How to Persevere with Teaching

Burn the boats

Photo by Adonyi Gu00e1bor on

When Hernán Cortés landed in Veracruz to begin his conquest in 1519 he ordered his men to burn their ships. Cutting himself off from retreat meant Cortés was staking everything on success. Without an escape plan he and his men had no chance but to fight the battle at Cempoala. His bold plan worked and Cortés went on to achieve his goal of conquering the Aztec Empire.

New teachers could learn from Cortés. I’ve met many who left themselves a plan B just in case teaching didn’t work out. On the face of it, this seems sensible, but when the going gets tough (and it does), this backup option begins to look tempting and often, if someone gives themselves a safer alternative, they will take it.

And most of them did.

Here is what I tell myself when teaching gets tough:

The world will have teeth wherever you go

Teaching is not a uniquely difficult skillset. There will be challenges whatever you do with your life. But you’ll become far tougher a lot quicker by sticking with the difficult. Consider the metaphor of an arch. The keystone at the top is called such because it compresses all the other stones, strengthening the overall structure. It is only because of the heavy load that it is strong. If you were to take this away, it would crumble. Teaching is worthwhile because of its difficulty, not despite it.

Pivot through

It should not surprise you when you fail because it’s something you should expect and plan for. Perhaps instead of calling it ‘failure’, you should consider it a ‘disruption’ since it is only ever temporary. ‘What if…’ or ‘Instead I’ll just…’ are healthy ways of phrasing these setbacks so that you can navigate them calmly and logically to suppress the instinctive feeling to flee.

Love it warts and all

Learn to enjoy all of what you do, the good and the bad. Try to find the joy in everything that happens. That badly-behaved class? They’re teaching you to get better at managing the classroom. Those snotty parent emails? They’re teaching you to better manage your emotions. The high workload? It’s teaching you to prioritise your time. There is value to be found in each and every one of these obstacles.

Don’t take it personally

Listen to how you speak about your problems. Are you putting ‘I’ in front on each sentence? ‘I had planned to….’ ‘I deserve better than….’ ‘I worked so hard….’ In doing this you’ll make yourself feel alone because you’re inflating your own importance in much larger picture. Put yourself in the background with everyone else.

You’re not special

All across the world people have been teaching for thousands of years. Someone just like you has gone through similar experiences with near identical thoughts and emotions. Last year, a decade earlier, or even century or two ago, someone will have even stood in the same classroom as you and felt how you do now. And in a century from now someone else will be in the same position once more.

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