I know why so many teachers leave the profession in their first five years.
For me, the Blahs come in October.
Unlike August, with her shiny new face, back-to-school clothes, and pristine notebooks, or September with his lenient Labor Day break and PTSA luncheons, October is a bit of a jerk.
October is a grubby taskmaster. October’s face is marked by whiteboard marker, back-to-school clothes stained by coffee, notebooks dented and messy, piles and piles of work to be graded. And there is so much of him, so much October; thirty-one days full of grade reports and parent emails and parent-teacher conferences and IEP meetings and staff meetings and attendance reports and mandated reporter training and sometimes-soul-sucking meetings and mandated one-size-fits-all professional development.
And then to top it off: Halloween, the most harrowing day of teaching for many of us, myself included, unless you count November first and the resulting sugar-induced madness.
During my first years of teaching, each October I’d research grad schools, dreaming of just being a student again. Later, well into my career, I’d scour Google’s website and write résumés and cover letters with my best friend, who was deep in the throes of the October Blahs with me.
I am clearly slow to notice patterns, but even I realized this: October comes every year. For me, I now accept that the October Blahs also come every year, a prevailing wind to be expected, a monsoon to be prepared for, a flare of educational arthritis. October will come, and October will go.
This is the course of treatment I prescribe myself, and perhaps it might help you too, if you, like me, find yourself subject to the Blahs.
- Attend teacher church. I’m writing this at Asilomar 66, a conference for English teachers in California held at Asilomar State Beach. All weekend, I’m surrounded by inspiring speakers and English teachers, immersed in talk of books and writing and kids. Having this beautiful conference to attend each October has helped to cut my October Blahs short. What conferences are near you? Where can you go for teacher church?
- Find your people. Go beyond your school site if politics get in the way of giving you the support you need, or just to expand your circle. Check out your local subject-matter project, National Writing Project site, or state or regional affiliate of the National Council of Teachers of English.
- Explore the Interwebs. Twitter is home to thousands of inspiring educators, many who host regular Twitter Chats. Online webinars and streaming, free professional development can fill up your teacher fuel tank. The Educator Collaborative offers free streaming PD sessions twice a year, and are recorded if you can’t watch them in real time.
- Read to rekindle your teaching fire. What books most inspired you to become a teacher? What professional books helped you become the teacher you are now? Ask teachers you admire for recommendations. I recommend The Teacher You Want to Be (Heinemann, 2015) as a good place to start.
- Revisit your Happy File. As a new teacher, my mentor made a Happy File for me—just a hanging file folder labeled “Happy File” with the instructions to put anything positive I get from students, parents, administrators, and colleagues in it. On bad days, I take it out and remind myself that I don’t always suck. If you don’t have a Happy File, start one.
- Identify energy-zapping practices. Teachers notoriously overcommit. We often work harder than our students, in and out of the classroom. Your students need you refreshed and present, grounded in the moment. What’s one thing you could stop doing? Could something be delegated to students? Does everything have to be graded? Could you say no the next time someone asks you to do something that might make it harder to be the teacher you need to be for your students?
- Practice self-care. A great friend and mentor of mine, Laura Brown, a reading intervention teacher, has this down to an art. She starts the day with ten minutes of meditation in front of a small candle in her meditation room (I know, right?). After work, she gardens, makes a delicious dinner, takes a walk, reads, writes, and then meditates for a few minutes before going to bed. When I grow up, I hope to be like Laura.
While my Blahs are predictably in October, they can blow in at any time. A few friends of mine have shared that their Blahs come in February or March. The truth is, in such a demanding profession, we all will have times when we are drained of energy, and it is only natural. Let’s plan, prepare, and be gentle with ourselves.
Now, I try not to take October personally; October will pass, and I’ll still be in my classroom, doing the best I can every day, just like my colleagues, just like my students. And so what if October is a jerk? November will send him packing. It’s just a matter of time.
Kate Flowers is an English Teacher at Santa Clara High School and Teacher Consultant at the San Jose Area Writing Project. Kate focuses on engaging students in a joyful and vigorous classroom, filled with authentic writing and reading opportunities. She works to adapt progressive practices to work for students in overcrowded, underfunded classrooms across different socioeconomic communities. You can find her on Twitter @kate_flowers.