June 15th, 2010

A Tired Teacher


Last week I met a tired teacher—23 years of teaching at a two-year institution. That’s a lot of teaching; many times it was year round. He didn’t say he was tired. He said he was thinking about a career change. “Teaching’s become work, a job, no different than slicing meat at the deli counter.”

We talked about things a “tired” teacher can do to refresh. I advocated change—taking a course apart at the seams, tossing a whole set of assignment and developing new ones, infusing a course with technology, teaching in a different format (online, with a colleague) or at a different place. Unfortunately you can be so tired that this much change seems like so much more work. What about reading? I noted favorite articles and ones that reaffirm the importance of teaching. Read an article and then write about it. Use the article to prompt personal reflections. What about taking a course or sitting in on one? It’s a great way to rekindle the love of learning, and it’s a path back to empowered teaching.

He responded favorably to several of the suggestions. I got the impression they weren’t things he’d previously considered. Once again I was struck with how unaware we are of the need to take care of our instructional selves in an intentional way and how when we do get tired, we’re often bereft of ideas as to what we might do to reconnect with the profession we once loved. I suppose we can fall out of love (sounds as though the Gores did) and need to move on to something else, but before making such a drastic change shouldn’t we at least try to reclaim the passion and commitment we once felt?

My conversation with the tired teacher was most aided by the comments of another teacher. “You know what? I was once very tired and I left teaching. It was a terrible mistake. I missed it dreadfully. The work I went to seemed so trivial. I came back to education, and I am so glad to be here.” I suppose if leaving is what it takes to reconnect with teaching maybe it’s worth doing. But there are less risky alternatives—they begin with the recognition that good instructional health results from purposeful activity.