How to Tell if You are in a Teaching Rut (and What to Do About it)

Are you in a teaching rut?  You know, you drag yourself out of bed, can't get enough coffee only to feel tired by noon? By the end of the day, you wonder if you have made a difference at all.  You might be feeling like your teaching lacks purpose like it used to.  But, it's the kids, isn't it?  They just don't behave like they used to.  They have too much unfocussed energy and don't seem to be engaged in learning anymore. That's what I used to think a few short years ago after 20 years of teaching on the front lines (and there is some truth to that).  But I started to change my mindset and I am a much happier teacher and my students became not only more motivated but also happier too.  Read on to find out more about whether you may be in a teaching rut and what you can do about it. (You can be a new teacher and in a rut too! ) I am out of the classroom this year coaching teachers in literacy and numeracy instruction and it's given me the perspective to take a look at my own teaching rut and how I got out of it.

1.  You are more tired than usual.  
Stress causes your body to fatigue.  If things are not going well in your classroom, no amount of sleep will help you feel more energetic but it certainly will help you to handle whatever the day throws at you.

2.  You find yourself looking at positive teaching quotes and thinking, "I just don't feel that way when these kids are so disruptive." 
You are  noticing less "Ah-ha moments" or they are few and far between now.

3.  New sharpies or school supplies don't thrill you. 
 (Now there's a dead giveaway!) You just can't find a purpose for them. Are your students even looking at your anchor charts anymore?

4.  Teaching feels so routine.  
Yes, routine is GREAT!  But mundane routine is not.

5.  Your day plan lacks pizazz.
Everything that you need is there, but even you wouldn't want to sit in on that lesson.

6.  You feel like you are swimming in paper.
Practice is great but sometimes all of the tasks you assign on paper makes you feel overwhelmed with half finished projects.

7.  You are spending more and more time on classroom management.
It feels a little like a game of "whack a mole".  Once you get one student settled and working, another student is distracted or distracting others.

8. You are not excited about the next upcoming unit you are teaching.
You have taught the same unit for 5 years in a row, but this year you just don't seem nearly as excited to get started on it. Your resources are looking tired and so are you!

9.   Staff functions seem like work.
Even the social events make you feel like it's work: work getting dressed up, work to act like you are enjoying yourself.

10.  Your home life is starting to feel the effects of your teaching rut.
You find yourself complaining about the little things about work.

Does this sound like YOU?  I LOVE teaching.  But a few years ago, I was feeling much like this for a brief time in my career. 

 I decided I wanted to try online teaching.  I love coaching and facilitating the learning of student teachers so I thought maybe I would look into teaching pre-service teachers online.  So I took a course on how to teach adults online.  Did it inspire me to pursue this?  No it sure didn't.  I realized that where I needed to be was with kids and teachers.  What it did do was give me a much needed inspirational boost.  It was like something in my brain was ignited, rejuvenated. What a great feeling!!  (Getting 95% helped too :) )  It had been many years since I took my Master's degree.

 I suddenly realized that kids can experience that wonderful feeling too. Not only from my daily lessons but from feeling empowered like I had felt.  If kids are learning things that they are interested in, they will be more engaged and motivated to learn more. 

 I know this seems so obvious but it isn't always easy to accomplish with so many mandated things to teach.  When teachers see that ah-ha moment in kids, it is when they finally get it.  I would like to suggest that we try to go for the Oh-WOW moment. That is the moment that you see an expression on a student's face that they are excited to learn - not that they just finally understood something you were trying to teach them. So here's what I did in a nutshell:

1. With this new found excitement I felt for learning, I began creating my own resources and putting them on Teachers Pay Teachers so other teachers could use them too.  I loved that they could look  exactly like what I wanted them to look like based on the curriculum I needed to teach.  It was so much fun and I loved helping other teachers with their lessons!  I was excited and kids were excited.  

2. I started just plain chilling out. Seriously. Students know my expectations (and I keep them high) but volume of work does not equal mastery of skills. 

3. I worked backwards.  I reduced the amount of assignments and worksheets.  I grabbed onto the big ideas and planned around them.  I revamped my day plan to include more clearly thought out lessons that were simple yet powerful.  I included what I wanted my students to KNOW after each lesson and then the "skeleton" of the lesson.  When I came in the next day, I could add my own personality, flair and pizazz.  (It's kind of like imaginary teacher glitter that I sprinkle over the class room. My glitter might look different than yours.)  This way, I had a plan ready even if I had to call a sub.  Viola!  Less stress = more sleep = increased energy and enthusiasm.   Using the big ideas automatically involved more student connection, more partner work and more awesome communication.  Bam!  Less assignments and paper and more deep thinking all while covering the curriculum. Interactive notebooks, lap books - yes please! Kids are actively cutting pasting and creating.

The school supplies started looking more appealing because kids were thinking and asking questions, therefore my sharpie skills started to improve and my anchor charts were more appealing to look at.

4. I introduced Genius Hour (which was like my online course).  It ignited an interest in the students that you could see and hear.  Those wonderful ah-ha moments came, but even better were the Oh-WOW moments!  Kids were so excited to come and tell me something they learned. I love that so much!

My classroom became such a great learning place.  What stayed were my firm expectations around behavior and routines and my emphasis on classroom community and self regulation. What changed was my mindset for learning. It didn't have to be governed by reams of paperwork and evidence of learning that was just on paper. Assessment become a way for me to keep the students moving forward instead of feeling like it was just the end of a reporting period.  What resulted was a more relaxed atmosphere and deeper learning and understanding with the students while they took more responsibility for their own learning based on self assessment and my descriptive feedback.  

I also felt an incredible feeling of excitement to share more of what I was doing with others.  I've always loved to share with colleagues but my conversations became way more enthusiastic at both ends. That camaraderie extends beyond the classroom and makes any staff functions a lot more easy going and fun.

It's easy to list ways that you are in a rut.  What's more difficult is to figure out how to help yourself get out of it.  Once you figure out where to start, things fall into place because they make sense. It's like a domino effect of teaching happiness! 

It's no secret that kids are harder to deal with in the classroom these days.  Some things like (technology, parenting etc.) we can do nothing about.  However, we can take a look at ourselves as teachers.  The world has changed, kids have changed and we need to go along with them and create learning experiences that will capture their attention, excite them and make them want to learn more. This and the teaching of social responsibility helps to make the daily classroom experience more rewarding for both the teacher and the student.  It's a win-win.

Where are you at in your teaching journey?

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