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October 22, 2015 | Volume 11 | Issue 4
Table of Contents
Five Habits That Hurt Teacher Motivation
Teachers know that motivating students and engaging families is part of the job. Sometimes, however, just keeping ourselves motivated can feel like a full-time job. Although we may daydream about our students sitting attentively with a look of delight that shows their love of learning, this ideal is certainly not always the case.
Here are some reasons why your enthusiasm might be lagging and some tips for making it through the slump.
Classroom Task Creep
With all there is to do every day, it's tempting to funnel your off hours into teaching tasks or turn your home into a satellite office for your classroom. Although this may seem like a sign of dedication, it's likely that if you're never 100 percent clocked out, you're never 100 percent clocked in, either. For the kids' sake and your own, mornings should always feel like the start of a new day, and Mondays should always feel like the beginning of a new week. This means putting realistic limits on the amount of work that you bring home, scheduling specific hours to work on it, and then using your personal time for your personal life.
The Never-Done To-Do List
As teachers, we are our own secretaries. Nothing reminds us of this like looking at a to-do list of administrative tasks, especially one on which certain items seem to be permanent residents. To keep your list manageable, break big goals into smaller jobs that can be fully completed in a reasonable amount of time. "Print student test scores" is a good, list-friendly item. "Analyze student data and form long-term plans for each student" is a multipart project more likely to shut down your engine than get you in gear. Remember that your goal, when putting something on your list, is to cross it off.
The Wish-List Pretending to Be a To-Do List
Another hazardous habit is adding items to a daily task list that are actually long-term goals or ideas for the distant future. Not only do these items stay on our lists, but they also constantly remind us of our shortcomings. With this in mind, don't write, "Be better at parent contact" on your to-do list if you really mean, "Call Javier's dad." For ideas that you're not ready to implement, set up a computer folder, or even start a designated e-mail account where you can send ideas when you're on the go. The important thing is to keep wish-list items off your desk and off your list of things that need to get done this week.
Dealing with kids all day can make you crave the company of adults, but not all adult conversations help equally. Teachers' lounge gripe sessions may help let off steam some days but feel toxic on others. Other times, you can find it more discouraging to talk to the teacher down the hall who's sure she's doing a fantastic job and can't wait to tell you about it. Just remember—productive conversations comfort rather than overwhelm. Pay attention to which types of discussions drag you down. Then, look for ways to cut them short, tune them out, or avoid them altogether.
The Ill-Fitting Teacher Style
People constantly tell you to choose your battles in teaching. What they don't tell you is that some of the battles not worth fighting are with yourself. Despite your best efforts, strengths and weaknesses from your personal life will carry over into your teaching style. You're still more organized than creative (or more creative than organized). You're still more ambitious than patient (or more patient than ambitious). The good news is that many different traits make a good teacher. No one has them all, and some of them can even contradict one another. Your goal is not to conceal your weaknesses or disguise them as strengths; it is to identify your true strengths and use them to reinforce potential weak spots.
So, the next time you feel your motivation waning, don't despair—take a moment to examine if you're guilty of any of these common motivation missteps, and adjust your attitude accordingly.
Roxanna Elden is a National Board-Certified teacher and the author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers. More recently, she has created the "Disillusionment Power Pack," a free, one-month series of e-mails for new teachers in which she shares journal pages, stories, and insights she would have shared with the first-year teacher version of herself. E-mails begin with signup and arrive every few days for one month.
ASCD Express, Vol. 11, No. 4. Copyright 2015 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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