There is moment in the fall when every teacher will hit the metaphorical November Wall. It happens to the aged and experienced as well as the young and new. It’s that teacher-burnout moment where all of the stresses of the year pile up and can feel impossible to navigate.
The luster of the new school year has worn off, discipline issues are growing, and you just can’t seem to keep up. Meanwhile, parents are flooding your inbox with emails and phone calls, wondering why their student did not get an A in the first marking period.
Administration seems to be too busy to have your back, and the stresses of being a teacher are as present as ever. The November Wall is real and can make it hard to look on the bright side of teaching.
But there’s good news: Walls can be knocked down.
Don’t have admin support? Find new ways to focus.
Teachers are the ones in the classroom engaging with students every day. They see firsthand what works and doesn’t work, what motivates kids, and what causes them to check out. And so one of the most draining parts of being a teacher is when an administrator does not trust teachers to do what is best. When all you hear is no from your administrator, or they work totally counter to your suggestions, it can instantly suck the joy out of teaching.
In times like these, sometimes the best thing to do is stay out of your admin’s way. Focus on your students and the work in front of you and avoid the front office like the plague. Of course there are more long-term steps to be taken against a bad principal, but if they are causing you a lot of stress in this busy season, sometimes the best thing to do is work apart from them.
Buried in work? Plan a day to crawl out.
Papers and essays are piling up, and the load can feel overwhelming. Your original plan might have been to chip away at them, maybe grading 10 a day for 10 days until they were all graded, but this can be daunting.
One of the best solutions is to commit to a single day, or what I call a “hell day,” to catching up. This is an evening or maybe a weekend day where you make that pile disappear. You are resigned to the fact that the next eight hours might be a little hellish, but you will not stop until the papers are graded and you’re caught up. It can be brutal to get through, but you will be glad you did.
Dealing with tough parents? Get to them first.
November is the time of year when helicopter parents and lawnmower parents come out in full force. Their child’s grades have dipped for the first time, and they go into panic mode. Unfortunately, teachers usually bear the brunt of their panic, and this can cause unneeded stress.
The best way to handle this is to be proactive and contact parents before they contact you. A simple email or phone call to make parents aware of missed assignments or a poor performance on a test can go a long way. It reminds them that you have the best intentions for their child and that you really do care.
Dealing with tough coworkers? Don’t let them get you down.
When you have that perfect co-teacher or BFF at school, life is good. They can make your day so much more enjoyable. However, if you don’t have that, teaching can feel lonely and isolating. You might also be dealing with a difficult colleague, which can be a challenge in and of itself.
No matter the case, don’t let other teachers affect your day. If you’re struggling with finding teacher friends or building a rapport with others at your school, keep looking. You might have to look beyond your grade-level partners or the person across the hall from you. Teacher friends and colleagues can come from an array of places. You can even find them in professional organizations or online. (Join our WeAreTeachers Helpline group on Facebook for a start.)
Are you bored? Create fun in your classroom.
The November Wall can also be caused by boredom. Sometimes the work of being a teacher can get stale, and the monotony can make you drag your feet and lose sight of why you do this.
The best cure for this is to inject some fun into the classroom. Carve out a week to do an interesting project with your class. Let your students build something, plan a poetry slam, take your students on a hike, or ask for a field trip—anything to shake it up a little.
Lost your passion? Stay the course, but start looking for other options.
Maybe you’ve had an inkling for a while now that it’s time to move on from your current grade, school, or job. You’re not alone in having thoughts about quitting teaching. However, this isn’t likely the time to make those decisions.
This teacher almost quit his first year, but now he’s still teaching, 20 years later. This article highlights jobs that can get you out of the classroom but not out of education. The bottom line is that you should allow yourself the freedom to have these thoughts, look around, and explore other options. Only you can decide what’s right for you, so be an advocate for yourself.
Dealing with sickness? Boost your immune system.
It seems like sickness comes in waves, and it can really knock you out for a while or get you off schedule in the classroom. If you’ve been dealing with sickness, be sure to take off all the time you need. There’s no sense in infecting others if you’re not well yet. But then look at ways to boost your immune system as we head into cold and flu season.
Mentally exhausted? Give yourself a break.
November is the time of year when you remember how stressful teaching is. The truth is, you might need a little break. Burn one of your personal days in the next couple weeks to give yourself a mental health day. Your class will be fine without you. Actually, they will be better because you took a day off. Sleep in on a Wednesday, get a massage, or hit up Target; do something away from the classroom. If it’s more serious, be sure to look into other options. But sometimes a day off is all you need to reenergize and refuel.
How do you deal with the November Wall? Share your ideas in theWeAreTeachers Helpline group on Facebook.