Defeating the Doldrums: Why Do You Teach?
In case you didn’t know, the doldrums are a region of the sea where the prevailing winds become erratic or fade away completely. Since January is sometimes seen as the doldrums of the school year, here is some encouragement to get us through!
The Best Job in the World
Teaching is the best job in the world and, contrary to what some people think, not just because of summer break. That being said, all teachers should be aware that teaching is an inspiration profession. Here’s what I mean by that: Some teaching days will be so successful that you will not be able to wait for the next day so you can teach again. Other days will be less inspirational, but you will still feel that the work you are doing is impactful. Then there will be those doldrums days when the winds go completely out of your sails. You will question why you are wasting your time teaching students (who don’t seem to care) things (that they don’t think matter). I’m not trying to be cliché or maudlin here. It’s just how a teacher can feel sometimes. So this is a post for confronting and defeating those doldrums days.
Having the Wind Knocked Out of You
Inspiration literally means “having breath inside you.” Teaching, like most noble professions, is up and down. Some days are life-affirming while others are “career-questioning.” When you have a breakthrough teaching experience, you need to take a deep breath—store up that feeling—because they don’t come as often as we need them. If they did, everyone would be beating down the door to get into the teaching field. This is one reason why teaching is hard work.
Blaming It on the Students
Sometimes I wish my students would realize that if they were enthusiastic, polite, and ready-to-learn every day, I would be a much better teacher. We would have much more fun as a class, and they would learn far more. But guess what? That’s not going to happen—at least not every day. As a teacher I have to persevere in spite of bad attitudes, disrespect, and reluctance to learn.
Some have described teaching as a “thankless” job. It is wonderful when students thank you for teaching them, but this is not the norm. (Think of it from their point of view though: Students are forced to attend seven hours of mandatory PD every day—that’s what school is from their end, by the way. If you had to endure that on a daily basis, how happy and thankful would you be?) In spite of the students’ attitudes, whether thankful or otherwise, we have to persevere. Maybe someday they will come back and thank us, but even if they don’t, we can be satisfied having done our best.
Why Do You Teach?
Whenever you do something for someone, it’s human to want that to be acknowledged. If I am a good teacher with the motivation of pleasing my principal, I will expect some recognition from my principal. If I don’t receive it, my motivation vanishes—not to mention, I’m angry. If I teach a good lesson with only the motivation to wow my students, and they can barely keep their eyes open, my motivation will vanish, and I’ll get angry. If I try to inspire my students, so that every parent will call and thank me for impacting their son or daughter’s lives, I better get a reality check. To keep my inspiration from constantly rising and falling, the motivation has to come from within me.
Serving a Higher Calling
Something that has helped me over the years is realizing the reason I teach. I have all the motivations that most teachers do: I want to support my family. I want to improve my students’ lives. I want students to love reading and writing. But all of these motivations are subject to disappointment. In these times I have to go to the deeper, intrinsic motivation. The real reason I teach is this: I do it to serve a higher calling. For me teaching is an answer to my Christian faith. The Bible says, “If you are a teacher, teach well” (Romans 12:7b). What other motivation do I need?
My job performance can’t hinge on recognition—from principals or parents. It can’t depend on the reaction of my students. When I encounter a dud lesson, I can’t give up. Whenever students’ attitudes and efforts indicate that they don’t care, I still have to care. I don’t keep trying because of them; it’s because of the motivation in me. Whenever the wind goes out of my sails, I have to re-focus on that idea and keep on sailing.