Daily Affirmations for Teacher Anxiety
For teachers, anxiety is a part of the job. The late-night worries. Consistently questioning everything. The revision, and the revising of the revision. Teachers have the tendency to feel like they are "never good enough." And for better or worse, it is sometimes this tendency that inspires us to achieve the impossible. We expect excellence in our students, and our students expect that same excellence from us. It’s a lot of pressure to live up to. For younger teachers, it is the anxiety of entering a new field: the organization, the showmanship, the never-ending flow of grading and meetings. For veteran educators, it’s about the ever-changing landscape of the job: new standards, new expectations, new technology, new students. For all of us, it is wanting the very best for those we mentor, and holding ourselves to the highest of standards in order to give them the education and support they deserve.
And yet, if we don’t find time to breathe—if we are interminably hard on ourselves—we will never be able to sustain our practice. Today, Education World offers you a moment of reprieve. Use these daily affirmations to help remind you that you are human, you’re doing your best, and you’re not alone with your anxiety.
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You’re helping. Despite the self-criticisms you treat yourself to, do not forget that you are there to help. There are many careers you could have pursued. Yet you picked one that actively aims to create a better future for our world. You’ve chosen to sacrifice your time and energy and talent to nurture others. Few things in the world are nobler than that. Will you struggle from time to time? Of course. Will you mess up? You bet. Will it seem like the end of the world when you do? Sure will. But don’t ever forget why you went into teaching. That little flame from a younger you. It still exists. You were born to help others, and everything you do—though certainly not flawless—helps.
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No lesson is ever perfect. You can read every book on pedagogy. You can go to every professional development workshop. You can spend hours on a unit or a lesson. You can differentiate to the extreme. You can have twenty years of teaching under your belt. Nonetheless, from time to time, your lessons will implode. As teachers, we try to plan for the unpredictable. Plan for every possible outcome. And yet, human beings are variables like none other. Especially young ones. Moods, social dynamics, health, diet, home dynamics…these things can make or break even the best-crafted lesson plan, and you have little-to-no control over any of it. So forgive yourself. Yes, it is in your nature to constantly craft better and better lessons. To always improve. It is what we do. Yet, if you constantly expect perfection, you will be disappointed in the long run. Let go of that need for control and begin to view your classroom as fluid and changeable as a river. Go with the flow.
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There’s always tomorrow. “Tomorrow” is a magical thing. We go home, we eat, we curl up and sleep, we wake up, and everything is new again. A new day–all is forgotten, all is forgiven, all is fresh. Think about how many times you allow your students a fresh slate. Well, it applies to you as well. Perhaps you nailed it today; perhaps today went not-so-fantastic. Do you think you’re the only teacher to have a rough class? Bombed lessons are borderline cliché. It comes with the territory. This year alone you likely have up to 179 other school days to make it better. And one day will not ruin your semester–not for the students, and not for you. Let today be today. Regroup, adjust, and try again tomorrow. You got this.
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You have something to share. You question yourself. A lot. Lots of second-guessing. Lots of worry. You might not always feel like you deserve your “world’s greatest teacher” mug every day, but you do have a lifetime of experiences. That summer you worked at a convenience store. That time you tried to be a literal rockstar. That year where you had to live off of hotdogs and mac and cheese to save money to pay off your loans. Not only that, but you have studied your content, and proven your proficiency time and time again. When the chips are down, you need to remember that you have something to share with these students. You’d be surprised how quickly an “off the rails” lesson can lead to deeper lessons about life: failures, overcoming obstacles, and being humbled. Don’t be afraid to share these experiences with your students. They are valuable! Tell them the stories of the times you’ve had to dust yourself off and get back up again. Sometimes the best lessons are the unintended ones.
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Know when to let it go. You are the facilitator of learning. This is a hard distinction to make sometimes. We know how much you care about your students. We know that sometimes it might even feel like you want your students to succeed more than they do. But at the end of the day, they have to do the work. They have to be the ones to step up and earn that A. You can go ahead and take responsibility for your lesson, your attempts at engagement, your differentiation practices, but at some point the student has to follow through with the actual learning. You can’t beat yourself up. Understand that some students will require a lot more resources than those you can provide in the classroom. You only have control (and limited control, at that) over what happens from the opening bell to the closing bell. We can change our practice. But we can’t force students to learn. Understand when something is your responsibility as the facilitator of learning, and when something is well beyond your realm of control. Take a breath. And let some of it go.
Don’t feel bad about being nice to yourself. Your students deserve every minute of your day. Every ounce of your energy. You believe this in your very bones. And yet, what good are you in the classroom if you are not also taking care of yourself? Sometimes taking time for leisure feels like it’s at the expense of our dedication to our students. We can always do more. Better differentiate a lesson. Increase engagement. Rewrite and revise. Rewrite again; revise again. It is the blessing and curse of our profession. “The work” can be never-ending if you allow it to be. But you can’t. You need to take some time for yourself. Watch that episode of “Game of Thrones”. Go grab dinner with a friend. Take Saturday morning to stay in bed and sip coffee. These are the things that will keep you level throughout the year, and they are not time wasted. In fact, think of it as cashing in potential time spent worrying for self-care. You’ll find the latter much more useful. And honestly, if you don’t take advantage of these opportunities, you will burn out, and fast. And then where would your students be? For your students and for your career, don’t feel bad about taking time for yourself.
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You’re not alone. We sometimes look around the teacher prep room, peek into classes... Everyone else seems to have it together. Everyone else seems to know what they are doing. They all seem to have brilliant confidence and an impressive grace in the classroom. They don’t. No, really. This isn’t to say that some elements of teaching don’t get easier the longer you’ve been doing it. Classroom management, time management, organization systems...all get better. But there’s not a single teacher alive that doesn’t still get butterflies before the first day of school or before starting a brand new project or lesson. Not a single teacher in the ranks of your district actually believes he or she is the best in the field. We’re all terrified. And just when we think we’ve figured it out, the game changes. It’s this variety that keeps us on our toes, and keeps many of us in the field. However, it is also what keeps us up long nights and makes us worry that we’re just not good enough. Take time to go talk to those teachers. Tell them what you’re going through. You’ll quickly find that you are not alone in your anxious journey. And I can guarantee they will be thankful you reached out. Don’t forget: we’re all in this together.
Written by Keith Lambert, Education World Associate Contributing Editor
Lambert is an English / Language Arts teacher in Connecticut.