For many people, the end of the holidays and the beginning of a new year is a time for reflection, setting new goals, and perhaps finally using the gym membership they signed up for a year ago.
Teachers, however, are not most people. Our "new year" actually begins in September, when we return to our classrooms once again to find our furniture flipped upside down and stacked in the corner of the room. We set new goals, reorganize the classroom library, and yes, wipe down every single tabletop surface with disinfectant, several times.
So what does a new calendar year mean for the teacher in you? How are you marking the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018?
While we may not be making New Year's resolutions about diet and exercise, the return from the break does offer us a unique chance to start over again. If you've been struggling with classroom management, building camaraderie amongst your students, or the inability to meet the needs of a particular set of students, now is the time to dig in, reflect, and possibly consider making some changes in your plan of action.
If you're ready to begin this reflection, here are some ideas you may use along the way to keep yourself grounded and rejuvenated:
- Prioritize your goals: There will always be more to do than you can focus on, so decide on your priorities before you spread yourself too thin. Where you invest your energy will determine the outcomes in your classroom, so choose wisely. Is it important for you to try a flipped lesson for the first time, or do you want to increase the amount of rich, focused conversation your students are having about the topic at hand during any given lesson? Either way, you want to figure out the changes you'll need to make to reach your goals.
- Look for support: Whether you find this source of support from a mentor across the hall or across the country, you need someone who is going to be your thinking partner, your cheerleader, and your sounding board. Do not go alone; there are many networks, organizations, and ways for you to connect with like-minded educators. Seek out a mentor and bring this person along on your journey.
- Learn alongside your students: If you want your students to be lifelong learners, then you must model this for them. How are you going to model for your students the ways you keep learning, questioning, and inquiring about things you don't know about? My experience as a teacher of writers shifted drastically when I started writing alongside my students. Once I started sharing my drafts and my struggles with my students, writing improved for everyone in the room.
- Take some time for yourself: Yes, I know that our work never ends, that there are always papers to grade, calls to make, tweaks to that pesky unit you’re starting next week. But I implore you to take some time for yourself throughout these upcoming months. Whether you pick up a book from your to-be-read pile, see a movie, or just go for a hike -- take the time to recharge so you can continue to give your best to your students.
- Keep the big picture in mind: The thing that often helped me keep going during the long slog from January to June, was amping up connections between my classroom and the world. The time, for instance, we published teen magazines as a class, which led the students to conduct interviews with folks around the community. In short, we focused on issues that mattered to my kids. From gun violence, climate change, a presidential election, to whatever is going on in your local community, find a way to make connections to the world. As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in Between the World and Me, "schools did not reveal truths, they concealed them." We can do better. We can aim higher and uncover truths alongside our students.