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October 1, 2019
Vol. 61
No. 10

Teaching Comes in Seasons

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Professional LearningSocial-emotional learning
An aspiring teacher recently asked me, "Does teaching give you as much joy in the fifth or 10th year as it did in your first one?" The education cliché of "the great calling" heard its cue: Of course! If I didn't love it the same way, I would be a malfunctioning teacher, right? Then, reality hit: No, teaching does not give me the same joy now as it did 10 years ago. And that's okay.
The moment my son, Maddox, now 3, came into my life, my world started spinning in a different direction. Becoming a parent is just one of many ways I—and as a result, my teaching—have changed over the years. Rather than try to sustain the burn-at-both-ends energy of my first years, I'm working to acknowledge that teaching, as I heard a veteran colleague say, comes in seasons. Just as farmers apply proper strategies to adapt to the seasons' different conditions, teachers can find ways to work smarter, not harder.
All educators will have their own seasons. I've learned many lessons from my seasons as a teacher; let me share a few of them.

Season 1: Culture Shock

The first three-plus years of my teaching career were filled with conflicting experiences and emotions: idealism confronted by pragmatism, amateurism mixed with ambition. The critical qualities that sustained me were humility, self-forgiveness, and resilience.
Find a positive mentor: The malleability of apprenticeship makes us vulnerable to naysayers. Not all veteran educators have succeeded in managing their seasons. Thankfully, I found many who knew how to pace themselves and maintain optimism. Gravitate toward the people who embrace new ideas and personalize, rather than bemoan, them.
Seek feedback: Just because someone is assigned to observe you doesn't mean that person should be the only (or best) one to give feedback. Be a sponge for constructive feedback, whether it's from a colleague down the hall or one you find online at the other end of a hashtag.
Rewrite self-defeating scripts: Early days of education are brutal, in part because the novelty of teaching creates many opportunities to fail. Your inner critic's voice and feelings of imposter syndrome will turn up to 11. We would never let our students beat themselves up over struggle, so we shouldn't allow ourselves to do so either. Own mistakes, but learn to forgive yourself and move forward.

Season 2: Development

Managing and learning from the stress-saturated first years paved the way for true development over my fourth and fifth years. Once I knew how to do basic administrative tasks, I could figure out not just what I teach but also who I was as a teacher and how to bring my best self to my students. Risk-taking was critical for this season. My go-to strategies were to balance professional curiosity with focus.
Study and grow your craft: Professional investment now pays huge dividends over the long term. I enrolled in a master's degree program, read every book I could find on lesson design, and requested coaching and feedback from mentors. With the confidence of a few years of teaching behind me, I was able to grow my craft in ways I couldn't as a brand-new teacher.
Focus on one thing: Even though information is prolific, that doesn't mean we need to consume it all. Pick one skill each week (or month or year) and invest in mastering that. Trust yourself to let everything else go. Your students will still learn even if your bulletin board looks terrible.

Season 3: Path Finding

Around my sixth year of teaching, I felt overwhelmed by the desire to be great at everything (and the realization that I could not). I gave myself permission to put my efforts into a few things instead of all things. In doing so, I cultivated my passion: developing programs for social-emotional learning. Rather than stall at the crossroad, I picked a path and committed. The critical qualities during this season were hope and forgiveness.
Cultivate purpose: Endless realms of teaching and learning are available for us to specialize in and nurture our passion. Don't just study what your administrators or teacher training programs tell you to study. Study what you love, even if you think it has nothing to do with teaching (it does).
Forgive: By now, I have had countless interactions with students, parents, and even colleagues that did not go the way I had planned. Our present shouldn't suffer because people and moments in our past sucked. We also cannot cling to regret over what could have been when the future has so much potential.

Season 4: Pace Yourself

In my decade of teaching, I have not been immune to burnout. I even wrote a whole book about it. I could regret pouring so much energy into my first few seasons, but I don't. I'm glad that I invested in mastering certain elements because I can now conserve energy without sacrificing quality. Sure, students don't get essays back as quickly as they did in my early days, but they do get lessons infused with feedback and modeling. As their learning grows, my stack of essays shrinks. Here are two ways to invest in the critical quality of pacing yourself this season:
Retool a time suck: It's easy to grow comfortable with certain tasks, even if they take a lot of time. Figure out how to reclaim time around tasks like essay evaluation by applying new strategies (e.g., single-point rubrics and conferencing).
Time-hop: Many of the things that brought joy to my early years of teaching, such as allowing myself time to have fun with students, eroded with the push to maximize instructional minutes. Reflect on what brought you joy in your early years and how you can bring back those strategies and mindsets. You can use the time you saved becoming a more efficient teacher to reinstate fun.
My seasons are not your seasons, but I bet you have felt your teaching ebb and flow. Not feeling the same joy in year 23 as you did when you were 23? That's okay. Feeling overwhelmed in your first few years? You're probably still in the right place. The act of teaching is complex and evolving because we (and our students and colleagues) are complex and evolving as well. Seasons change. So can we.

Chase Mielke is a veteran teacher and instructional coach, a nationally recognized speaker, and the author of ASCD's Illuminate the Way: The School Leader's Guide to Addressing and Preventing Teacher Burnout, The Burnout Cure: Learning to Love Teaching Again, and Overcoming Educator Burnout (Quick Reference Guide). A Michigan Teacher of the Year nominee and expert on teacher well-being, Chase delivers highly engaging, research-based, and practical keynotes and professional development workshops to schools and organizations across the world.

His work has been featured on CNN, Greater Good Magazine, and Edutopia. He hosts the Educator Happy Hour podcast and writes the "Burnout Rx" column for EL Magazine. Chase resides with his family in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he daydreams about fresh Expo markers and tries to keep his wild toddler from eating dog food and rocks.

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