Guest post by Lee Ann Raikes, @mastereducator @MRS.RAIKES/MES
Teaching is difficult. Studies have shown that some teachers have taken on symptoms of PTSD because they become so engrossed in each of their students’ lives. If you are human, it is bound to happen. One of the reasons I chose to pursue this profession was to inspire and empower our future generations to be bold enough to follow their passions regardless of any obstacles that stand in the way. Easier said than done when most of our students come to us with some form of past trauma that can hinder their desire to learn and grow both as an individual and a student. The students who need us the most are the ones who never miss a day of school and the students who challenge us the most. While I still struggle some days in finding a way to maneuver through the behaviors my students may present, I have found ways to make my life, as well as my students’ lives, in and out of the classroom more bearable.
I am a huge proponent of whole child education and realizing the importance of building relationships with my students. I am also a very passionate and emotional human being. I made myself physically and mentally ill because I could not find a way to help the most challenging students understand their potential. They would fight me every step of the way. The harder I tried to support them, their behaviors would escalate. After many conversations and battles, it all became so clear. These students were so afraid that I would let them down and give up on them, as so many others have. An epiphany of sorts, but that didn’t make my job at hand any more comfortable. Sadly, there were days I wanted to give up. I knew I couldn’t go on this way, so I began researching what I could do to transform learning in the classroom and improve my mental state. I am known as a very energetic, happy, and positive individual. My students feel comfortable in my classroom and know they can come to be at any time, but I knew I needed to find strategies that would better prepare me for dealing with obstacles that would impede learning and growth over the school year.
Like it or not, I, as the adult in the room, set the tone. It all begins with a mindset. If I am saying to myself I am going to have an awful day, then I will. If I hold preconceived notions about my students, that is a disservice to them. I would sabotage my day the moment I woke up by putting thoughts in my head that possibly weren’t even going to occur. Not only was this unfair to myself, but my students as well. I would engage in negative self-talk, which led to having a terrible day. I would think during my first period about a student I wouldn’t see until 4th period and how awful he was going to be. When he would enter the classroom, and he was having a great day, I already had it in my mind he was going to misbehave, so I would react negatively instead of correctly praising him for engaging appropriately. How wrong is that? Trust me, students felt any vibes I was putting out there, whether positive or negative. If I wanted to continue to grow as an educator and connect with my struggling students, I had to change.
For about two years now, I have followed the strategies of a growth mindset, the power of positive self-talk, and writing daily affirmations. I have brought these strategies into my classroom as well. My 7th graders had no idea that challenges grow the brain. They didn’t realize that the more they said they hated math, the harder it would be for them. They felt they were labeled by grades or the services they received; therefore, they wouldn’t give their best efforts. By visualizing where they wanted to go, it made the process of achieving their goals more bearable. Now, we as a community of learners catch ourselves before letting negative words or thoughts come off our lips or enter our minds. Just by teaching the students about the brain and the power of a positive attitude and mindset, I have seen substantial growth in my students academically and as humans. Yes, I prepare my students for meeting academic goals, but more importantly, I want to prepare them for life. Life is hard, but understanding positive thinking’s benefits and power can make difficulties easier to handle.
Reflecting is a powerful tool. I knew I could do better and find ways to deal with the teaching profession’s emotional aspects. Ask yourself, are you sabotaging your day? Do you hinder your relationship with your students or colleagues based on preconceived notions? Do you limit yourself based on negative thinking or a bad attitude? It matters! I challenge you to wake up each morning and start the day with positive self-talk and carry that into the world. You will find a sense of inner peace, and the negativity you encounter won’t consume you. Research has shown that people who are positive thinkers add years to their lives. We are what we say we are. Who are you choosing to be?