Will You Still Be Teaching Next Year?
by Terry Heick
Are you coming back next year?
Teaching, I mean. Will you be back? Not to the same classroom. I don’t mean the same grade level or content area or school or even the same district. I’m asking about whether or not you’ll be back next year as a teacher.
Teaching is hard; Great teaching is even more challenging. Meeting the needs of every student? Impossible. And that can wear on you.
It’s telling how often teachers get asked that question–or ask themselves. It’s unlikely engineers or farmers or bartenders or artists have to wonder if they’re ‘coming back.’
The school year is set up like a kind of grind, which invites this kind of thinking. Teachers can learn to simply survive from one break to the next, then finally to summer. It’s not as if you get ‘summers off,’ as the world believes you do. There are explicit and implied expectations of teachers during the summer.
Collaborating with other teachers, attending mandatory professional development, staying ‘in touch’ with administrators and colleagues within your school and beyond. In fact, it is unlikely teachers get much more time beside the pool or at the beach than any other profession. I can’t count how many, “I hope you’re recharging your batteries” emails I’d get during the summer, which did little to charge them and only reminded me of the struggle that was scheduled to begin every August like some kind of Sisyphean uphill climb.
Of course, it’s not that way for everyone. Some teachers love their job, warts and all, and can’t imagine themselves ever doing anything else.
That is, however, a gift not every teacher receives.
Teaching With A Sense Of Optimism
So much about ‘life’–in the psychological and emotional and well-being sense–is about beliefs.
What do you believe about yourself?
What do you believe about your environment and your ability to meaningfully impact it? About your future and your ability to control it?
Do you believe you have choice and opportunity, and choose to teach? To come to your craft anew each year much in the same way you might to a marriage or familial role or important thing you choose to do because it needs to be done and you feel uniquely suited to do it?
Are you chained to your job, or have you removed the shackles, sat them aside, and gotten on with the business with teaching?
In ‘Maximum Brainpower,’ Cognitive psychologist Shlomo Breznitz explains,
‘…the brain does not want the body to expend its resources unless we have a reasonable chance of success. Our physical strength is not accessible to us if the brain does not believe in the outcome because the worst possible thing for humans to do is to expend all of our resources and fail. If we do not believe we can make it, we will not get the resources we need to make it. The moment we believe, the gates are opened, and a flood of energy is unleashed. Both hope and despair are self-fulfilling prophecies.’
If you believe you can reach students next year, you will. If you believe you’re a capable teacher with the ability to adapt and grow and connect, you will. If you believe that you’re able to fulfill the expectations of administrators and parents and students and colleagues and yourself, you won’t be stopped even if you fail. There’s very little that’s beyond a driven teacher’s reach.
And in that space is where the titular question resides: If you believe you ‘can teach,’ then teach. You may need to reconcile your own beliefs about pedagogy with the reality of the enormity of the task of everyday teaching. You may need to retreat a bit. To regroup this summer and next year try again, this time a little less ambitious with technology, with data, with differentiation, or with making every learning experience absolutely life-changing for every student.
But maybe not. Maybe you need that ambition and belief that teaching is extraordinary and you’re extraordinary and project-based learning and personalized learning and that teacher across the hall you love so much are all extraordinary.
You may mentally tire and become creatively drained and have your moments of doubt and wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into during a meeting with parents or a critical evaluation by an administrator. That, however, is different from quitting. Those are just the rigors of a rigorous task.
So if you’re at that moment where you’re not sure if teaching is for you, or if that job in that school or that grade level is where you need to be, take a couple of weeks before you make up your mind. And then, at some point, ask yourself if you can keep that certain something–that spark of belief that you can and should. Check yourself for ambition and curiosity and affection for students and content and social change.
Ask yourself what you believe about yourself and your ability to meaningfully impact the world around you. Maybe even actually scratch it all out on a sheet of paper to see for yourself with your own eyes what you believe about yourself, your context, and ultimately your own future.
And finally, and maybe most importantly, ask yourself if teaching is good for you. Healthy. Sustainable. What you want to do and be. A lot has changed in the last two years and there’s no shame in doing something else. It’s not ‘quitting,’ os doing what you need to do.
Somewhere, embedded within those beliefs, you’ll likely see that you’ve already answered the question long before you asked it.