On a different note, February is the toughest month to teach and we're right in the middle of it. The end of the semester is at the end of January so students typically pick up their performance in order to get their grade as high as they can. And that is great. But what happens is that they become exhausted by all of that and kind of take three or four weeks off in February. This is normal, frustrating, self-defeating, annoying, but ultimately fleeting. They shake themselves out of it as soon as grades get posted and then it's back to usual. It just makes February a tough month to teach.
Our staff at school has been talking about fading teacher morale. This has been brought up at some meetings and thankfully our administration is responding to the teacher concerns. There will be a staff survey tomorrow and eventually some workshops or professional development to help out. This is very nice of our admin.
I have a couple thoughts on low teacher morale, however. First, I've been at it long enough to recognize that February is typically just a tough month and it is what it is. I never judge during February. Second, and most importantly, I think that teachers have way more control over our morale than we think we do. What fires me up and gets me pumped is when I have a lesson that energizes my students. When they are into things at school, it just makes me love my job even more. Granted that is hard in February but it's not impossible. I did a cool lesson about Zimbabwe back at the beginning of February and it went so well and the students were so jazzed about it that my attitude has stayed really positive ever since. I know teachers can't bring their A game each and every day but we have to do it enough to sustain ourselves. Our lessons have to be student-centered and tailored to meet their needs and interests. If they're not, we lose. They become bored. We lose morale.
When I plan my upcoming week each weekend I start with the same goal: What do I want the students to learn by Friday? Then I ask myself one question: What is the most engaging way they can learn that? Working that way has carried me for many years and I usually love my job and look forward to going to work every morning.
The tough part is figuring what the students will find engaging. The first rule is that they DO NOT enjoy listening to their teacher talk. I try to limit my lecture to no more than 5-10 minutes per class period. Any more than that and their eyes begin to glaze over. I can always tell when I've rambled on too long because the phones start coming out and I lose eyeball contact. I try to catch myself and shut up. Sadly, many teachers do not realize this and lecture forever. The second rule is that they like things to be relevant to their lives. This is a no-brainer but is sometimes impossible for some subjects. In lieu of relevance, the lesson better be hands-on and entertaining as hell.
I honestly believe that if teachers made their lessons relevant or interesting (and NOT interesting to the teacher, but rather the student) and if those lessons would involve the teacher just refraining from talking it to death for the most part, then students would be 100% more engaged. And if the students are engaged, teacher morale improves.
Besides engaging lessons, there is the teacher-student relationship and classroom climate to consider . That brings up a couple more things that teachers should ask themselves: Do kids want to hang around me? Is my classroom a place they genuinely want to be? If the answer is in the negative there is an issue. That's for another post though.