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The Emotional Roller Coaster of Teaching

“I love my job! I can’t imagine doing anything else.” 


“I don’t know if I can emotionally handle another day.”

 

“My students are amazing!” 


“If I have to repeat myself one more time, I might go crazy!” 


“Watching the growth of this class throughout the year is one of the most rewarding experiences of my career!” 


“I got cussed out by another parent who blames me for their child not turning in their assignment, again.” 


These are all phrases I have uttered over the past twelve years of teaching. Education is a unique career; you can have the best moment of your career and the worst moment of your career all in the same day! Highs and lows happen so often, you feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster, which can leave you exhausted by the end of the day. 


Highs

There are moments in education that make you feel like you are making the biggest impact. These moments fill your heart and soul with joy and can fuel your energy to keep moving on. But are they enough? Does it seem like the highs are occurring further and further apart? 


Remembering and focusing on the highs is important.  I was reminded of one just a few weeks ago.  In the mail I received a card and candle that read “Will you do the honor of marrying us?” 


Five years ago, I had a senior student who I had in pretty much every business class I taught from freshman through senior year.  She was (and still is) one of my all time favorite students (even though we don’t have favorites).  As she was graduating, I told her she would really get along with my cousin.  They had very similar interests including their love of golf.  I introduced them and they have been together ever since.  Last Christmas they got engaged. This, of course, was very exciting to me because one of my favorite students will be family.  When deciding who should officiate their wedding, they thought of me.  Receiving that note in the mail was one of my greatest teaching highs ever. Most of the time when our students graduate, we lose touch.  Not only will Lexi and I not lose touch, I get to be a part of the most important day of her and Jason’s lives. This was living proof of the impact I had made on her.


One of the business classes I teach is Entrepreneurship.  Most students don’t quite understand what entrepreneurship will entail when they sign up for the class.  I push my students out of their comfort zones. They meet and speak with community members frequently.  They get in front of audiences and pitch their business ideas. They really dream up and start a functional business. These things are incredibly scary to teenagers, and, trust me, they complain and whine the entire time.  However, by the time the year ends, these students have gained incredible skills in communication, perseverance, and conquering fears. 


I have had many of my students thank me for the skills they have learned in my entrepreneurship class. A couple years ago, one of my students was signing to play baseball at the collegiate level.  The local news station attended the event and interviewed him.  He told me after the interview, “That interview was so easy because of everything I learned in your class.”  At the beginning of the year, this kid was so nervous to speak in front of people. We even had to buy a special dress shirt that didn’t show sweat for a business pitch competition he competed in earlier that year. 


Another student who was successful in this class had very little interest in school in general.  His passion was creating his web based business. In fact, he would stay up late most nights working on this business and would fall asleep in classes. 


His senior year, he decided he wanted to take his schoolwork more seriously and go to school to study IT. However, his grades were so bad, he really didn’t have a chance of getting accepted to any school. I took him to a business competition where the dean of a local community college was a judge.  He won the competition and was offered a full tuition scholarship from that school.  He was able to go to school, for free, study IT and is still running his web based business to this day. 


The hug his grandma gave me the day he won that competition and was offered the scholarship was so tight, I could barely breathe. Would he have figured it out by himself, without my help? Maybe.But, I was so happy to be a part of that journey with him.  Seeing the light go off within a student as they figure out their purpose fills you with so much joy that words cannot explain. 


Accounting is probably my favorite class to teach.  I like how it has an exact process and you are either right or wrong, you either balance or you don’t.  Students usually either love or hate accounting. I do my best to make it engaging for all, because there are many accounting concepts that everyone should know, not just accountants.  


A couple years ago I had one of my former accounting students contact me.  He told me there was a mixup with his schedule and he ended up missing the first day of his accounting class.  The second class they had a quiz, which he was still required to take.  He got an A even though he didn’t attend the previous class. He said he learned everything he needed to know from me for his quiz. 


Lows

Now to the not so glamorous part of teaching, the lows.  There have been days I have come home in tears, feeling like a failure, wondering “What’s the point?” These lows come from many different sources; students, parents, coworkers, administration, the community, and even your own family. If you are a teacher, you know exactly the moments I am talking about. 


All of our lives were turned upside down when we had to pivot the educational experience because of covid.  Somewhere in the mix of this, it seems students lost their hunger for learning and self development.  I have a number of students who come into class everyday and say, “Can we just not do anything today?” 


Parents blaming teachers for their child’s lack of responsibility. 


Conflicting objectives between teachers, guidance, administrators, and central office make it feel like we are playing a game where it is impossible for everyone to win. 


The perception that we don’t deserve to be paid like a professional because we “only work 10 months out of the year.”


Constantly feeling like you have to prove your worth to everyone around you.


And, the constant fear that you are neglecting your family for your job. 


These are real struggles that cause mental pain each and every day. You are not alone. We all feel it! 


Balancing It All


So, how do we balance it all to make the lows not feel so low. Honestly, it takes time and practice.  I have been teaching for twelve years and I have just started to feel like I have a handle on this roller coaster. 


Keep the Notes  

When students write you notes or emails thanking you for what you have done for them, keep them. Have a special box or area that you keep them.  On down days, pull one or two out and read it. It may be the ticket you need to get through the day or week.  And remember, for every student who wrote you a note, there are probably five more that would like to have written you a note, but they just didn’t feel comfortable doing it. 


Create Non-Negotables 

If you are married, this is something you should do with your spouse.  Create a set of non-negotiable rules which help you prioritize your family and stick to them.  One of my big ones is that I do not go to graduation parties.  My kids play softball and baseball.  It got to a point I was missing my kids' games because I was trying to attend all of my students' graduation parties.  I felt if I went to one I had to go to all so no one felt left out. So now I just tell my students I do not go to graduation parties because my kids are so busy with baseball and softball in the summer.  They may be a bit disappointed when I tell them, but by the time their party hits, they aren't worried about whether I went or not. 


Recognize Coworkers for a Job Well Done

Do you feel better when someone recognizes the hard work you have accomplished? So does everyone else. If you see a colleague do something great, send them a little note.  This will create a more positive environment and maybe others will follow suit. You may even find yourself receiving positive feedback more often. 


Evaluate Your Obligations

You may need to cut things out of your schedule.  My system for evaluating my obligations is as follows.

  1. List all of your obligations and activities.

  2. Ask yourself two questions.  “1. Do I love this? 2. Is this contributing to my financial security?”

  3. If the answer to both questions is “No” then it needs to go. Focus your time on things you love and things that help you pay the bills. (Hopefully the things that pay the bill are also the things you love!) 


Ask for Help

You are not alone. You can ask for help.  Sometimes I feel like I have to do everything on my own to prove I am strong.  I am blessed with an amazing administrative staff that will help with whatever I ask.  Utilize the people around you. We are all in this together! 


Next time you are feeling down, try one of these strategies to help balance your career and home life. No matter how many times people say it, it’s still true, “You can’t take care of anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself.”


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