Reflecting on my first year in the classroom, I was utterly obsessed with impressing everyone. Maybe it was because I came to teaching as a second career. Maybe it was due to my involvement at conferences and summits, even as a brand-new teacher.
Whatever my reasons for wanting to show everyone how good I was, those reasons led me down a path of exhaustion and stress that did nothing for my health and certainly didn’t help me when I wasn’t at school.
So, to help out any new teachers, I thought I’d pass on some advice I wish I’d known when I started teaching. Hopefully, you can avoid the stress, anxiety, and exhaustion I experienced and live a balanced life while still being a fantastic teacher.
You don’t need to be perfect — no one is
Perfectionism is a curse. The voice in your head tells you that you’re not good enough and that you need to try harder and do more. It’s the constant striving for an unattainable goal. And it’s exhausting.
I should know. I’m a perfectionist. I’ve always been a high achiever and always strived to be the best. And it’s taken its toll. I’ve spent hours obsessing over minor details that no one else would even notice. I’ve put immense pressure on myself to succeed, and as a result, I’ve often felt like a failure.
As a teacher, I work with perfectionists all the time — students who are afraid to make mistakes and who are afraid to take risks. And working with them has made me realize that perfectionism is a Learned Behavior — something we can unlearn.
Your students don’t need you to be perfect. They don’t need for your fantastic lesson to always happen exactly the way you envisioned. In fact, you likely already know that the perfect lesson rarely happens. If you’re like me and teach the same topic several times daily, you change something during every class period.
And sometimes, things still don’t work.
Your students need to see that you’re not afraid to fail or to try something new. They need to see you participate in the productive struggle. You don’t have to be perfect.
We can choose to let go of the need to be perfect, and in doing so, we can live happier, healthier lives.
So if you’re a perfectionist, take heart. You’re not alone. And there’s hope for us yet.
It’s okay to ask for help
Asking for help is often seen as a sign of weakness, but it takes a lot of strength to admit that you need assistance. We all need help from time to time, whether we’re struggling with a personal issue or trying to figure out how to use a new piece of technology. Asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it’s often the smartest thing you can do.
When it comes to asking for help in the classroom, teachers shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to their colleagues. A fresh set of eyes can make all the difference when it comes to spotting problems with a lesson plan or finding new ways to engage students.
And when it comes to assessment, colleagues can provide valuable insights that can help improve the quality of your work. So don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. It’s okay to admit that you’re not perfect — we all are.
Take time for yourself
As teachers, we often put the needs of our students above our own. We teach because we want to make a difference in the lives of others, and that means sometimes sacrificing our own time and energy.
However, it’s important to remember that we can’t pour from an empty cup. To be the best teachers we can be, we must take care of ourselves first. That means taking time for rest, relaxation, and self-care. It might mean saying no to after-school activities or planning days off with family.
Seneca said this about guarding your time:
“No person would give up even an inch of their estate, and the slightest dispute with a neighbor can mean hell to pay; yet we easily let others encroach on our lives — worse, we often pave the way for those who will take it over. No person hands out their money to passers-by, but to how many do each of us hand out our lives! We’re tight-fisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.”
The only person who will prioritize your time is you. Don’t let someone else make their time more important than yours.
Whatever form it takes, self-care is essential to being a successful teacher.
So next time you feel run down, remember to take a little time for yourself. Your students will thank you for it!
Don’t compare yourself to others
If you’re like most people, you probably compare yourself to others regularly. Whether you’re comparing your work to a colleague’s or your teaching methods to a master teacher’s, it’s easy to feel like you’re falling short.
There is always someone further along in their career than you, but don’t worry — you’re not supposed to compare yourself to them! That’s because, as anyone with imposter syndrome will tell you, everyone feels like a fraud sometimes.
The only way to become a better teacher is to gain experience and keep learning. So instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on your journey and trust that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.
Build relationships with your colleagues and students
There’s no denying that relationships are essential. Whether you’re trying to build relationships with your colleagues or students, it’s essential to put in the effort to create connections. After all, relationships are the foundation of any successful teaching experience. Establishing relationships with your students creates a supportive learning environment where everyone can thrive.
Don’t be the teacher who doesn’t smile until Christmas. Get to know your students. Laugh with them (not at them!), talk with them, and learn what they love about the world. It may help you connect with that student who never speaks to anyone.
And by developing relationships with your colleagues, you create a collaborative team that can work together to improve student outcomes. So if you’re looking to build relationships, remember that creating strong bonds takes time and effort. But the effort is well worth it when you see the positive impact that relationships can have on teaching and learning.
An old saying goes, “When in doubt, be yourself.” And while that may not be the most sage advice for every situation, it’s definitely something to keep in mind regarding your career.
After all, being authentic and genuine to yourself is one of the best ways to be successful.
Consider the classroom. As a teacher, you have the unique opportunity to connect with your students personally and help them learn in a relevant way. But to do that, you need to be genuine.
Your students will be able to sense if you’re being fake or if you’re going through the motions. Trust me; they have a BS detector that can spot a fake teacher from a hundred miles away. They’ll know if you’re doing something that is not authentic to who you are.
Don’t be that teacher who tries to do things in class so you can look cool to your students. (As a matter of fact, don’t use the word cool. I’m pretty sure it’s not cool anymore…)
But if you’re authentic, they’ll be more likely to engage with the material and learn from you.
Of course, there are times when it’s essential to put on a professional persona. But in general, it’s best to just be yourself. It might not always be easy, but it’s always worth it.
So there you have it: some advice on not being a perfect teacher and trying to impress everyone from a (spoiler alert) far-from-perfect teacher. Remember, it’s okay to ask for help, take time for yourself, don’t compare yourself to others, build relationships with your colleagues and students, and most importantly — be yourself!
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