This is a tough profession. Thank you’s are rare, awards seem random, complaints are devastating, and it is not the children’s job to make you feel good about your profession. Plus, if you do well, you might be lucky to get a tiny raise, but you will probably find that next year’s class has even more challenging students because your principal trusts you to handle them. Add to that the desperate circumstances in which some of your students live, the awful attitudes that a few of them bring to school, plus the full-on effort you put into every day, and you can end up empty. Find teacher friends that won’t tell on you for complaining. Do what you need to do to restore your resilience. Sleep. Take a bath. Read a book. Go for a run. Fix one thing that has been bugging you in your classroom. But most of all, remember to laugh.
It will hit at the oddest moments. You have smiled and been kind all year. You have also been serious and had to sharpen the tone in your voice. You have listened, you have encouraged, you have exhorted, and then…
My class and I were struggling through book writing before the Literacy Fair. In order to get the best writing possible, I had allowed every student to choose their own genre and topic which was good for the students, but not for the teacher. We had been through endless mini-lessons and the “request for conference” list was five days long. The stress was palpable. Ryker, a 4th grader who was back for his fourth conference, had written an endless first-person piece about an action hero who fought the Germans in WWII. He not only had at least ten pages of small, scribbly writing to decipher, he also didn’t know much about WWII. His hero used contemporary slang, current weapons, fought through trenches (WWI) and flew in a biplane (also WWI), among many other anachronisms. Several rewrites later, we were finally working our way through the end of the piece when my tired eyes hit the phrase, “I snot the Germans.” My brain couldn’t make heads or tails. Snot. Snot. He blew his nose on them? Is this germ warfare and the wrong war again? A weapon I haven’t heard of? What could he be thinking? I read it out loud. “No, no, Ms. DeWilde,” he explained, “It’s ‘I shot the Germans!’” Oh! Relief flooded through me. It wasn’t even that funny, but I let myself go. I started giggling, then laughing. Imagining how he was going to illustrate snotting the enemy made me laugh so hard I cried. Of course all work stopped as the entire class had to find out who made the teacher lose it. I didn’t care. It was exactly what I needed to get all of us to the end of those books.
About once a year, someone makes me laugh so hard that I can’t breathe. My face turns beet red, I gasp like a dying fish, double over, stumble into a chair, and shock the snot out of my students. I don’t care because I need laughter like I need air. I love to hear my students laughing, but when a child can surprise me in some goofy way, all of the stress and tension gets knocked out of my body. I get my bounce back. So will you. Let yourself laugh.