Five Habits that Hurt Teacher Motivation

BookCoverPictureFeeling unmotivated? Here are five reasons your enthusiasm might be sagging, and some tips for making it through the slump.

Dispiriting Discussions

Dealing with kids all day can make you crave the company of other adults, but not all adult conversations are equally helpful. Teachers’ lounge gripe sessions may help let off steam some days but feel toxic on others. Others times, it is more discouraging to talk to the new teacher down the hall who’s sure she’s doing a fantastic job and can’t wait to tell you about it. Just remember: Productive teaching conversations are comforting rather than overwhelming. Any conversation that makes those Sunday-night stomach cramps worse is not the conversation you need to have right now.

The Never-Done To-Do List

As teachers, we are our own secretaries. Nothing reminds us of this like looking at a to-do list of administrative tasks, especially one on which certain items seem to be permanent residents. To keep your list manageable, break big goals into smaller jobs that can be fully completed in a reasonable amount of time. Print student test scores is a good, list-friendly item. Analyze student data and make up long-term, individualized plans for each student is a multi-part project that is more likely to shut down your engine than get you in gear. Your goal, when putting something on your to-do list, is to be able to cross it off.

The Wish-List Pretending to be a To-Do List

Another hazardous habit is adding items to a daily task list that are actually ideas for the distant future. Not only do these items stay on our lists, they constantly remind us of our shortcomings. Don’t write be better at parent contact on your to-do list if what you really mean is call Javier’s dad. For long-term goals, keep a separate, ongoing collection of ideas you’re not ready to implement yet. You may want to set up a computer file for these, or start a Google doc you can access from your phone, or even a “” email account where you can send ideas when you’re on the go. The important thing is to keep wish-list items off your desk – and off your list of things that need to get done this week.

Classroom Task Creep

With all there is to do every day, it’s tempting to funnel your off hours into teaching tasks or turn your home into a satellite office for your classroom. Although this may seem like a sign of dedication, it’s likely that if you’re never 100 percent clocked out, you’re never 100 percent clocked in, either. For the kids’ sake and your own, mornings should always feel like the start of a new day, and Mondays should always feel like the beginning of a new week. It’s helpful to start by figuring out when you’re in the best mental and physical shape for certain tasks. Then set realistic limits on the amount of work that you bring home, schedule specific hours to work on it, and use your personal time for your personal life.

The Ill-Fitting Teacher Style

People constantly tell you to choose your battles in teaching. What they don’t tell you is that some of the battles not worth fighting are with yourself. If your planned teaching style requires you to be a robot, or saint, or delighted helicopter mom to 180 kids, don’t be surprised if it turns out not to be a very successful teaching style at all. A teacher’s job description has lots of moving parts, some of which make us happy and others of which make us very unhappy. Focus on the parts of the job you love most. Work to minimize the parts that you don’t. A year of sacrificing your own health, happiness, and sanity won’t benefit your students nearly as much as being a person who wants to be in the room with them.