October Reboot: 10 Steps for Getting Through the Teaching Slumps

This week I needed to reboot. I thought about Coach G’s visual of the new teacher emotional experience, and began wondering if we all go through this process annually. Veteran teachers may not have the intensity of the dips and highs, but I think they still exist.

This post is about my reboot/restart process. Some of it has nothing directly to do with classrooms, but has everything to do with work/life balance. Today I did the following:

1. Took some vitamins.
Flu season is a-comin’. My teaching partner had the flu. I’m feeling sluggish. A bit of Vitamin-C and Zinc never hurts. I’m never my best when I’m fighting sickness.

2. Cleaned the room.
Yesterday, a colleague stopped in front of my desk, tilted her head in confusion, and said, Janet, I’ve never seen your desk like this.” For all my talk about assessment efficiency, stacks of papers pile up three or four times per year. This is what it looked like before and after…

3. Encouraged students do some reorganizing.
Since I had a pile of overdue library books, I figured my students did too. We had run out of pencils, and many desks were full of loose paper. Students got their areas in order so that they could find things easily.

4. Facilitated community-building activities with students.
Few things are more draining than student social problems. At the beginning of the year, we work really hard to new classes of kids build relationships. Then I get into academics, and forget the importance of continual community check-ins.

The students have gone through the normal group dynamics processes: forming, storming, and norming. Yet, student social supports are not fully normed by October. I wanted to remind them of the special contribution each student makes to the community of learners.

5. Played music.
When students were out of the room, I fired up my iTunes. I started with The Doors and moved to some Billy Idol (yes, my playlist has been screened in case students walk in the room).

Music puts me in a fun place. When teachers walked through my room on the way to other rooms, they were pulled into the music. Some started dancing. One pulled out the air guitar. Music became a catalyst for uplifting social time – which eventually morphed into conversations like How do you help improve your students’ thesis statements? or How did you…? 

6. Plowed through the stack of papers.
I started with the easiest papers. Rather than marking papers with lots of notes, I simply listed students who needed concept review. For example, some students needed review measuring angles. Others needed to refine thesis statements.

As I looked through papers, I simply made headings for “focus groups” and wrote names down based on what I saw in the student work.

7. Made the most important things most important.
We’re approaching the end of Quarter 1. I’m feeling pressure to plow through the curriculum – and I realize I’m passing that pressure to the students. So, I started asking the following questions:

  • What do I really need to do so that students are ready for Colony Day (our Living Museum project)?
  • Which students need to review which math objectives? How can I organize a math lab so that all students get the review they need? Who can I ask to help me with the lab?
  • How can I focus both my reading and writing lessons to help students get to the finished essay product?

8. Asked for help from specialists.
I showed my list of “focus groups” to my teaching partner and the school specialists. We had to negotiate time periods for “push-in” team teaching, but we were able to pull small groups of students for reviews or extension activities while keeping all students meaningfully engaged in the learning process.

9. Laughed with the students.
While in the doldrums, I forgot how fun teaching can be. While “forming” a fictional colonial government, one student took spontaneous leadership. He stood up, raised a finger in the air and said, “Everyone vote. Are we a democracy?!”

10. Slept well.

What do you need to do to reboot?

5 thoughts on “October Reboot: 10 Steps for Getting Through the Teaching Slumps

  1. Don’t forget a little reflection and problem solving to figure out how to avoid the pileup in the first place!!

    Billy Idol??

    You are 100% correct about students not being fully normed by October. I just sent my first student out of class today to our reflection stage using our 1-2-3 behavior system. The student was restless and it was the end of the day. He is tired and trying, but didn’t quite make it. It was a tough call, but we made peace over a non event very quickly.

    I’ve got to spend more time considering the norming phase and how long it truly exists, along with all year maintenance…

    • Yeah, I think this post was a reflection of how I recover – the others are about how to avoid the pile-up. I usually can – but a few times each year, all things get piled up anyway. Seems to happen before the end of a quarter.

      My students go to camp in October. I can’t wait to see the bonding that happens there. I’ll try to be more aware of when students are truly “normed” this year.

      How do you keep things from piling up?

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