I’ve Learned How I Work Best as a Teacher, and It Didn’t Happen Overnight

Teaching US history for two decades encouraged me to find a routine that allows me to stay excited about my job and engaged in what I’m teaching.

Courtesy of ALEX S / Shutterstock
Courtesy of ALEX S / Shutterstock

I teach 8th grade US History. I have been teaching for 20 years with the last 15 being US History class. There are times when teaching the same content year after year becomes monotonous. The way that I cope with this is by changing up how I present the lesson. I can’t change the content, so I change how I teach it. I scour the internet or ask colleagues for different lesson ideas. I try to change it up as much as I can from year to year. That doesn’t mean I throw out my lesson plans each yea, but I also don’t just pull out the same old dusty lessons and reuse them exactly.

Most recently, with the help of DonorsChoose.org, I have been able to get a full set of Chromebooks for my classroom. Wow! What a game-changer. I have changed my teaching more in the last two years than ever before. I’ve gotten rid of the old textbooks, started incorporating more project-based assignments, wasted much less paper, taught more current and practical lessons, and increased excitement in the classroom — the kids love it. In some ways I feel that it has helped me connect even more with my students. In the past when I did book assignments and class notes (because this was the only resource I had), the kids were really bored and didn’t like my class. Now, for the past couple of years, students have told me repeatedly that mine is their favorite class. And that, more than anything, has helped with burnout. I know it’s not a popularity contest, but it really does help make me want to go to work every day when I know that the kids are excited to come to my class. 

My routines are simple. I have my coffee in the morning and, during my planning period, I make sure to take a few minutes for me. This usually means putting everything aside to take a short walk, sit quietly, or chat with a friend. Usually, I make a daily to-do list in the morning and complete the things that take priority first (time-sensitive things). I try to complete the easy things first to get them out of the way.

I am also one of those teachers that will stay late to get things done. I know that other teachers come in super early, but that just doesn’t work for me. I do my best work later in the day. Sometimes, I bring work home. I don’t always get it done, but I try. I feel better when my to-do list is finished. There is nothing more stressful to me than being unprepared for the next day. So for me, if that means staying late, then so be it.

I also rely heavily on technology for my classroom plans and materials. This has made is so much easier to stay organized. My advice is to utilize cloud-based storage (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.). I know teachers that still save everything to their hard drive on their computer or use a plug-in flash drive. These things can get lost or corrupted easily. Using cloud storage means you can access materials from anywhere, never needing to worry about forgetting your flash drive or fixing a crashed computer.

I know I’m an older teacher and did not grow up with social media, so I might be talking to the wind here, but Twitter is a great place to find inspiration. I learned how to use it and have established a nice following. I have a PLN that is constantly posting new ideas and sharing inspirational words. Even though I don’t personally know these people, it’s nice to hear from others around the country that are in the same boat as I am.

My advice to new teachers is that you are going to have tough years (especially the first few). It will take a little while to find your groove, and that’s okay. I don’t know any teacher that can look back and say, “My first year of teaching was my best!” Most of us look back, put our heads in our hands, and think, “What the heck was I thinking?”

Thrive Global is partnering with DonorsChoose, the leading platform for giving to public schools, on a new special section, How Teachers Thrive, to share the emotional and self-care resources teachers need to improve their well-being. If you want to help teachers create a more equitable playing field for all students, find a classroom project that inspires you on DonorsChoose.org, and enter the promo code THRIVE during checkout to have your donation DOUBLED during the month of August!

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