Who’s Working Harder?

Around April and May, many students and teachers alike get senioritis.  This is when you start feeling that itch to get out of school, to blow off schoolwork, to relax.  And during this time, many people give in to this feeling.  But one thing that happens when you start letting your guard down as a teacher is burnout.

At the end of May this year, I felt exhausted.  And now we’re well into June coming up on finals, and the energy in the school is even more chaotic.  Teachers are frantically trying to get students to pass.  The weather has been getting nicer and nicer, the students are rolling into the end of fourth quarter with summer on their brains, and we all just want to go outside and chill.  So the question is: In 4th quarter, Who’s working harder?

In my class, we were dragging through writing scripts for a podcast project, and I needed to have students complete a tutorial to prove they could use the recording software before I let them loose to record their finals.  A colleague observed my class where I was giving that tutorial, and afterwards she took me aside and asked, “Who was working harder during that lesson: you or the students?”

For the record, I shrugged and said, “the kids?” even though in my head an alarm was going off.  When I had time to silently reflect, I let my real reaction happen:

“Wowwwwwww.  You right, you right.  It was me.  I was working way harder than they were.”

And you can’t see it, but even reading that back now, I have the same reaction: my eyebrows shoot up over my glasses and I nod and take a nice satisfying sigh.  Just acknowledging that is like a weight off my shoulders.

It was me.  I was working hardest during that class.  It didn’t seem like a problem to me because I love technology and teaching kids how to use it, but student output was sputtering compared to my full-steam-ahead-engine attitude.  And my full-steam-ahead-engine had been running out of steam.

The next week I decided to revamp my classroom output: Students would lead.  I had to refocus my classes on Monday and Tuesday, and remind them this was their learning, and their chance to shine in English 10 and 11.

When I reflected a week later, I felt relaxed, despite my work schedule being jammed packed full of meetings on top of all the classes and after school activities I normally do.  Focusing on student learning instead of teaching actually made me a better teacher.

As I was writing the first draft of this blog, a friend from another school district called me and said she was burnt out from trying to force her ninth graders to read To Kill A Mockingbird before the year was up.  I had been there too.  That book is long.  She acknowledged that she was painfully spoon feeding them part 1 and trying hard to drag them along so they could get to the more interactive activities she had planned for part 2.  She knew it wasn’t working, but she was tired and didn’t know what else to do.  So I asked her:

“Who has been working harder: you or the kids?”

After she had a similar reaction to mine, she quickly hung up to go mull over some changes she was going to make.  When we talked a week later, we were both in a good place again.

Now as I reflect a month later, I can see some days where I still worked harder than the students.  It’s a habit.  It’s hard to give up control of our classrooms.  But ultimately it’s for the better.  We need to stop thinking about ourselves and start thinking about what our students need to be in charge of their own learning.

So what I want to ask you now is:

Think of your lesson plans for next week, next month, next year.  Who will be working harder: you or the students?