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June 1, 2018
Vol. 75
No. 9

Three Rules for Staying Happy and Sane

    Stories and advice from school veterans on maintaining your spirit and your perspective in a challenging profession.

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    School Culture
      These are three ways I've found to (mostly) love my job over the past 18 years.
      1. Serve children first, administrators second. Kids don't care about the time-consuming things that matter to adults, like detailed lesson plans with numbered objectives or an immaculate classroom. Do the bare minimum on your paperwork—most administrators will skim through it, if they read it at all. And let your classroom be a wild rumpus sometimes. (Just leave space in a closet or a wardrobe so you can jam the mess inside it if visitors come.) Take the time you spend worrying what adults will think of your classroom and use it to see each day through your students' eyes instead.
      2. Prioritize presence over preparation. Many of us work until it's dark outside and spend hours on nights and weekends preparing our lessons. We sacrifice sleep, time with family and friends, and walks in the woods—all the things that keep our spirit strong. So give yourself some healthy limits. Try to develop guidelines for yourself, like, "Don't spend longer preparing materials than the students will spend actually using them."
      3. Be gentle with yourself, and don't forget to laugh. Teaching is incredibly hard and complicated work. Daily moments of failure are going to occur. If we don't show ourselves the same patience and compassion we show our students, we're doomed to burn out. Our work matters deeply, but that doesn't mean it has to be serious all the time. Find the humor in the hardships and stumbles and share that laughter with your students and colleagues. Kurt Vonnegut said it best: "We are all here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is."

      Figure

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      Justin Minkel advises teachers to set limits and make time for recharging. Here he is on a camping trip along the Buffalo River on the eve of his 40th birthday. Photo by Jon Medders

      Justin Minkel teaches 1st and 2nd grade at Jones Elementary School in northwest Arkansas. He founded The Home Library Effect to put great books into the hands of children with few books at home.

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