Surviving As A Teacher


Today, went out for a nice bike ride with “my old man”. He’s almost 70 and he kicked my butt! Truly. I’ll admit I’m not in great shape anymore but watching my dad, “power in” the last 20 k of our ride, me lagging behind – gave me pause. The guy just doesn’t age and “keeps going”. I hope I’ll be so lucky. But as a metaphor, it got me thinking about what it takes to stay teaching, as I huffed and puffed along (and to be honest, he had a nice $1,000+ racing bike, I had a few hundred dollar mountain bike – but still).

A while back, I wrote about “teaching endurance”, reflecting on the commitment it takes as a teacher to “keep going” and stay in the game. Today, I am due for some more directed reflection and maybe it’ll help some teachers.

Teaching isn’t easy. Here in Canada between 35 to 45% of new teachers leave the profession permanently by their fifth year. It is higher in the States. I think IMMENSELY higher in EFL, given the very transient teacher and “tourist” teacher body that fills our ranks.

There are many outside factors that lead to teachers “giving up” despite liking the job (and I’ll admit, some give up after discovering they aren’t cut out for the job which probably is good, all things considered). Outside factors include; poor salaries, poor benefits, poor schools and quality of schools, low professional status, little professional development or teacher training/support, government policies and supply and demand-side factors. These factors, the teachers themselves have little control over. Think of them as the “fixed costs” of teaching. But what about those things a teacher can control? What can they do to better their chances of not being a teacher turnover statistic?

Here are a few of my suggestions based on my own years teaching and I like to think, “longevity” and passion.   You may also find some helpful tips in this article I share with all my first-year teacher trainees – How to keep in teaching when you feel like crying.

1. Find the school that suits you.

Yes, money counts but it isn’t everything. When looking for a job,  find a school that supports “how” you teach, your own teaching style. Most teachers are unhappy because they end up teaching in a way that doesn’t suit their beliefs about teaching or learning. Go for the money at your own peril!

2. Switch it up, now and then.

Might be contradictory but every few years, a teacher needs a change. Throw yourself into a new teaching environment, change it up. It takes courage but if you want to stay in the game, you almost have to. Teaching kindie? Why not switch things up and spend a few years teaching adults and regain that old energy?

3. Make friends on staff.

This is crucial. If you don’t like the people you spend hours upon hours around, you won’t survive. You’ll burn out quicker than a faulty lightbulb. You need people on staff that you gel with, that you respect and return the respect. Do you have that?

4. Set Goals.

I’m avoiding the cliched, “professional development” because that is a real broad term. If you set goals for your own teacher development, you’ll benefit and it might include traditional forms of PD like conferences, online PLNs (personal learning networks), peer workshops, courses etc… However, the goals might just be something personal like, “using more games in class” or “relating to students on a more personal level”. Each year, I set a new goal for myself. This year, my goal is to “walk the talk”, meaning actually teach students online. I’d always been telling teachers about this but now I want to do it, experience it and test those waters. And it is working out. Not easy but it keeps me invigorated.

5. Use your downtime well.

You have to “have a life” as we say in the staffroom. And I don’t mean just your family/kids. I mean, a teacher to survive needs a place for themselves, for their own “recharging”. Teaching is very, very, very people-intensive. It is heavy on one’s psyche. So teachers need to find their own outlet, for their own sake. It will keep all things running smoothly. For me, it is my bike these days.

There you go – a few remarks about things that might help you, the teacher, stay in the game and survive.  What can you add?

Interested in what other teachers say? This Education Week article has some great comments!

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