How Great Teachers Manage Their Passion for Their Work
Perhaps you’re newly tenured or a midcareer teacher and you’ve answered many of the questions on why you became a teacher. Hopefully, your motivation was rooted in caring for children, having subject matter expertise and wanting to be part of a profession that had far more benefits than liabilities. But what about now?
Recently I listened to a podcast from “On Being” in which the Rev. Greg Boyle discussed his work with Los Angeles gang members. When asked about the motivation for his work, he said, “The reason why you stay a Jesuit is not the same as why you became one.”
His point is always worth considering: Is your motivation for remaining a teacher the same as for becoming one? How do you stay passionate about your work without letting it consume you? How do you stay emotionally connected enough to get that deep feeling of satisfaction you felt when you first joined the profession?
It’s a delicate balancing act. I’ve been lucky enough to see many teachers navigate these issues with success. Here’s how they do it:
I’ve seen dedicated, hardworking educators grow stale in their practice. Once they have established a solid set of classroom management skills and subject matter understanding, they stop growing professionally. They don’t have to.
Most school districts offer professional development opportunities, either on their own or through local colleges; be sure to jump into a class or two. We encourage lifelong learning in our students, so your example will send a strong message to them as well as your colleagues.
Take care of yourself
Many teachers pour themselves into their work at the expense of other parts of their life. While I always encourage dedication and hard work among my colleagues, I do say something to those who are overdoing it.
As best as possible, be sure to use your non-working time well. Focus on your personal pursuits and don’t feel obligated to check your email constantly. You’ll find that following your personal passions will reignite your work with children.
Seek out change
I believe in personal evolution. If you’re beginning to sense that things are growing stale, seek out a trusted administrator and let him or her know that you’re up for a new challenge or assignment.
Many veteran teachers are reinvigorated by a new position or grade level. Don’t hesitate to jump into a challenging class or try new subject matter if you think you can handle it well.
Want to know yourself? Know your colleagues
As I’ve mentioned here a few times, I’m fond of the idea that any person is the average of their five closest friends. If you want to know if you have the right attitude toward your work, look around you and see what your colleagues are thinking and doing.
Are they running out the door as soon as the workday is over? Do they speak well of children and see challenging students as people who need their help? When you greet them in the morning, what is their attitude towards their day? All of these things add up to who they are — and, by extension, who you are. What kind of teacher do you want to be remembered as?
An educator for two decades, Brian P. Gatens is superintendent/principal at Norwood Public School in Norwood, N.J. Gatens has worked at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. He has been a classroom teacher, vice principal, principal and now superintendent/principal.