The Road to National Board Certification Part 7: 11 Ways to Talk Yourself Out of the Dark Place

What is it about February that makes us deplore it? Is it the long-haul to spring break? The fact that Valentine’s Day somehow makes teenagers spontaneously reenact Days of Our Lives scenes at all hours of the school day? It may be the shortest month, but to teachers, it is definitely the longest. And it always makes me question my career: I call it, The Dark Place. 

I’ve written about this before and how to prepare for the storm. My February is no exception. I prepare for it like the best of them, but it still doesn’t matter. I will never love February. I am working on my NB Certification and my students and I cannot afford to check out. Therefore, in a quest to make this profession sustainable, I present to you:

11 Ways to Talk Yourself Out of The Dark Place

  1. Come up with the most menial list and feel proud of it 

My to-do list gets ridiculous. “Plan out the rest of the week” is ALWAYS at the top. I never get that far, honestly. I just don’t. Something more urgent always comes up. So, I make a menial list. “Empty the small trash by my desk into the big trash can” is perfect. Really. Get something done and feel good about it.

2. Fight the urge to sit

I have an adjustable desk, so I raised it to a standing desk this week. If I sit down while kids are working I get into a rut of sitting. Being sedentary does no one any good, and it really diminishes the interactions I have with my kids. If you don’t have an adjustable desk, then remove your chair from your desk. (But not like this).

3. Don’t play into people’s negative B.S. 

Negativity is catchy. I am great at catching negativity because of my charming yet cynical personality (so my husband says). One word: EMAILS. Delete those passive aggressive missives like they have the plague.

4. You don’t have to be Teacher of the Year every day, but don’t let the rut become a gaping hole. 

We have bad days. They can turn into bad weeks. Then months. Then burn-out. Sometimes saying to yourself,”Tomorrow will be better because I’m going to get more sleep” or “Tomorrow will be better because I need time this evening to adjust this unit because it’s not working” gives you a plan and takes the hopelessness out of “I’m a sucky teacher” when in reality, there can be small and realistic changes that will improve your sense of effectiveness. This article from the Atlantic has good perspective about this issue.

5. Go home and do nothing….then try to do something. It does wonders. 

I am lucky in that I have flexibility when I leave because everyone knows that everyone is working hard and sometimes you just have to get out of the building to do what you need to do. If the day is rough, go get yourself a damn chocolate milk shake or whatever it is that you love then gradually immerse yourself into the depths of Google Drive to access your students’ essays. You may be in the camp that just gets everything done at school then goes home. I teach from 7:55-1:15, sometimes 2:10, with zero breaks. I honestly need a good two hours of no high functioning brain activity before I can be productive again. Especially since my ideal creative time is at night.

6. Take a personal day. 

I am lucky in that we have time to take when we need it. I know some teachers are not so lucky, but if you can (or even take a half-day), just do it. Give yourself time to do things that you love or spend time on other ventures that you’re interested in. You do not have to feel like teaching is your entire life. It is a big part of our lives, but it is not everything. #treatyoself

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7. Plan for a rockin’ spring break. 

I am planning on driving 5.5 hours to Santa Fe, NM in March. I am getting way too much joy figuring out where I’m going to eat, what I’m going to do with my dog, and what I’ll photograph. It sweetens the teaching job just a little bit knowing that I get a vacation in March when people in some other careers do not.

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Desert, here I come!

8. Yes, even when your silk pajamas are calling for you to stay in them on the couch, go do something physical. 

Sometimes I would rather sit on the couch than work out after a long day–duh. Last night I did Doyogawithme.com’s first day of the 14 day yoga challenge (will I do all 14 days? Probably not). I honestly didn’t even do the whole video. But I did something.

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Work/climb balance is crucial. Via instagram

9. Relish talking to your students about not-school things 

Yesterday I was on lunch duty and some students came and sat with me. We talked about not-school things like s’mores and twice-baked potatoes. It was nice. I remembered that I kind of like them 🙂

10. Come up with an “If I wasn’t teaching, I would…” list. 

This means, if you were not a teacher, what would you do? Try to realize life while not teaching. You have options, and if you want to change careers, you have to allow yourself to explore that. Things that I would and might try to do if I’m not a teacher: Be a wedding planner. Be a freelance writer on the blogs that I like. Graphic design. Will I change careers? Maybe I will. Maybe not. But it helps to compare different day-to-days to mine to figure out if this is where I need to be, and helps to remember why I like and am good at teaching.

11. If you can, incorporate things you like/are interested into your teaching. 

Being a language arts teacher at a school where I have flexibility in what I teach, I make sure to plan out my year where I’m teaching things that I know I enjoy and really get into (ahem, writing). This past session I only taught writing classes where journaling/creative writing was a focus. It helps. As always, Starr Sackstein is on point with this issue.

We’ve got nine days, y’all. Hang in there!

-S

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