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Reenergizing for School

posted: 11.3.09 by archived

Teaching and learning are exciting ways of life and wonderful stages in personal and professional development. Just like anything else in life, maintaining excitement and energy for school can be challenging. Tight finances, lack of job stability, problematic relations with supervisors and bumpy relationships can drag us down. Crests and valleys are nothing new: they’re just part of the human condition. Still, when feeling sluggish, down, or just not excited about teaching, it’s easy to bring that same resistance to class. Personal entropy can slow down an otherwise exciting course or bring a hard teaching environment to a screeching halt. I’ve unintentionally done it enough times so I do what I can to avoid impacting my class.

I always remind myself of how lucky I am to be teaching. Sure, I know that many administrators use our joy and passion for teaching as an excuse to give adjuncts relatively low pay. Still, that shouldn’t dampen our energy. All I usually had to do to keep my spirits up was remember all of the other jobs I held, the other bosses I had, and the difference between the customers I served and the students in my classes. We also too often forget the importance of teaching; teaching is a privilege and responsibility. And as a full-time student, I miss being able to teach. Teaching was challenging, but having that challenge and working with great students was a blessing. Recalling in detail just how important teaching is to our students, our culture and to our own lives can help bring some juice back into the process.

When self-motivation about the merits of the job does not work, and it often fails, I turn outside of teaching. I intentionally shut down everything school-related and look for art, music, books, TV, YouTube videos, or anything that offers complete and total escape. If we never break from teaching, thinking, studying, and learning, we will wear ourselves out. Finding a form of art or media which excites you and moves you outside of your academic specialty not only offers non-academic entertainment, thinking, and perspectives, but provides a chance to connect with the world and yourself. Gifted teachers and bright students know this, but they forget to act. We claim that the deadline is too pressing, the work is too important. Deadlines are important, but if your work is sloppy, exhausted, or off-target because you were so burned out, then what is the point? Taking a ten or fifteen minute break, if not an hour or two, may not only reenergize you to finish up a class or paper, it may help you make it through the day. Similarly, it’s important to schedule time off. I have heard colleagues agree with this, and then I’ve watched them work weeks without a real break. Down time is necessary, whether you fill it with something constructive or a bit self-indulgent.

As a person who loves patterns, I dislike changing routines, but I’ve discovered that if I keep the same routine for too long, I start to slow down. Simply shifting where I get my coffee, when I exercise, the route I take to school, or the order that I review papers forces me to pay attention to new details things in the environment. By choosing to change small aspects of your environment and daily experience, you may notice new people, things or places you can use in your classes, or even something that you want to do that is not school-related. Altering routines is a great way to force yourself to start paying more attention to your environment and living less in your head. Even if it is only for ten or thirty seconds, the changes can potentially reinvigorate or inspire you to alter a lesson, to take a new approach towards explaining comparison contrast or meet another adjunct from another department. Developing the pattern of changing patterns while hard can be very rewarding.

These may not be new ideas, but they are the advice that friends–academic and otherwise–have given me when I lost pep, became less engaged, or just was not feeling like the real me. None of them works all of the time, but all three have been reliable.  As we near the middle of the semester, it’s important to remember that while we are almost half-way done, we still have half-way to go. Whether student or teacher, we owe it to ourselves as professionals and to our learning communities to be the best we can be so that all of the participants get the best from us as colleagues, mentors, and students.

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Categories: Adjunct Advice, Gregory Zobel, Teaching Advice
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