We’re halfway there! It’s hard to believe that the end of year is approaching us and as I sit here writing this blog I’m filled with a million and one emotions, thoughts and anxieties that come along with this time of the year. Feelings of excitement, nervousness, frustration along with thoughts of all the things that are happening this week, in the coming weeks, the impending reports deadlines and the list just goes on and on.
This is typical of Term 4, but I find it’s also the nature of teaching. It’s a crazy whirlwind of things to do, grading, planning, meetings, duties and oh so much more. It’s no wonder we hear reports of teacher retention rates dropping and people leaving the profession, which continually saddens me. But each of us is just one choice away from leaving the teaching profession. There’s been many times I’ve contemplated giving it all up – no more marking, no more meetings, no more reports to write or deadlines to meet and at times all that seems worth it… so why have I stayed?
It’s the ‘joy’ that I find in teaching that keeps me going. One thing I’ve learnt in life and in teaching is that it isn’t always easy. It’s hard, especially when life itself outside of our jobs in complex. I’m not just a teacher, I’m a husband, a father, a son, a brother, an uncle, a cousin, a mentor, a leader and a friend (all of which come with their own demands and complexities).
Life is messy, unpredictable, confusing, hurtful, but there’s so much joy to be had. One of the biggest lessons in life and in teaching that I’ve learnt is to “keep my joy.” The dictionary defines joy as; ‘a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.’ However, the way I see it, joy is far stronger, deeper and persevering than happiness. Happiness is fleeting and usually dependent on external factors or happenings. Generally we feel happy because something good happens to us but when that thing ends or is no more so is our happiness.
Joy, on the other hand is much deeper than this. Joy endures through difficulties and lasts over time. It’s something that comes from deep within us and is rooted in far more than just the things that happen around us. In my life so far I’ve had the privilege to meet some truly joyful people, despite their circumstances. People with terminal illnesses, living in poverty, those who have lost loved ones in some tragic and horrific ways, but still they have joy. One of the lessons I’ve taken away from these people who have crossed my path is to keep my joy, to value it, hold onto it tightly and guard it with all my might because without it life is impossible.
As a teacher, I need to keep my joy. Keep my joy in the midst of report writing, when it’s long days and nights at the computer. Keep my joy when my week is filled with a million deadlines. Keep my joy when my list of things to do seems to always grow and never finish. Keep my joy when there’s complaints from staff or parents. Keep my joy when people are difficult. Keep my joy when I don’t get my own way. Keep my joy when students are challenging. Keep my joy teaching is tough and tiring.
It’s the joy of teaching and the joy of life itself that keeps us going. It’s the motivation to get out of bed each day and enter the classroom ready to tackle whatever comes our way. Joy is the fuel the teachers run on. Once we lose our joy, we leave. Why haven’t I quit teaching yet, because I haven’t allowed ‘the system’, ‘the people’ or ‘the paperwork’ to steal my joy. Believe me, it hasn’t always been easy to do, but it’s something that I’ve determined in my heart to do. My joy is my choice and I won’t let anyone take it from me because as soon as I lose my joy, I am no longer any good to those who need me most, not just those in my role as a teacher, but everyone in my life. Like I mentioned earlier, I believe that ‘keeping your joy’ is a personal choice and it comes from our perspective and the way we process and deal with what happens around us. I’m not sure how you stay joyful but here’s a couple of things I’ve learnt along the journey of life as a teacher.
How Do You Keep Your Joy? Remember these points;
It WILL end
Whatever you’re going through right now it’s important to remember that it WILL end! No matter the frustration, difficulty, suffering or heartache, it will not last forever. Like I mentioned at the start of this blog, life is tough. It certainly doesn’t hold back or go easy on us because we’ve got a busy week. Often we can’t control or change the things that happen to us or around us. However, what we can do is control how we respond to life. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learnt is to keep life in perspective and remember that no difficultly is forever. It’s the same in the teaching world. Report season will come to an end, the term will be over before we know it, holidays will come, the weekend is on its way. Remember to keep life in perspective and look past the difficulty that you’re going through right now. Choose to have a positive outlook and grow through the difficulties life throws at us. Joy comes through satisfaction and we can find satisfaction in growing through the tough stuff. Joy is bigger than what’s happening right now! I’m learning to live my life not based on my emotions because they make a terrible master.
You ARE making a difference
Every day you step into your classroom, your staff room, your playground there is a fresh opportunity to do something positive for the world. We as teachers make an incredible difference every single day, just by being present and showing up. To some kids you simply being there make a profound difference. It’s important to remember the ‘why behind the what.’ In teaching there are a LOT of things to do, we spend our time focused on a lot of the ‘what’, but we can never lose track of the why. Why did you become a teacher? I’m sure it wasn’t for the grading, marking, paperwork, procedures etc. that we can easily become bogged down in. I know I became a teacher because I wanted to make a positive difference in the lives of young people, because it made a difference in my own life. As you walk out the door in the morning determine to make someone’s day better because they came across your path. Often we overlook the things we do and see them as insignificant but it’s important to look for the difference you are making and this comes through giving yourself time to reflect. Each day when you get home ask yourself a few simple questions;
· What was one positive thing I did for myself?
· What was one positive thing I did for someone else today?
· What made me smile and how did I make others smile?
· What made me laugh and how did I make others laugh?
Never lose sight of the ‘why’! Everything we do is about making a difference, we might not always agree with the processes that are forced upon us, but I’ve decided not to let the ‘what’ steal my joy. I am making a difference today and that’s where my joy come from.
Stay CLOSE to others
One of my previous blog posts focused on the power of being connected to others and not doing life or teaching on our own. I can’t emphasise this point enough because if it wasn’t for the people I do my life and career with I don’t know where I’d be today. Sometime we need a fresh injection of joy from those around us. Joy isn’t always something we can find for ourselves, but it certainly is contagious. We’re better when we do life together. When life is difficult it’s easy to have our focus filled with our problems or issues and as that happens our problems seem to grow bigger and bigger. It’s hard to see past the immediate, but having good people in our lives helps us define our reality and see what’s really going on or put our situation into perspective. Find people who bring you joy and spend as much of your time as you can with them. Choose to stay close to people that are good for you and priorities spending time with them as often as you can, especially when times are tough.
I don’t know where you’re at right now in your life or teaching journey. But no matter where you find yourself there is joy. As we approach Christmas ‘joy’ will be a catchphrase or a word for the season and will soon be forgotten again. Joy is one of our greatest assets as a teacher and human being. It’s more than a feeling or a moment. It’s a source of motivation, passion and life so value it, protect it, guard it and above all else… please don’t lose it!
Be happy & teach well!