The following is an excerpt from the Introduction to Thrive: 5 Ways to Reinvigorate Your Teaching by Meenoo Rami
During my first few years as a teacher, a couple of times a year, a string of bad days would haunt me at school. During these days, it was difficult to fight the feelings of isolation, the sense that I was having no positive impact on my students; there were even curt interactions with students where I was left feeling that my work was not being appreciated by students, their parents, or the school community. The worst feeling was the sense that my students and I were just going through the motions of playing school rather than actually creating meaningful work together. The sheer exhaustion from long days of teaching, grading, and planning would leave me depleted, and I would have to push myself to find the strength to continue giving my best effort to my students. However, sometimes my best effort would not even be enough, and I would have this dreadful feeling that I wasn’t fully prepared to teach on that particular day. Giving anything less than best learning experiences to my students would leave me ridden with guilt. These feelings would often last more than a day; they would take over my mind and spirit for a while. I would question my decision to enter the classroom and generally feel like I had gotten lost at some point in my life and maybe had taken a wrong turn to arrive here in a classroom. I didn’t know then that these feelings were common among first year teachers and the reason why so many leave the profession early in their careers.
Slowly, I discovered my own power to find meaning, solve complex problems, and make meaningful connections that inspire me to this very day. This slow evolution as an empowered teacher happened because of a few very specific experiences: I joined communities like the National Writing Project and National Council for Teachers of English. I met mentors like Jim Burke and Chris Lehmann, and I started contributing to my field by starting conversations about teaching and learning through Twitter. These experiences helped me feel less alone and armed me with a variety of new tools and ideas that helped my students and let me see my practice with new eyes. This transformation did not happen overnight, and in the forthcoming chapters, I share some of what I learned with you.
I am not the luckiest teacher in the world, and the success I have experienced in my brief career is not accidental. What I have done is ask for help relentlessly; I have begged, borrowed, and stolen great ideas from teachers in my professional network. Fearlessly, I have tried new ideas and have asked my students to go on a journey of learning that is often a meandering path rife with uncertainties and discomfort. I have trusted my students to take on challenging and meaningful work that resonates with their personal interests, investments, and inquiries.
On a rare occasion, I still face one of those days I experienced frequently in my first year of teaching, but for the most part, I find joy in the work I do every day alongside my students. Most days, I look forward to heading to school and continuing the work I’ve started with my students. Being around students, colleagues, parents, and visitors to my school energizes me, and encourages me to keep going no matter how difficult the task seems at times.
Through my work, I have found a way to bring all of myself into the classroom and align seemingly disparate parts of myself in my role as a teacher, mentor, and guide. I have finally understood the words of Persian poet Rumi: “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” In other words, I have gone from wanting to merely survive the struggles of the classroom to thriving as an educator. While I might still struggle at times with motivation, finding meaning, and locating resources, I have amassed the tools I need to keep building the path of my own progress.
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Here at Heinemann, we know this time of year can be difficult for many classroom teachers, especially new teachers. We’ve pulled together some of our best resources to help you beat the burnout. You can find them at Heinemann.com/burnout. Don’t burn out, ignite!
Meenoo Rami, author of Thrive, is a national board certified teacher who taught students English in Philadelphia for ten years, at the Science Leadership Academy and in other public schools in the city. She has shared her classroom practice at various national and regional conferences including NCTE, ISTE, ASCD, ILA, EduCon, and the National Writing Project’s Urban Sites Conference. The founder of #engchat, an international Twitter chat for English teachers, Meenoo has also been a teacher-consultant for the Philadelphia Writing Project and an educational consultant with The Educator Collaborative.