Teachers: “It’s OK to Cry in Your Car”
Teachers Crying in Your Car: You’re Not Alone!
“Teaching is infinitely more difficult than I pictured,” Marcy Rosner, high school U.S. & World History teacher
“Then, six weeks in, it happened. Last Wednesday, I definitely felt like I should probably throw in the towel and do something else. I left here and I got in my car and I just cried. Everything was hitting me at once.” Luisana Regidor, high school U.S. History teacher
You’re Not Alone:
If any of this sounds familiar it’s because it’s true—between lesson plans, grading, evaluations, observations, and class trips, teaching can be one of the most overwhelming, stress-inducing professions out there. In fact, one in 10 teachers will leave the classroom by the end of their first year, and teachers are particularly vulnerable in October and November.
October and November are typically the toughest months of the year for teachers because it marks a period of six to eight weeks of nonstop work and stress. New teachers are especially bombarded with a new variety of problems, and they become very focused and consumed with the day-to-day demands of teaching without any time to reflect on experiences.
“As they get six or seven weeks into school, they realize how tough it is to be a really good teacher. They need someone saying, ‘You are not horrible. You are not a fraud.’ ” These wise words come from Ellen Moir, CEO of the New Teacher Center which runs mentor programs in roughly 200 districts worldwide. Moir has researched why October hits hard, and she calls it The Disillusionment Phase: “This is a very difficult and challenging phase for new entries into the profession. They express self-doubt, have lower self-esteem and question their professional commitment. In fact, getting through this phase may be the toughest challenge they face as a new teacher.”
First-year teachers are vulnerable and stressed out, but studies have shown that if these new teachers have someone who they see as a mentor, they are more likely to stick it out. However, for new teachers without close ties to their school or administration may feel like they’re out on their own. For that, veteran teacher Roxanna Elden developed a free “disillusionment power pack,” and the recipients receive motivational emails from Elden herself with one goal in mind: get the new teachers to Thanksgiving break.
“Lots of jobs are hard,” says Elden, “but with teachers, it’s like, ‘Wow, I’m hurting kids because I’m as bad as I am.’ You have these exaggerated thoughts like, ‘Well, what if I break my leg? I’d get three weeks off.’ ”
Although a small step, Elden’s emails might help curb the new-teacher burnout that’s so prevalent in October and November—at the very least, these notes of encouragement might nudge a struggling teacher to seek help elsewhere.
“You want to be that amazing teacher from Day 1, but you have to recognize it takes time. It’ll get better.” Luisana Regidor, high school U.S. History teacher
Take Care of Yourself!
These tips for avoiding burnout come from fellow teachers who have created their own ways of reducing the stress and combatting the “Disillusionment Phase”:
Get back to first principles: Remind yourself why you wanted to teach in the first place. It’s easy to dwell on office politics or administrative pressure, and all of this stress stands in the way of your goals as a teacher. Clear your mind & concentrate on the students.
Build relationships with the students: A personal bond with your students allows for a better connection and learning. When teachers build a community with a student and their parents, the kids understand that they matter because “grownups” are paying attention.
Take part in teacher wellness programs: Teacher anxiety goes hand-in-hand with standardized testing because it often creates a disconnect between teachers and their sense of ownership of their classrooms. Teacher wellness programs provide healthy coping mechanisms or sometimes exercises like yoga to make stress reduction a priority for these teachers.
Use technology to connect with other teachers: This one is easy. Diving into blogs, Pinterest, and other social media offers teachers a community space to air grievances and give/get advice. Sometimes there’s nothing better for your sanity than venting to your peers!
Focus on preparation: “You’re your own secretary, your own supply manager and sometimes your own supervisor,” said Heather Lukeman, who has been teaching high school kids for 12 years. Organizing your classroom ahead of time shrinks the stress of actual class time and allows you to spend more time concentrating on the students.