I made more money at jobs with a high school diploma than I do as a teacher. 15 years have passed. I completed an associate’s degree as well as my bachelor’s. I left well paying jobs, took on debt, and spent difficult-to-recall hours volunteering and working for free in classes of all ages and sizes in preparation for my pay cut… err… I mean… new career. In short: it was at huge cost to enter the classroom as a teacher.
And I did it because I knew I would love it, and I do…
But in my first few months, it became abundantly clear that job was more than fun and games; in fact, it’s possibly the most important role I’ve ever had in my life. The hundreds of students I teach are all important and deserve my best effort every day.
This responsibility I feel for their development became more important than my own enjoyment. I can and will be stressed. I spend hours tweaking lessons and activities my students complete in minutes. I stay late. I plan and grade on my weekends and vacations. I’ve taken essays to Florida, Northern Arizona cabins, and even Vegas. Every student deserves this, I tell myself. I cannot let them down.
One time a student drew a cartoon of The White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, captioned “Mr. King;” the rabbit had a word bubble: “No Time! No Time!” It was comical to me at the time, and perhaps it still is… But I’m wondering are efficiency, benchmarks, and standards becoming more important than my own enjoyment? This is starting to sound very corporate; it sounds a lot like other jobs. I rationale(d) this by thinking “I only get these students for a limited amount of time; I have things to instill, I want them to get the most out of their time with me.”
If I’m being honest, the games, the activities, the comedy and novelty I try to incorporate into my lessons and room likely derives from an efficiency stand-point. I use what I’ve been taught about pedagogy and psychology to get desired outputs. Knowing that students have higher success rates when they trust each other, trust me, and are focused on tasks, I always have “fun” activities planned. Even if I am meeting a quota, it still happens: 2 team builders this week, 1 class builder.
My ethos as a teacher is the importance of building trust and communication within the room. So, of course I plan a lot of things I hope my students will have fun doing. While I plan games for my students, and seek engagement activities frequently, I just recently realized, I am not always having fun myself. I’ve planned an entertaining puzzle or contest for my students and once they started it, walked back to my desk to input week-old quiz scores. The kids have fun, I get caught up on something: win-win. Right?
My first week back after winter break, I had an epiphany. With nothing to “catch up” on, and coincidentally beginning my personal favorite unit: poetry, I realized… I’m having fun again. It was a good thing to feel that again. It was also perhaps a warning flare. If I notice this week as different, how many weeks go by without my own enjoyment?
But you know what? Gloria Estefan is right: The Rhythm is Going to Get You. Again, maybe it is that I am not “behind” on anything, or maybe it is that I was teaching one of my favorite concepts (Poetic Rhythm), or perhaps it’s the coincidental phenomenon of both elements clashing in the same week, but every class period was fun. Having students study rhyme, meter, alliteration, and refrain is a sure-fire way to make the students connect with poetry. We graph the syllables, and color rhymed points. They convert words into a beat, and are memorized at the power a poet possesses. I also had fun dropping a notoriously divisive poem into the room – an intentionally ambiguous poem- and watched students realize that words can be interpreted in polar-opposite manners. Moderating a lively debate and occasionally provoking the students is not only one of my favorite aspects of my job – it’s also as enjoyable as any other hobby I have in my life.
So now, armed with this epiphany, I hope I do not let too many high-stress, low-enjoyment weeks floods into my semester. I want to be more mindful of enjoying things alongside my students.
There are countless people who do not enjoy their jobs. There are countless people who let stress overshadow their joy. I certainly didn’t quit the corporate grind for that to still be my life.
So, I won’t let it.
Are you having fun in your classroom? What types of activities and lessons bring you joy? If you are in a rut right now, how can you change it up? Leave some ideas in the comments!