3 Steps to Getting the Joy Back in your Teaching Practice

By Guest Blogger: Jackson Yee
Years ago, I stumbled upon an article about happiness. The article suggested that the key to joy was giving and helping others. If this was true, then teachers should be the happiest people since all we do is give and help. But, this isn’t how it is as most teachers are miserable and unhappy at work. What would explain this contradiction?

I pondered this paradox for years. But, the majority of the research on happiness still pointed to the act of giving as a strong factor that determines happiness. I was stumped until a Buddhist friend of mine told me unhappiness is related to a loss of control

That’s when I put happiness and the concept of control together and looked at my own practice. Even though, I couldn’t control the home environment of my students or the lack of support from my administrators, I discovered there were a lot of things I had influence over.

Discovering these untapped sources of control not only empowered me in the classroom, but improved my overall fulfillment as an educator. Give these ideas a try and I’m sure you’ll definitely find more joy in the classroom:

1) You have control in your preparation.
I’m not talking about lesson planning either. This is a sign of relief to many of you! But, what I’m suggesting is preparing your mindset before going into work. You definitely have control on your morning mood. If not, you end up starting your day with the same negativity that will spiral down throughout your day. But, if you take the time to prepare differently, you can have a more productive and satisfying day.

Suggestion – bring a practice of gratitude to your toolbox as a teacher. Studies have shown that gratitude builds resilience.  Before starting your day, take a few minutes to think of 3 things that you are grateful for.  By doing so, you’ll bring a strong sense of appreciation that will influence how you’ll react to your students or a unpleasant situation which can lead to a more enjoyable work day.

2) You have control in your response.
When Johnny throws his book at you and calls you all sorts of unflattering names, you want to respond back by raising your voice and berating the little brat. When you work in a high stressful environment like teaching, getting angry, sad or frustrated is a normal response. The problem with these negative emotions is they lead to more dissatisfaction at work. However, feeling bad about yourself doesn’t have to be the norm. How you feel depends on how you act and you have a lot more control over your emotions than you realize.

Suggestion: the next time a student pushes your buttons, resist the temptation to let your emotions take over. Instead, pull back and detached from the moment. Fight back the urge to give it back to the student and pause to reflect. By doing so, you’ll have more control over your emotions, but more importantly, more control of the situation. Assess the situation and use logic to respond back. For me, this slight pause allow me to smile and use kindness to defuse the confrontation. On the other hand, you may decide to yell back, but at least now, you are in control of how to respond.
3) You have control over the meaning you attach to the situation
If you have a terrible day at work, you may decide that your job sucks or you just had a bad day. Or if Johnny doesn’t listen to you, you may conclude that he’s just an idiot that can’t be helped or he just had too much sugar this morning. It’s not what happens to you, but how you interpret these actions that’s crucial. In other words, what meaning you attach to the situation will determine how you will experience it.

Suggestion: If you can find more purpose in how you interpret your experiences, you’ll find more meaning in what you do. This is crucial because studies have show that the more positive meaning you can find in unpleasant circumstance, leads to more fulfillment., So the next time, Johnny pushes your buttons, find how meaningful your relationship is to him. Understand his background and lack of love he has at home and that you may be the only positive adult in his life. By seeing how meaningful you are in Johnny’s life you can develop greater compassion towards him and possibly enhance your positive feeling toward him.

In sum, learning that you have more control in the classroom won’t lead you to becoming super teacher. In fact, you’ll probably have awful days and consider switching professions, but it will certainly make your day a lot brighter. Bottom line you are in control of your choices, actions and responses.

What’s your strategy for staying in control share with us in the comments below.  You can also join our Facebook Group for more tips, tricks and conversations in a virtual space.