We’ve all had moments this school year when making it to summer felt impossible. You might even be feeling that way right now: like your job has just taken everything out of you, and you have nothing left to give.
Being in that headspace is very normal, and it’s fine to allow yourself to feel exhausted and overwhelmed. You don’t have to talk yourself out of your feelings, ignore what your body is telling you, and push through no matter what.
(There’s a difference, after all, between pushing through and powering through. Pushing through, at least to me, means doing it regardless of how you feel and just get it done with no regard to the outcome. I see powering through as tapping into the source of your energy and motivation to see things through with strength. We want to power through, not push through.)
The determination to power through comes partially from reminding yourself that the way things are now is temporary. No circumstances stay the same forever.
I guarantee that you will not be dealing with this exact same set of problems in the fall — your workload will change, your students will change, and YOU will change.
Some of it will be for the better and a few things will change for the worse, but it will be DIFFERENT. You will not feel exactly like this every day for the rest of your teaching career.
Recognizing the temporary nature of our problems is a technique I learned when studying Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The most influential CBT strategy for me has been learning to recognize my own distortions in thinking that create problems, and then reevaluate them in light of reality.
(I’ve actually written an entire book about this, called Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching. If you want to do a deeper dive into what I’m about to share, check that out.)
A pessimistic viewpoint is that problems are permanent, pervasive, and powerless. That means they will never go away, the problem is the same everywhere so you can’t escape it, and you are powerless to do anything about it.
An optimistic viewpoint is that problems are temporary, specific, and changeable. The circumstance will not last forever, it’s specific to this particular situation and is not something you’ll have to face everywhere all the time no matter what, and you have some control over how you respond to the situation in order to make it better.
Dr. Martin Seligman’s research has shown that we can train ourselves to be optimists. Or, if you prefer, you can train yourself to be a realist.
A realist sees things as they really are, which means giving an appropriate weight to the good stuff that’s happening and not allowing our lizard brains to only focus on potential threats and problems.
You don’t have to choose a negative framing for your situation: “Teaching is just completely untenable for me. It’s never going to get better, and in fact, it’s only going to get worse. There’s no point in trying to find another teaching position where I can have better working conditions, because it’s terrible everywhere and I probably couldn’t find another job anyway. The whole profession has gone to hell in a handbasket and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
While you are entitled to think these thoughts whenever you wish, I think it’s obvious what kind of depressed feelings that choice will create.
A realist would examine those thoughts, and consider what else might also be true:
Is there any way to know for sure that teaching is always going to be too demanding and miserable for me forever? Of course not.
Is it absolutely true that there are no schools that have better working conditions? Nope.
Things will never get better? No, we don’t know that for sure, either.
Once we recognize that this pessimistic viewpoint — that the current situation is actually permanent, pervasive, and powerless — is not really true, we can choose a more accurate perspective. For example:
“Teaching is super tough for me right now. Next year will have different challenges, and they could be better or worse. The situation in each school was so unique this year, so I know what I’m going through isn’t exactly what everyone else experienced — there ARE some things that can be done to make things better for teachers and kids, because those things are actually happening in tons of classrooms all over the country. I don’t have control over as many factors as I’d like, but I do have some choice in __, __, and __. So I can focus my attention on the things I can do to make this situation more bearable, and set myself up to have better choices in the future.”
So you don’t have to worry about how you’ll be able to keep this up until retirement, or even for just a couple more weeks.
You can handle ANYTHING for just today. Focus on what you need to do just for now.
And then tomorrow when you wake up, remind yourself, “It’s not going to be like this forever — things can change at any time. I can handle the current situation, just for today.”
Repeat until you’ve powered through to the finish line.
Because while you may not feel like you have the strength to get through ALL the school days right now...you also don’t NEED the strength for all the school days right now. All you need is strength for today.
And if that feels like too much, focus on just the strength for right now. Just this moment right here. And then in the next moment, focus just on that second in time, too. Keep doing that, one moment after another.
We’re powering through this, together.