Surviving Emotionally

There are two quotes from chapter 14 of Stephen Brookfield’s The Skillful Teacher that resonate with me in my struggles of surviving emotionally. These quotes are:

“Classrooms are like storms or squalls – full of surprises, of unexpected events that throw our neatly conceived plans into confusion” (Brookfield, p. 256); 

“Unless you find a way to navigate the roiling sea of emotions that the experience of college teaching generates, you run a real risk of drowning in swells of frustration, dis-appointment, or self-loathing. And if you do go under, or course, you are of no use to your students” (Brookfield, p. 253).

This chapter of The Skillful Teacher focuses on an aspect of teaching not usually taught in formal education. Teaching can take an emotional toll on educators sapping them of energy, desire and compassion, which I have written about in a blog post entitled “Energy Vampires”.

The above quotes speak to the ever changing dynamics of a classroom setting, demands of students, and expectations of institutions. Education courses emphasize theory about what to do when delivering instruction and content through various theories and methodologies. Little attention is placed on the demands of the classroom outside of the instructional delivery as an instruction specialist in terms of the other roles of a teacher. These other roles include classroom supporter, mentor, learner, etc. (Harrison, C. & Killion, J., September 2007) contribute to the emotional strain placed on teachers.

The reality of life as an educator is that it is an inherently unstable and unbalanced job that is immune to creating the prefect plan. Institutions are always changing to keep up with the demands of industries and regulations.

Student bodies are changing as the economy is in need and “international students offer great economic value to Canada as both spenders and workers.” As pointed out by the Conference Board of Canada, in 2012, international students spent an estimated $8.4 billion in Canada, supported over 86,570 jobs, and generated more than $455 million in federal and provincial tax revenue. But they offer even more to Canada.

As classrooms get more diverse, learning styles do as well. This places instructors under immense pressure to change their instructional strategies. If teachers are not reflective by nature and are not in the habit of analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of their lesson plans on a daily basis, this may lead to teachers feeling like they don't measure up to all of the expectations placed on them from their school administrators, their students, and their colleagues.

It has been found that more than 41 percent of new teachers leave teaching within 5 years of entry and this has been increasing since the late 1980s. Rates of leaving for first-year teachers rose from 9.8 to 13.1 percent from 1988 to 2008—a 34 percent increase (Ingersoll, 2014). Although exact figures are not available, Jon Bradley, an associate professor at McGill University’s Faculty of Education, estimates at least 30 percent of Canadian teachers are leaving the profession within their first 5 years on the job as a comparison to the before-mentioned American stats (Reichel, Epoch Times, 2013).

There are many possible aspects this high level can be attributed to. Most evident is that teaching is an emotional profession and a lack of social and emotional skills may lead instructors down a path to burnout exhaustion (Zakrzewski, August 13, 2013). In addition, educators may feel drained by the insistent emphasis on collaboration and “social learning” (Godsey, January 25, 2016) as educators we have a responsibility to deliver effective and engaging instruction.

So how do we avoid burnout?

Stephen Brookfield’s The Skillful Teacher suggests 15 maxims of a skillful teacher that every new hire and any teacher seeking professional development should read, memorize, and live by. Some of the highlights from this list are (full list to come):

Maxim 2: Perfection is an illusion
There are three outcomes of perfectionism, which are developing anxiety, quitting as a result of demoralization, and developing a disconnected cynicism (p. 262). 

Maxim 3: Ground your teaching in how your students are learning
Make a consistent attempt to discover what and how your students are learning, and then use this to inform all of your teaching choices. (p. 263).

Maxim 9: Remember that learning is emotional
Learning is highly emotional consisting of great threats to students’ self-esteem – even when progress is being made. (p. 270).

Maxim 11: Don’t evaluate yourself only by students’ satisfaction
Many of us go into teaching because of a desire to help others. Do not assume that being a successful teacher requires that your students love you and find your efforts to be deeply transformative. Remember that the relevance of a learning act is often not appreciated until long after students have moved on (p. 273).


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