Fighting the Late Fall/Early Winter Blues

For nine years, I have been teaching various subjects in public schools.  Every year, sometime around October, I begin to think, "man, this is a really stressful job."  Even though this happens year after year, the frustration always sneaks up on me just when I think I've got everything under control.  I invariably spend several weeks questioning how I'll ever get everything done that I MUST do, complaining to my poor friends and family about the impossible expectations of teachers, grinding my teeth through the night, and developing nervous twitches in my face by day.

Before I started teaching, I was told that this late-fall / early-winter funk was likely to strike.  Ellen Moir illustrated the phenomenon in 1990 in a now well-known line graph called "Phases of first-year teachers' attitudes toward teaching."
New Teacher Center
The nasty trick about this graph is that it isn't just true about the first year.  Although the specific obstacles and pressures vary and are, therefore, each uniquely challenging, the path of the roller coaster remains equally turbulent.

Since my experience tells me that I probably will survive this difficult season, just as I have every year before, I am trying to focus on doing what I can to fight away the blues.  If you are likewise experiencing the free-fall from survival stage into winter disillusionment, try out some of these suggestions for keeping things in perspective.

1. Know You're Not Alone
Even though every educator deals with a unique brew of frustrations made up of specific local issues and student needs, there are also some broad national and international trends that affect teachers almost universally.  Knowing that others are experiencing the same struggles or feeling the same emotions can help teachers avoid indulging in self-doubt.

If you are craving a brutally frank discussion of what is going on in education, visit dianeravitch.net where you will find daily updates about the issues that trouble serious education advocates worldwide.  Staying informed about the evolution of education policy will also help teachers use their experience to become informed advocates for education.

2.  Fill Your Day with Your Favorite Things
Include the things you enjoy as themes in your lessons.  If you're following the presidential election in your spare time, let students practice reading, math, and social studies skills through election-related texts and problems.   If you're a sports fan, turn your favorite game into the theme for reading comprehension, historical studies, and mathematical problems.  Students will feed off of your enthusiasm for the topic, and their motivation is priceless.

Also, give yourself mini rewards for accomplishing micro-goals.  Make a quick list of little things that make you happy.  Then use those as little motivators to get you through tough days.  Attaboys and immediately-evident success are few and far between in schools.  To keep myself motivated, I bribe myself with tiny extrinsic treats throughout the day.  Made it through the morning laptop-checkout rush?  Then I get to enjoy my favorite carbonated cranberry juice.  Survived my morning classes?  Then I reward myself with a yummy sack lunch and a few minutes reading a novel.  Even the most trivial incentives can make a big difference when frustration levels are on the rise.

Plan ahead to do fun things after work.  Having something to look forward to will make the day go by more easily.  Check out Laura Winslow's list of 101 fun things to do in the fall for ideas about free entertainment like star-gazing, baking, bird-watching, and crafting.

3. Just Say "No" to Optional Responsibilities
Remember that it's okay to pass on non-required committee positions, party invitations, and other time-consuming activities that you may be invited or encouraged to join.  If your mouth has a habit of saying "yes" before checking with your brain, like mine does, practice saying "no" in advance.  Actually rehearse how you will confidently say "no, thank you" the next time someone mentions an upcoming "opportunity."

What are your tips for circumventing the blues?



Shelly Pickren said...

Thank you! I am in my second year as a primary school librarian and although I LOVE my job, seriously LOVE my job, until I saw that chart I thought I was the only one feeling this mini-panic about not being able to find enough hours in the day! As I look at that chart, it rings true all through the calendar! Your suggestions are great! Thanks!

librarianism said...

Thanks for stopping by, Shelly.

Ms. Yingling said...

It's good to know that it looks up from this point on! I try to remember that if I make one student's day easier, it's worth it to get up, get dressed, and come to work!

Amber Mann said...

I like your approach, Ms. Yingling!