Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Why English Teachers Should be Selfish

It ain't Sunday, but I feel a sermon comin' on.

Think about your first teaching interview. Why did you sit through it? What did you want?

I KNEW that I wanted to spend my day with teenagers. I happened to be a good writer, so being an English teacher made sense. If I could hang out with them and help them to love writing too, that seemed like a pretty good deal.

But my ONE THING (think "City Slickers") kept me from my ONE THING. My desire to do my very, very best for those children wore me down to a nub. Poor diet. Lack of exercise. Early mornings. Lunch periods. Late nights. Saturdays. Sundays. Phone calls from students. They knew where I lived, where I worshiped, and where I ate out.

Here's the deal: If we pour out everything we are and have for our students, we will be dry vessels with nothing left to pour. We must have a way to keep the vessel filled.

You are neither a martyr nor a missionary.  You are a well-educated professional who went into teaching because you either love adolescents, love literature, or love writing. Perhaps your own life was changed by a teacher, and you wanted to pay it forward. Can you hold on to that motive and just do your job?

I once had a principal who, at a faculty meeting, made fun of teachers who get to work on time and leave on time. There was another who insisted that teachers come in on a Saturday for training--for no pay. A third called us back a day early from summer break, and no one questioned him. These outside pressures--shameful as they are--don't do nearly the damage that we do to ourselves. How? We might spend 30 minutes just grading one essay. We might assign full-length essays twice a month. We might tutor every afternoon. We might overwhelm our students (and therefore ourselves) in the name of rigor.

According to current research, only around 17% of teachers quit within five years. The ones who stay are likely to have been mentored. What are those mentors saying? Get sleep. Have boundaries. Take care of yourself. 

Teachers are not selfish; I'm not sure we even can be. We can, however, protect ourselves by planning differently, grading differently, and saving some of the love for ourselves.

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