There often seems to be a tacit assumption that your first year in teaching – and perhaps large parts of your career – are meant to be a bit of a misery. Teaching is certainly incredibly hard but unhappiness is neither inevitable nor unavoidable.
Recent research our team conducted found that the teachers who did particularly well in highly challenging schools were those who found ways to learn from their struggles, frame their experiences positively and then wipe the slate clean and move on. So it was wonderful to hear from Laura Towers (2013 Participant, Yorkshire and Humber), who has found three impressive ways to stay positive during the school day.
1) Laura plans around the things she knows may be a struggle, finding ways to make them easier:
“I have a really tough day on a Tuesday because I teach six periods in a row and three of them are Year 11, which at this time of the year is very stressful. So, on a Tuesday I bring a can of red bull and a chocolate bar just to get me through the day. So, its marginal gains, isn’t it? The little things. I’ll have those at lunchtime. Four periods down, two to go. Red Bull, chocolate bar, and I’m back on form.”
2) Laura avoids things which may drag her down:
“Something that I noticed I was doing was going into the workroom and just moaning for the full 20 minutes [of lunchtime], which is perhaps self-fulfilling. There is always going to be somebody else that can moan with you as well. People love moaning, don’t they? I’m as guilty of it as anyone. Going for this group moaning session.
“I’ll tell you now, it doesn’t make you feel better. It makes you feel worse. So, I’d be coming into my next lesson feeling even worse. So, I’m trying to stop doing that. Maybe reading or something just to take my mind off it. When the weather gets nice I’m going to start going outside for some fresh air, because being trapped in this classroom can drag you down.”
3) Laura forces herself to focus on the positive:
“My mentor last year, when I was having a really tough time, said that you should try and write down at least one positive thing after every lesson. Something I started doing recently was, I’ve got a little book in my top drawer and on the front of it I’ve written ‘Why you should never give up, ever. As many things as I could remember that made me smile today’.
“It’s really cheesy, but the little moments, and I find that there is at least one little moment every day where somebody says something or does something that’s incredibly nice and makes the job really rewarding. I try to make a conscious effort to remember it and to write it down. I started doing that because recently I had a day where I just felt like the whole world fell apart. Everything seemed to go wrong and I was thinking, I can’t believe I’ve been doing this job for eighteen months now and I feel like I’ve just started.
“So, I decided that I was going to find the little things and try and remember those instead of focusing on the negatives, because there are a lot of positives there all of the time, but we tend to overlook those all of the time and focus on the negatives.
“I need to keep that up because it’s good…”
Laura plans around her lowest moments, avoids situations which might drag her down, and pushes herself to focus on the positive. Our research suggested that tactics like this can help teachers persist when challenged and achieve impressive impact with their students.
Andy Tharby has adopted an approach very similar to Laura’s which he has described here