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How to Mitigate Those Mid-Year Crankies

Maybe it’s the change in the seasons. Maybe it’s the change in the semester. But for some reason, January and February tend to bring out the teacher crankies. You hear it in the halls and feel it in the air at staff meeting. We’re all struggling to get ourselves back to our best, and it’s a tough battle this time of year. Whether you’ve come down with a case of the crankies yourself or are starting to notice it in your colleagues, Education World is here to help you turn that frown upside-down with a list of practices that could improve your school’s mood, any time of year!

Don’t Avoid the Teacher Lounge; Change It

The classic advice to anyone worried about burnout: avoid the teacher lounge. Sure, when we are at our worst in any difficult job, a staff room has the potential to breed well-intended negativity. We reach out to others who might understand our stress and frustration. The thing is, most teacher lounges aren’t constructed in a way that facilitates healthier attitudes. They are momentary refuges between classes, where tired teachers are stacked in front of computers, grading and planning, with the weight of the world upon their shoulders. It’s no wonder they feed the crankies.

So, change it. Get together with a few staff members and take the initiative to ask: what kind of space do we want this to be? Is there a coffee corner for chatting? Cubicle work stations at the far end, with headphones for musical tune-outs? A ping pong table and an Xbox for blowing off steam? As long as your work gets done and you’re bringing the energy into the classroom, you’d be surprised at what your administration would be agreeable to.

Whichever route you and your colleagues take, make sure you’re creating a space that allows staff to work, but also encourages an atmosphere where teachers can be active between classes. This sort of “positive activity” option will keep you from falling victim to the crankies. Don’t get me wrong: there are definitely times when this sort of “blunt talk” the crankies provide can help teachers feel validated, but wallowing in it day after day (which we’ve all seen, and likely have participated in once or twice) doesn’t change the culture. And to be honest, I’d rather debate classroom practices and other challenges of pedagogical universe over a game of ping pong than huddled over a laptop in a rigid plastic chair any day.

Create a Workout Station

If you’re re-imagining your teacher lounge anyway (or even if you’re not), you might want to think about integrating a space where you (and possibly your colleagues) can stretch out or move. Even the smallest “workout nook” can break up your day and get those neurotransmitters firing through your body. We’ve all heard the risks of sedentary employment, and as our profession becomes increasingly digitized, we’re no exception. When you plop down in front of the computer in between classes, you’re messing with your day’s “flow”.

And it doesn’t take much to keep moving, as we’ve reported in the past. Hide a yoga mat or a couple hand weights under a desk or table. If you have the leisure of more space and/or peer support, remember that almost everyone has some equipment that’s just been sitting in the basement or garage that could be added to the team station. Getting administration on board might take a bit of data mining, but the reality is, taking care of employees is always in the best interests of the employer (and thus, the students). There’s a reason so many Fortune 500 companies and public institutions have started adding "company health” to the board meeting's agenda.

Plan Staff Stuff

You surely don’t have to love everyone you work with. And sometimes you need a break from your coworkers. And yet, you’d be surprised by what a little staff camaraderie can do for a school’s culture. And sure, a Friday happy hour is a classic way to blow off steam for many teams. But such things can sometimes seem superficial, forced, and exclusive. It’s time for us to step up our game.

Plan a staff activity. Something outside the box, getting your crew interacting, laughing, and really thinking about each other as people, and not just co-employees. Many cities across the world now host “escape the room” activities, where groups must solve a series of puzzles in order to “be allowed out” of a thematic room. They’re fun, and make for great team-building. Have a laser tag night. Find one of the increasingly-popular retro arcades nearby. Go geocaching on a sunny day. Or, if you’ve never heard of whirlyball, you need to learn about whirlyball.

The point is, we sometimes forget that our coworkers are human, too.  Recognizing that and empathizing with each other can make the tough days so much more bearable. You need that support team this time of year, whether you recognize it or not.

Add to a “Good Vibes” List

This is a simple routine for keeping the positivity in your days as an educator. Grab a large sheet of paper and attach it to a wall, somewhere you will see it every day in the morning. You might consider a notebook or journal, but it really needs to be more “in your face” and visible. We like to put ours on the wall of our bedroom, on the back of the closet door, or on the wall of a seldom-used bathroom. This is your “good vibes” list. Label it as such.

Your job? Every day, you should add one thing you love about teaching. Now, for some, this might feel like a whole lot of pressure, trying to come up with something heart-warming or existentially fulfilling each and every day. These are not the things we’re talking about. Your “good vibes” list is for the small moments. The little things. It might be the way your students laugh and roll their eyes at a bad pun. The side chats you have with a coworker during a particularly rough staff meeting. The group of students who always just “get it”. The ones who are “almost there”. Or even the gifs you add to your PowerPoints.

You can add whatever you like to the list: it’s just for you. And the benefits here are twofold: First, you’ll be surprised by how quickly one iota of positivity can change the mood of your day. Having the mandate of identifying one thing you love every day forces you out on the right side of the bed. Second, on particularly tough days, you can use the list as a reminder of all the things that keep you doing what you do. Maya Angelou said, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” Your “good vibes” list is you making the choice to change how you’re going to perceive your day.

Take a Day Off

Are we really giving this advice? This is a “teaching” website, yeah? Well, there’s a reason why “self-care” is a buzz phrase right now. We don’t do enough of it. We all need it. You heard right: you need to take care of yourself if you expect to be able to take care of anyone else. In our modern economic landscape, we’re directly or indirectly told that we need to either do more, or ship out. And it’s simply not reasonable.

You have sick and personal day put aside for you each year. Yes, some of you get to buy them back, and for some of you they might even “roll over”. And yes, it is always a pain in the butt to miss a day of class. No matter how fantastic and competent our subs are, that work needs to be reviewed and re-done. You do the math on whether or not taking a day off is “worth it”.

But know that taking a day to recharge can sometimes be everything you needed to get through the rest of the semester. Let’s not kid ourselves: our job does not end at the final bell. We work well into the night, on weekends, and often through the summer to grade, revise, and develop curriculum that can reach the students of our district. Will one single day really change the course of history?

Plan ahead. Create a solid lesson for the substitute: one that allows students the practice they absolutely need, but without attaching new content or skills to the mix. Decide how you’re going to spend your day. Honestly, just “taking it off” can lead to a long day of feeling uneasy and anxious about what you’re missing in the classroom. You have plans. Think about activities that actually refresh and replenish you. It’s not about “escape”, it’s about appreciation. Whether it’s a long breakfast, a Netflix binge, a good workout at the gym, a good book, a day with a friend, some videos games, a massage, or a cleaning session, make sure that you’re doing the things that reward you for the hard work you do. Because you certainly do deserve it. And you don’t take the opportunity nearly enough. It’ll keep the crankies as bay, and get you to the spring’s sunshine before you know it!


Written by Keith Lambert, Education World Associate Contributing Editor

Lambert is an English / Language Arts teacher in Connecticut.