August and September are all about excitement. You’re eager to set up your classroom, start fresh with a new class of smiling faces, and apply all the learning you did over the summer. The school year gets underway, the smell of freshly sharpened Ticonderogas fills the air, and the energy is palpable and contagious.
Then, October hits you in the face. Just slaps you silly with assessment schedules, parent-teacher conferences, students starting to test their limits when it comes to your behavior expectations, and you’re probably battling your first cough or cold of the new school year. You’ve spent weeks building a foundation: routines, expectations, and diving into those first few curricular units and you can’t help but think, “How am I this exhausted after only six weeks?”
Welcome to the Disillusionment Phase of the school year. I know what you’re thinking. This graphic is usually only discussed in reference to first year teachers, but after seven years, I still find myself riding this roller coaster and hitting these milestones like clockwork. That being said, I’d like to share with you my three best tips for making it through the Disillusionment Phase alive:
- Continue to Teach and Re-Teach Routines
I get it. It seems like after six weeks of drilling the basics (when to use the restroom, how to transition to carpet work, what independent reading looks/sounds like) it should be safe to let up a bit on teaching and re-teaching these routines. Honestly, maybe it is safe! But, if you notice that the second you do part or all of the class falls apart? It could be time to go back to explicit teaching of these routines. I’m a big fan of Doug Lemov and his book Teach Like a Champion. Doug provides examples and rationales of highly effective management techniques, such as this one on redirecting behavior, that are proven to help you minimize distractions and maximize instructional time.
- Data is Your Friend
I understand how overwhelming beginning of the year benchmark testing can be. You’re expected to level students with this program and obtain baseline data with that one. All while attempting to build routines and find your stride as a class. Thankfully, you (and your students) made it through that first assessment window alive and now it’s time to utilize the wealth of information at your fingertips! If you haven’t already, this is the perfect time to begin to dig deep into the nitty gritty of individual student needs. Take time to have conversations with students about their assessments. Encourage them to set SMART goals for themselves and include them in your progress monitoring system. As best you can, use this (and upcoming fall conferences) as an opportunity to establish a partnership between you, your student, and their parents while inspiring students to take ownership in their learning by involving them in the process.
- Identify Your Support Team
Both professionally and personally, assemble a team of support for yourself. Perhaps it’s your teaching partners, instructional coach, and/or other staff members in your building that you can go to when you’re grappling with a problem of practice. A spouse, your friends, or family members can be great reminders to make time for something other than work; especially on evenings and weekends. We think of teacher burnout as something that only happens near the end of the year, but the stress and pressure of our jobs can bring feelings of fatigue at any time. Consider activities, both professionally and personally, that boost your spirits and help to keep your emotional and mental health in check.
I’m curious – does this sound familiar to you? If not, teach me your ways! If it does, know that you are not alone and I promise with some intentional moves like the ones listed above, you’ll get through this phase and be well on your way to rejuvenation, reflection, and (believe it or not) anticipation in the months ahead!