Have you lost or are you struggling to find a passion for teaching, that fire you used to have?
In this post I’ll help you find it, help you restore your passion for teaching.
Back to School
You’ve dusted off your best lesson plans and timed out your units. You’ve laminated everyone’s name cards and even organized your classroom in advance of your opening workshop day! You are on fire!!
Okay, well, maybe not on fire… True, your room appears ready and you know everything will be solid on Day One.
Your students will get their syllabus, you’ll learn each others’ names, you’ll have some fun hands-on activities for the younger ones. The fact is, you know how to do school–how to instruct, how to manage, how to segue flawlessly from one element of your lesson to the next. This is not the issue.
The issue may be that you are struggling to find that burning spirit that brought you to education in the first place.
Recall your early life, and contemplate that moment when you knew–knew–you wanted to be a teacher. Was it as meaningful and powerful for you as it was for me?
Although I try not to delve into the Spiritual, I daresay that my decision to become a teacher bordered on a Calling. I just felt in my soul that I was destined for the classroom. Perhaps many of you had a similar experience.
And so you started, and you completed your pre-service work, and you finally had your own classroom! And it was not easy, but you didn’t mind because the air snapped and popped with the electricity of learning. Even you were learning, and you were in love with your job.
Of course, as the years wear on, that excitement and newness may fade. It is human nature to take the familiar for granted, and so even teaching can become simply another version of the drudgery that so many people accept as part of their daily existence. If you, a loved one or a colleague find yourself teetering on the brink of this Chasm of Complacency, fix your eye on the beacon that burns brightly on.
It is a flame, it lights the way to your educational happiness, and it is called Passion.
To be at the top of your game, it is simply a requirement that you bring Passion to your classroom every day! There are few emotions as infectious and there are few attitudes I would rather see students emulate.
One of the saddest things in my professional life is seeing a teacher who has clearly lost their fire.
I do understand that there are things about this profession that will wear anyone down. You can pretty much guarantee you’ll be underpaid, overworked, and asked to do the impossible. That is the nature of public education today.
Some students will appreciate you; most won’t. Many administrators will applaud your efforts; many won’t be able to support you the way you (or they) want. A lot of parents will thank you; a lot will blast you to your face or behind your back. Your summers will be short, your committee meetings will run long, and there will always, always be more work to grade.
I know it is rough. But none of these things will ever stop you from being the happiest, most dominant, kickass teacher that ever stood before a classroom of students! Let me say it one more time: none of the difficult working conditions you face will ever stop you from succeeding.
The only thing that can keep you from being the best teacher ever is your own mindset.
If you find yourself in a place, perhaps mid-career or even mid-workday, and things get dark, and you’re questioning why you chose the path you did, take heart. Breathe deep and remember why you started teaching.
Remember that you did it for the kids. Remember that they still need you! Remember the burning love you have for your content, and how it invigorates you, and how it ignited a fire in your soul! Then rekindle that fire by remembering that you were brought to this place in your life to be the Absolute Best at whatever you choose to do!
That is all any of us can do, but that should be your goal every day you set foot in a classroom! No one wakes up and says “I want to be mediocre at my profession!” And yet, when you fail to carry your passion with you into a lesson, that is exactly what you are projecting to the world around you!
So, find a way… Psych yourself up! Imagine yourself as a warrior storming the battlefields of Westeros or Mordor if you have to! But you MUST bring real passion to your students, your content, your school!
This is Sparta!
Many of you will recall the 2006 “classic” 300, a highly stylized recounting of the Battle of Thermopylae. This film depicted the soldiers of Ancient Sparta locked in a battle for freedom and human dignity with the amorphous Persian horde.
Lovers of gore and death found true comfort in the rendition of this timeless story, one that pitted a vastly outnumbered squadron of Spartan soldiers against the throes of would-be conquerors in a mission almost as hopeless and self-sacrificing as Bruce Willis’ in Armageddon.
In 300’s leading role is the character of the legendary and truly epic king, Leonidas. The Spartan ruler was not a man who sat on his laurels; rather, he was the literal and figurative tip of the spear for the Spartan army.
As Sparta’s “away-from-home” King, Leonidas was charged with nothing less than bounding headlong into battle and leading his men to defend the freedom and honor of the entire Greek peninsula during this period of the Persian Wars.
If you have never seen the film, you must view the original trailer to begin experiencing the raw power, the sheer force of nature, that Leonidas portrays. Take a minute and watch:
I stand in awe of Leonidas! I always smile every time I watch this. I may even pump my fist in the air a few times.
Look at how he behaves, how he talks, how he displays his emotions!
Can you imagine for one minute being that passionate about teaching your classes?
Can you imagine leading your students into a full charge heading to the library to check out new books with your sword and shield held high as spears and arrows fly at you?
Are you engulfed with that level of drive to succeed as a teacher? Picture the looks on the kids’ faces, as they wait for school to open, if you sprinted across the parking lot–laptop in one hand, coffee in the other–screaming “I CAN’T WAIT TO TEACH TODAY!!!!!!”.
Or if you stood on your desk and proclaimed with the ferocity of a lion, “students, today we freewrite in HELL!!!!!!!!!”
Okay, that last one’s a little over the top. And true, you’re not Spartans. You’re something better. You’re Extraordinary Educators.
And to be successful, you have to own that.
Take ownership of your profession! All the instructional planning and classroom management in the world will not help you if you are not driven to be amazing. You are blessed with a gift that so many would love to have.
You have the ability–you have the power–to stand before a group of human beings and deliver to them the single greatest mechanism in human history. You deliver the ability to learn, to teach oneself, the ability to grow and develop into literally anything someone wants.
That is an amazing, amazing thing! And that’s what you do! The simple fact is that you can teach like Leonidas every day.
If you want to inspire your students, you must teach inspired! Be entirely too passionate about your content! Wear it like a neon sandwich board! Get into your lesson, consume it raw and lay waste to the earth with the flames of your truth!
Let your students see you absolutely on fire to help them learn and love the material. Run into your lesson plan for the day as if you were Leonidas hellbent on ending the barbarous Persians in that very moment!
Be the teacher that makes your neighbors close their classroom doors because you’re shouting like a madman about mitochondria or polynomials!
If you can’t get excited about what you teach, change what you teach. And if you say, “I can’t change what I teach,” then change how you teach it. And if you can’t change that, then make yourself excited!
Make it a game if you have to!
Make it completely insane that you are so so so excited to be teaching the 3/5ths Compromise for the seventeenth time in your career. Leave your students walking out of class saying, “can you believe he/she was that excited? What a weirdo!“
I have a good friend who taught beside me for ten years. He can tell you how passionately I taught my subject. His favorite line to his students was, “hold on and let me close the door. Mr Dumas is off his meds again!”
I was never so excited as when he first told me that. And honestly, I was never so excited as I was teaching those Social Studies lessons and capturing the attention of my students. You can absolutely convey learning to students with your passion, the way a power line conveys electricity from its source to where it is needed.
And this level of love for content and love for learning was never more needed than it is today.
I honestly feel that all teachers can benefit from changing their mindset from time to time. Yes, it’s important to have good resources and a lovely room but if you are hunched, tired and obviously not fired up how on earth do we expect our students to be engaged and fired up for learning.
Remember that wide-eyed, slightly naive, the passion you once had….it’s still in there….go find it. Be Sparta, Be Iron Man, be whoever the hell you want to be, but find that fire, restore your passion and be the best you can.
That’s the best way we can get our students to be the best they can.