How to Renew Your Sense of Purpose as a Teacher During Difficult Times

By Isaiah Moore

How to Renew Your Sense of Purpose as a Teacher During Difficult TimesIt was early December, and my confidence in my own abilities was at an all-time high. Under normal circumstances, this would be considered a positive, right? Society teaches that in order to successfully navigate life situations, one must be bold, self-reliant, and satisfied.

I thought I was practicing my boldness and being self-reliant when, feeling angry and frustrated, I sat down at my desk and, with the punch of the “Enter” key, commanded Google to tell me what other professional options teachers had. I mumbled, “If I can lead classes, I know I can do something else. These skills have to be transferable.”

Now, months from that very moment, I am back in my normal state of mind, assured in my profession. However, getting back to my “teaching happy place” did not happen overnight; it took some time to realize that my mindset at that time didn’t stem from external forces, but from my inability to realize that said forces had blocked my sense of purpose as a classroom teacher. That was the epiphany! If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’ve felt this way at times too. And, because you are essential and we need you feeling assured, confident, and purpose-driven in this profession, let me share my experience and tips. Hopefully, it will get you back to leading impactful classrooms sooner rather than later.

Focus on You

Take a step back and do something you love, preferably an activity outside of education. For instance, I am a musician who also loves sports and fashion. While I am always attached to these aspects of myself and my interests, I find that I am more apt to participate in these activities when my job has me feeling low. I am not doing this to run away from teaching, but to clear and prepare my mind to make the right decisions in in the classroom and in the profession. For this reason, focusing on your personal interests and passions is the foundational step in getting back to teaching at full capacity.

Look for Small Gestures

When we’re dispirited, we tend to look for miraculous events to lift us out of the dumps when everyday situations will do. Students produce many acts that warrant our attention and have the ability to lift our spirits. Sometimes it’s as simple as your quietest students finally typing “Good morning Mr./Ms.____” or it could be students finally using the “Raise Hand” feature on Zoom.

When I recently looked for small gestures to boost me up, I noticed I had a plethora to choose from. One in particular was a student volunteering to explain the use of figurative language in a poem we went over in class. That seems small, but the work I’d put in with this student made it much grander. It didn’t even matter that his answer wasn’t entirely correct. What mattered was the change I’d seen. At first this student wouldn’t sign in to my class. I contacted his grandmother, then the counselor, and even had multiple talks with him where my speech may have resembled more of a father’s than a teacher’s. Therefore, his mere attendance and willingness to contribute to our conversation, even with an answer that wasn’t entirely right, represented a win. It also allowed me to connect with him and his family. I’m encouraged knowing that I can now help guide his thinking so that he becomes a more adept critical thinker.

Enjoy Kids for Who They Actually Are

Yet, we must understand that our whole goal isn’t to teach kids how to think. In fact, that probably ranked low on your “Why I Want to Be A Teacher” list.” Nevertheless, in our role as teachers, we sometimes get to a point where the human beings we’re meant to nurture can become just students on a roster. Our goal of giving to them can be draining if we do not remember that we can also receive. This is especially true on days when lessons do not pan out the way we intend them to. At these times it’s often best to let children be who they are and enjoy it. Prepare lessons that may deviate from the regular curriculum and allow students to bring their individual personalities to class.

For me, this lesson was on commas. I think somewhere in the laws of nature between relativity and perpetual transmission of energy is one that casually states “Oh, and eighth graders will not understand commas.” After what seemed to be my seventeenth time instructing them on the differences between compound and complex sentences, I decided to take a break from the skill and drill. I put them in groups and gave each a topic. From there, I instructed each group member to write one funny compound sentence and one funny complex sentence.

In their respective groups, they were then to arrange their sentences to make a funny story. We posted them in Padlet, and joked about the stories they came up with. When I took into account that I needed to enjoy the kids and get rid of the scripted instruction of school, I regained my creative nature, one of the drawing factors of teaching. In addition, I got to enjoy the goofy nature of my teens and preteens.

Focus on the Reshaping of Education

While lessons such as the aforementioned are not typical and may be a glimpse into a microcosm of change in education, there are major changes on the verge. According to the Washington Post, the opportunity to reshape education is more a possibility now than ever before. The recent concerns of social justice and the pandemic have certainly unearthed problems that educators have worried about for years.

Some of the concerns I’ve heard about include “Education isn’t one size fits all,” the homework gap (lack of computer and internet access in certain homes), too much testing, too little funding, and the achievement gap. The article further states that we have now been forced by the circumstances of the pandemic to make changes in these areas, and that some of these changes could be lasting. It asserts that the combination of in-person and virtual learning is here to stay as it gives all students an opportunity to succeed.

Signs of change include the fact that the government is directing money toward resources that will bring internet connectivity into every home. The validity of testing is being questioned and other forms of performance assessment are being considered. We’re even focusing on accelerated learning (not just catching students up), giving them the scaffolded resources needed to cover their learning deficits and prepare for future lessons. These are issues we’ve all fought for. We are now seeing the world take notice and change is coming. The prospect of that is reinvigorating. I want to see these changes through and be known as one of the teachers who ushered them in.

Look to the Future

Though it may seem counterintuitive, focusing on your professional goals subsequent to teaching can renew your vigor for the classroom. Some educators aspire to move into administration, others want to move into policy, and then there are those who long to go back to school and research educational trends that aid schools and communities.

Looking to the future provides a boost as it gives one a sense of progression and a vision of what’s to come. However, it is important for teachers to remember that in order to assume roles in these other educational positions, excelling where they are first is necessary. That thought usually adds fuel to the fire to keep a teacher going and thriving.

In closing, I must give this disclaimer: Since drafting this post, I have again had my doubts about whether I should keep teaching. I think back to that time where I repeated instructions to an assignment so many times, my neighbor could probably recite them word for word, yet some students still acted confused. I immediately felt my head collapse into my palms. The thought of stepping outside of the classroom resurfaced, to be honest.

And to give you another dose of honesty, this won’t be the last time the thought crosses my mind. But in these times, I’ll focus on my determination. I’ll be just as confident then as I was when I angrily typed my exit plan in the search bar last December. The difference this time is that I have confidence in my ability to navigate my thoughts of not being in the classroom while also focusing on constructive changes I’ve already made and my ability to build on them. You can do the same, teachers!

Isaiah MooreIsaiah Moore is an eighth-grade English teacher in Virginia Beach who’s had the pleasure of speaking to crowds of over 1,000 but still becomes nervous when conducting a 45 minute session for 30 students. (Don’t worry, he doesn’t show it.) An Albert Einstein quote guides his life: “Try not to become a man of success, but rather a man of value.” Through word and action, this quote was taught to him by four Black male teachers in high school. Because of their impact, he decided to pursue education in hopes of impacting others the same way. To do so, he attended Morehouse College and became an Oprah Scholar while receiving his undergraduate degree in English. Afterward, he obtained his Master’s of Arts in Education from the College of William and Mary’s School of Education. Isaiah believes that education should be relevant, so he prides himself on developing lessons that incorporate real-world topics. This shows students their education extends beyond the four walls of his classroom. When Isaiah’s students apply these concepts to their daily lives, it is at this point that he sees his value. Here is where he becomes a man of success. Isaiah writes about his daily life in the classroom at his blog, Running Thoughts . . . Can’t Let Them Get Away.

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