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Voice of ExperienceFragile in February

Each week, an educator takes a stand or shares an Aha! moment in the classroom in the Education World Voice of Experience column. This week, educator Brenda Dyck reflects on the rough classroom times that seem to occur every February. Teachers are tired and discouraged. The kids have lousy attitudes. Why? Included: Tips for snapping out of the February doldrums!

ImageHave you ever noticed that teaching morale is cyclic in nature? Each year, we find ourselves smack in the middle of February, wondering where our September optimism went. An onslaught of unsettling events in February can make you wonder whether there is a conspiracy at work -- one meant to perturb and discourage those of us who teach.

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The new students I inherited after Christmas have made great progress in their behavior and their ability to focus. This week, however, they have reverted to their old ways. Today we finished our class by "dialoguing" about what went wrong this week. The students said they were tired, were discouraged by their teachers, and didn't much like the assignments that were coming their way. I didn't tell them that on that particular day, I felt much the same way as they did.

After school, I sat through a two-hour staff meeting that focused on the declining behavior in our school. This group of yawning, discouraged educators agreed that lack of respect and rotten attitudes students were showing had finally eroded their patience. The principal commented on the heaviness she sensed in our meeting. Our guidance counselor said he felt the room was heavy with fatigue.

It's strange, but the ambiance of school is so different in September. Hope, enthusiasm, and vision for the future permeate every corner of the building. Teachers can't wait to implement ideas pondered over the summer. February, on the other hand, is screaming with reality checks -- hopes that haven't materialized, problems that don't seem to have solutions, and a sense of feeling tired to the bone.

I wonder whether our students go through their own February crisis each year? They too begin each September with a sense of optimism, hoping new friendships and learning successes might make the new school year different for them. However, here they are in February failing some classes, bored in others, and drowning in the same old behavior issues. Hmm -- just when I had decided that my students caused my February crisis, I need to ponder whether perhaps I've contributed to theirs! Perhaps a combination of the two makes for a stressful learning environment.

Parenting is kind of like that too. We experience intermittent Februarys. We hang in there mostly because we signed up for the long haul and because every so often a September experience reminds us of our child's potential.

I'll tell you what I do when I hit the wall of February; I intentionally remember past successes from my classroom. I try to recall

  • the times I connected with a student with whom no one else could connect
  • when the learning synergy between me and my students soared
  • the ordinary lesson plan that became exceptional
  • those moments when the students became completely engaged in the learning moment
  • the struggling learner that finally "got it"
  • my own learning breakthroughs.
I've discovered that these recollections, a little rest and relaxation, and some thoughts about the spring that is on its way can help put these February lows in perspective. A little reflection on past successes can transport me from February to September in a flash!


Brenda Dyck teaches at Master's Academy and College in Calgary, Alberta (Canada). In addition to teaching sixth grade math, Brenda works with her staff in the area of technology integration. Her "HotLinks" column is a regular feature in the National Middle School Association's Journal, Middle Ground. Brenda is a teacher-editor for Midlink magazine.

Article by Brenda Dyck
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