The Art of Letting Go

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As my very first year of teaching comes to a close, one thing is for certain – I’ll never have to repeat it again! It’s over. It’s history. I survived and that’s all that matters, right? Although survival is important, it’s only the beginning. What did I learn? How did I grow? This is my guide to survival and growth for first year teachers.

A few days ago, a colleague told me that I was doing a good job. He made a remark about my first year coming to an end. I replied with a funny comment about survival. But after doing some reflecting, I realized I did much more than survive this year. Calling it survival would undermine the truth. I actually grew. At times, I even flourished. I had to learn the art of letting go.

Perfectionism can be catastrophic for a teacher because there are so many variables! I learned the hard way. The first few months I stayed up until all hours of the night, planning, strategizing, making curriculum maps, filling out lesson plan templates and graphic organizers. I was tired all the time. The most difficult part was that even after all my planning, something always went wrong. The lesson didn’t go the way I wanted it to go. Or the end result wasn’t satisfactory. Or there was a field trip that I forgot about and half the class was absent. Or a fire drill messed everything up – right when I was getting to the good part, too! Nobody told me teaching was this messy.

I got discouraged often. Mostly, this was because I tried so hard and still couldn’t figure out a formula that would yield consistent greatness! I hadn’t considered that my thinking was flawed. My whole approach was wrong. My attempts to fix, manage and control were actually sabotaging everything. Something was missing – a secret ingredient called humility.

True humility is not simply a denial of our good qualities. Humility is actually the product of acceptance. When I honestly try to be myself and accept my process, I’m practicing humility. It’s about being human, which is to say flawed. Once I accepted that I was a first year teacher, and not a veteran, life got easier.

I stopped beating myself up so much. I made a conscious decision to be gentler with myself. When a lesson bombed, I reminded myself of a few good things I did well that day. Often times, I found that the lesson only bombed in my head! My perfectionism distorts reality. After one of my observations, I was sure that the vice principal was regretting her decision to hire me. I embarrassed myself. The lesson was a complete failure, I thought. But at our post-observation conference, she commended me on teaching a great lesson. We reflected on a few ways it could have been better, but overall, she thought it was great. I realized it wasn’t as bad as when I replayed it in my head. My perception is not always in touch with reality.

I began to see that beating myself up was a waste of energy. It never worked before, so I stopped taking myself so seriously. I reminded myself that education is important and that I’m depended on, but I stopped making it all about me. I just showed up and did my best. Usually, the results are out of our control.

Verbalizing positive affirmations in the morning really helped. Sometimes I’d have to say them out loud. On the drive to work, or in the parking lot I’d say, “You’re doing a good job.” On some days it was, “You’re right where you’re supposed to be.” And still, on other days I said, “This year is a learning experience. Embrace it.”

My number one suggestion to new teachers is to put the bat down! Stop beating yourself up! As teachers, there are so many forces working against us. We can’t afford to work against ourselves.

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