Staying Passionate in Stormy Seas

It’s April, which means one of two things is potentially happening to teachers- one group is looking forward to planning for next year, and preparing for a new round of students, while another group is feeling downtrodden and uncertain about themselves and their teaching. It’s now the time of year where very few breaks exist until the last day of school. For West Virginia, teachers have a break in May for the election, as well as Memorial
Day. No more big holiday breaks, no more chances of a snow day. Okay, I take that last one back, as some West Virginia counties did receive snow at the beginning of April.

I spoke to a colleague a couple of weeks ago. She was very downtrodden and pessimistic about the path teaching had taken. Many times, she has questioned if she should just retire instead of dealing with these feelings of inadequacy. She wondered if the students would be better off with a younger teacher who was more capable. She’s also seeing some of her closest colleagues leaving at the end of this school year, and that doesn’t sit well. Who can blame her? Some have no choice in the matter, and others have chosen to seek
better options.

She asked my opinion on the possibility of her retiring and what she should do to bring back that zest. I told her that for me, my passion comes from connecting with other educators. Every week I’m involved in at least one edchat on Twitter and am engaging with other educators like myself. I also find my passion comes out within my blog posts and documenting my growth. I actively seek ways to better myself and motivate myself. My passion really comes alive when I attend conferences and professional development of my choosing. I seek out the sessions I want and take notes on what I learn. I share out what I learn with others. Finally, every now and then I pick up an educational book on a topic of my choosing. This has been lacking over the past year, but I’m slowly doing better.

Another way to put it is this: As educators, we are told to do many things, no questions asked. Complete these requirements for one’s classroom. Attend these meetings each week. Make sure to attend this district staff development or that required school staff development. Don’t forget to connect with the families and the surrounding community. We have responsibilities that cannot be shirked. Some of these we like less than others, but we do them because it’s all part of being an educator. There is, however, one thing that no one can dictate for us: our passion.

In education, each teacher’s passion is different. It’s not hard to tell though when a teacher is passionate about a topic. Just watch how they communicate. The eyes will light up, the educator will talk and talk on a topic, sound excited, possibly use hand gestures, and maybe speak a bit too fast. This is me, so I’ve been told. I’m known for my passionate rambles about the things I love best, and I’m also known for driving my friends and family crazy at times. I can’t help it, and I’m sure others can’t either.

Many times, the teacher has found a way to bring that passion into the classroom. I recall one of my cooperating teachers from back when I completed my student teaching. She loved art, and loved drawing. Often times, the projects she designed for her 6th grade students involved creating a visual piece to go with the work. She also encouraged her students to showcase their own work. I have a fond love of Minecraft. Currently I’m
working to bring that passion to the classroom. There are many ways to use it educationally. I even have a Minecraft Spotlight section on my bulletin board for students to showcase their work.

Think about your current passions outside of the classroom. What are they? How do they affect you? Next, focus on your classroom, your subject matter, and your students. How can you bring that passion with you to your classroom? Perhaps you can develop a project that incorporates it. Maybe you host a club after school for students focused on that passion. Perhaps there is a history aspect that would lend itself well to your teaching. Every educator’s passions are different, so it’s easy to see that every educator’s idea of implementation will be different as well.

Let’s bring the focus back to your classroom. Think about your subject matter and the topics you are required to teach students during their time with you. You’re not going to love teaching every minute detail of the curriculum. There are some topics you are less thrilled to teach about than others. That’s okay! Perhaps it’s a topic you need new ideas on teaching about. Perhaps you’re not sure how to make it interesting. Besides, if it’s not
interesting to you, then chances are your disinterest in the topic has been picked up on by the students, perhaps subconsciously. If you don’t like it, then why should they?

Sometimes, our passion flickers and wans. This is normal. We can’t always be passionate about the things we love best, even though we want to be. Sometimes this is due to life events that have affected us deeply. Other times we just aren’t sure of the explanation why. All we know is that we don’t feel the way we used to about something. There are times we just need to step back, reevaluate, and readjust. We often need a helping hand from the outside to refuel, and that’s where this next section comes in handy.

Here are 4 ways to keep yourself passionate about education, or to refuel your passion for education:

1. Attend a conference or professional development about something you love.

Finding the right kind of conference can feel like a mini-vacation. Get away for a few days, learn new things about the topics you love best (or have yet to discover!), and enjoy some good food, too. Of course, if the location doesn’t provide good food, ignore that last one.

There are many conferences available to educators. The problem is often finding one that takes place when the educator is able to go, and one that is cost efficient. There are some amazing conferences with a steep price tag. In my case, ISTE. One of these days I do
plan to attend that one, but for now, I cannot afford it, nor can my district. Some conferences take place at a new location each year, and others stay in the same location.

Attending a conference can bring back the spark because educators choose their own sessions to attend, and focus on sessions relevant to their work. Not every session will live up to expectations, but for the most part, educators will find the knowledge they are seeking. Conference sessions can help educators figure out how to change their teaching, or make adjustments to their current styles.

2.  Research education books, and find a new one that sparks your interest.

Sometimes it’s our mindset that needs a boost. We’re ready to try something new, even though we might not know what that something new is. If you’re looking to bring a change to your teaching, maybe it’s time to pick up a book and see what other viewpoints are out there! Often educators find that there is very little time to read during the school year, and so put this type of reading off until summer vacation. Summer vacation is often an ideal time for a few reasons- educators aren’t dealing with the day to day workload of the classroom, and they are beginning to think about the upcoming school year and how they could make changes.

There are quite an astounding number of educational resource books out there, and not all of them are good eggs. In order to sort through the bad to find the good, here are a few tips. First, talk to colleagues nearby and online about any great resource books that they’ve read and would recommend. Often someone is dying to tell more about a great read. The plus side of getting a book idea from a colleague means that you now have someone to discuss the book with as it’s being read. If a colleague doesn’t have an idea, then sometimes a quick Google or Amazon search might provide some ideas. I love using Amazon to find books because I can read other reviews. Reviews are a good way to see if the book has potential or not. Sometimes a book’s description sounds really good, but the reviews show a different story.

Once a book has been decided upon and procured, it’s time to begin reading. It’s always a good idea to take notes or to write reflection pieces every so often. It’s certainly not required, but it does make the reader think more deeply about what they have read and how they can apply it to their classroom in the future.

3.  Join an #edchat on Twitter.

#edchats are one of my favorite ways to connect on Twitter. Sure I have favorites that I follow and learn from, but there’s nothing like an #edchat to get a discussion going. #edchats provide conversation focused around one particular topic. They usually last for an hour, and can take place at a variety of times. There’s typically a moderator or host, and a list of questions that will be asked throughout the chat. #edchats do move very quickly, especially if there are many participants. For those who have trouble keeping up with the quick pace, transcripts are typically posted after the chat has ended. Educators can go back and reread the conversation whenever they like. #edchats that use the Participate Learn
website will also gather all of the resources together into a section so that readers do not have to search the entire transcript for a resource they remember seeing the first time.

#edchats can renew one’s passion because it’s a professional learning community fully focused on the topic for that week. It’s not a place where everyone vents about “that” student or “this parent”. Educators are focused on admitting faults and coming up with ways to fix them. They are eager to learn, and love to share resources. Leaving an #edchat after an hour discussion often leaves one feeling invigorated and renewed withpurpose.

4. Read blogs on your subject matter, or education in general

Remember what I said above about seeking a fresh viewpoint? Weblogs, or blogs for short, offer this. Educators take on the challenge of using a blog to share their thoughts, reflections, ideas, and suggestions for the field of education. Just like a book, a blog is a way to seek out a different mindset. Unlike a book, a blog doesn’t take as long to
read. Just like books, not every blog stumbled upon is going to be great. Some won’t have been updated for ages, or the content just isn’t what the educator is looking for.

In order to find great blogs to get started with, again, one should ask colleagues nearby and online. There are usually some well-known bloggers that post quality content to get new readers started. This lets the reader get their feet wet before seeking out blogs that are more geared toward their interest or subject matter. Once the newness wears off, it’s time to find some more content to read! Quite a few of the blogs I follow are done by educators I have met through #edchats or conferences. I often like to see what life is like in their school and community, and will follow them, even if their content doesn’t match my own. It never hurts to go outside of one’s content area. Google searches on subject blogs can be helpful, as well.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if you do just one or all of the above. The point is, you’re working to maintain your passion within your classroom. You’re motivated to work toward being your very best self, and actively seek out ways to do so. Got other ways for teachers to maintain passion in the classroom? Send your ideas my way!

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