You have probably heard, more than once, that teaching is one of the most important but underrated jobs. As South African teachers we have the daunting responsibility of not only taking learners through the syllabus and preparing them adequately for assessments and exams, but also ensuring our learners are ready to face all the challenges that come with living in South Africa.
New year ‘optimism’ wears off quickly! You can feel overwhelmed, tired, and unappreciated. A bit like you felt at the end of the year! Here are some ideas of how to continue to feel good, inspired and motivated through the year.
Take delight in the small things
In this rushed world, we often don’t take time to notice the little things going on around us. A small note left on your board by a learner, a kind word from a colleague or an encouraging email from a parent are very meaningful. They help you remember why you took up teaching in the first place. You are making a difference, even though it may not be obvious or immediate.
Sometimes the rewards are only evident later, as is promised in Ecclesiastes 3:11 (one of my favourites) which states that “everything is made beautiful in its time”.
Although there are often many after-hours’ commitments as a teacher, such as extra-murals, lesson prep, marking, or sport. Remember to keep your cup full by getting a proper rest so that you can continue to energetically and positively fill the cups of your learners.
Manage your time well so that you have enough for sleep, school and your own interests. In the same way, creating an environment where children feel safe and comfortable, yet productive, is also important.
Teaching is a busy job and having enough energy to make it through the day, and then address all the after-hours’ work with the appropriate mental dedication, is important. Eating fruit like bananas with consistent long-lasting energy release also keeps you full for longer and doesn’t give you that sugar crash later.
Consider the Proverbs 11:25, which states that “…whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”
Learn from an experienced and passionate teacher
Some of you may be starting out as a new teacher this year. You might feel a bit overwhelmed about the responsibilities that lie ahead in your job. Approach an experienced teacher and ask them if you can check in with them from time to time as part of an in/formal mentorship programme.
When I started teaching a few years ago, I would meet with a colleague every week or fortnight during a mutual free. We chatted about how they were teaching certain sections/if they had any ideas that had worked well in the past, etc. This boosted my confidence when it came to tackling a tricky section. It also allowed me to feel that I was on the right track in terms of time frame and content.
Establish the boundaries from the beginning (again)
This is especially important. Research has shown that children flourish and feel more comfortable when they know what is expected of them. They will also then know that a certain behaviour will cause a certain response. Remember also, that having to discipline learners is never a pleasant part of the job, but it is also vital to the positive development of the child.
Think of Proverbs 22:6 which reminds us that start(ing) children off in the way they should go … even when they are old, they will not stray from it.
Tackle difficult issues sensitively
If you are covering material where race or politics might be highlighted; make it clear that you do not take sides and that you and your class are approaching this from a learning perspective.
In my own experience, I taught Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird for a few years. These books contain many racially derogatory comments and blasphemous words. I chose not to read these out load, stating to the classes when we started the novels, that I did not feel comfortable with doing so as a Christian. We also looked at the context around when these novels were written; in order to understand why people related to one another in these political complex and racist ways, and what it can mean for our society today.
When appropriate, difficult issues can be an opportunity for you to share your values and morals.
Young people these days are often looking for someone who is reliable, approachable and kind, and we as teachers have the opportunity to embody these for our classes.
Remember Jesus as the ultimate example
Jesus also needed time out with God and was very assertive about taking it when necessary. Remember to bring your problems (and gratitude) to God each day and know that He is with you. God also encourages us in Proverbs 9:9, when we are feeling overwhelmed, “Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning”. Your passion for teaching will rub off on your learners and they will be inspired to learn in this way.
There is not perfect formula or steps to getting it right in teaching but applying some of the above ideas are sure to help. What other ideas have you found helpful?