Teaching cannot be effective without joy.
Teaching is a calling of tremendous responsibility. If we lose our joy, we cannot reach students. They are all struggling and they need us to be their anchors, champions, cheerleaders, advocates, and inspiration. I will be talking about teenagers because that is the population I teach, but younger students will be dealing with their own struggles.
Remember your teenage years – all the problems that suddenly developed with your family, your own identity, fitting in within the social atmosphere, maneuvering through emotional rollercoasters – depression, anxiety, insecurity, shame, doubt, physical changes, unexplainable ennui, physical attraction, anger, jealousy, exhilaration — sometimes all within the same class period!
Today I took the time to listen to some students. They were working on their narrative essays and I was monitoring the groups, chatting them up while they worked. I realized then that they all had so much on their minds, the daily challenges of every day life that they sometimes do not know how to deal with. When one started opening up, the others chimed in and talked about things like how they wish adults would listen to them, how they sometimes wish those around them would let them have space if they are upset, and what worries were occupying their minds – anything from failing a driving test to an ill parent to just being in a bad mood. I realized that I don’t always listen to them, to their side of the story, to their feelings.
I think most will agree that adolescence is a rough time, and no matter how capable and mature students appear to us, there are still major changes occurring in their bodies, brains, and mental states. Chemistry and biology are influencing them just as much as the situations they find themselves in, often through no choice of their own.
I remembered today that I often need to renew my joy of teaching, to remind myself why I pursued this calling, to consider all the stable, wise, responsible adults who modeled to me how to be professional and (appear) well-adjusted.
I hope those reading this will be inspired to pursue activities that bring joy, to take care of your health and mental well-being, and to remember that we might just be one of only a few positive influences in a child’s life. In the day-to-day grind of every day life, I can easily forget that.
Being a parent or coach or adult with bills and a mortgage can weigh heavily on us. Maybe we have parents who need our care and attention, or we are having personal problems with a spouse, or our own children are going through a rough patch. Maybe we have our own medical problems or financial struggles or personal worries, but we need to be mindful of our students. We need to show them that adults must sometimes simply carry on despite everything else. This is an important lesson.
Yes, life is hard. Struggles and pain and despairing situations are real, but we need to remember to make our moments with students count. I need to show students that I care about them as people just as much as I care about their schoolwork. I need to remember that I am the adult and I must honor the sacred responsibility with which the students’ parents or guardians have entrusted me with.
We are more than purveyors of knowledge, we are lighters of fires and sparkers of imagination. We must remember to be passionate about our students and to demonstrate hope, love, and belief in these kids. Renewing our enthusiasm and keeping our practice fresh and innovative can keep us engaged in teaching. If we don’t show our students we care — and want to be there with them — then what are we doing?