it. The young people in your life depend on you and need the adults in their lives to be stable and strong.
Lately, my life has been so overwhelming. In my personal life, my oldest is applying to college and reaching out for every scholarship opportunity available. There’s marching band and dance practice, homework and studying, dinners to cook and oodles of laundry. In my work life, we’ve hired two new staff and two people were moved to new roles. I’m working on a new project. The pace of life both at work and at home just seems to be speeding by and sometimes it makes me feel like I’m out of control.
When life feels out of control, I notice that I tend to be grouchy. And I’m probably less productive in all areas of my life. What I keep trying to remind myself of is that I do have control, not over the things that are happening around me, but how I respond and react to those things.
When life feels big, either at home or at work, remember these tips:
- Talk about it. Don’t get lost in the maze of all the things happening around you. Tell a trusted friend or colleague about your frustrations. Sometimes it can be helpful to label how you’re feeling and why you think you’re feeling that way.
- Take it one day at a time. Make a list and divide up your ‘to-dos’ into more manageable chunks. Not only will you break each of the tasks down, but you can feel accomplished at the end of the day when you’ve been able to cross things off.
- Be flexible. Think of your long list of tasks creatively, recognizing that there’s more than one way to be complete each piece. By channeling some creative juices, you might find you to-do list becomes more of a to-done list more quickly!
- Take a deep breath. When faced with a daunting set of tasks ahead, give yourself permission to walk away and recharge. Take a walk, enjoy a bubble bath, read a good book. When you have a chance to recharge your body and your mind, you come back with a renewed sense of hope.
And now that I can check this one thing off my to-do list, I feel so much better. At the end of the day, I hope that you can check something off your list and feel better to.
A few nights ago, my son came home from school in a really bad mood. He was overwhelmed with school work and wasn’t happy with how his friends were treating one another. While he’s ranting and raving about all of his stuff, I was trying to cook dinner, help my youngest with her math paper, feed the dog, do the dishes, fold the laundry, take out the trash and… I could go on, but I won’t. I had this checklist in my mind of all the things that needed to be done that evening and I couldn’t see how to add anything else to the list.
Finally, I noticed the house got quiet, eerily quiet. At first I tried to ignore the silence and then I wondered what had happened to everyone. I went outside and discovered that my kids had gathered on the back deck to enjoy the sunset and look up at the stars. At first I started to nag them and tell them to finish their homework and help with the dishes, all of those things on my to-do list that needed to be done and soon. But even as I started to open my mouth and nag away, my youngest daughter asked me how my day was and all three of my kids stared at me waiting for an answer. I honestly couldn’t remember my day. I thought for a minute trying to think of something I had done, but finally had to ask them about their days first.
I’m really good at making lists of things to do, doing them and moving on. I’m not so good at taking time to enjoy the ride as I manage my way through my day. But I realized that night on the back deck watching the sunset, I don’t want to manage my checklist each day. I want to enjoy it as I go along with it. I want to take care of me. I want to participate in spontaneous gatherings on the back deck.
One of the many things on today’s checklist was to write this blog. As I was searching through my files for ideas, I came across some notes that I took during a training not too long ago, including a quote: “Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life.” Make sure you don’t let those important things pass you by.