Surviving Teaching and Finding Joy

Times have changed.  Teaching has far more demands than it used to.  Required paperwork, overcrowded classes, and lack of support begins to take its toll.  At first it all seems manageable.  That fire of wanting to teach keeps the motor running.  Then bit by bit, as demands and expectations increase, it becomes more difficult to keep the fire burning.  The love becomes lost.

Teachers are quitting.

Children have changed, too.  Their lives have less (or little) room for play. Most of their waking hours are structured – from school to sports to after school activities.  Oh, and then the homework.  Frankly, homework in the early grades should be reading.  Period.

Children are often coming to school feeling everything from anger to being overwhelmed. They may not know why, they just know they aren’t feeling happy.

Is it any wonder that America’s children are ranked 26th in reading  among the world?

I am a teacher.  I have seen the wear and tear on other teachers.  I have seen children who are failing to thrive in school.  Yet, I have found an answer, a way, that makes a difference. It keeps me going, and it makes a world of difference to the children I teach.  I call it “The Hundred Little Things.”

Many years ago when I began teaching, I was a good teacher.  Yet, there was a faint ‘you and me wall.’  All teachers have it.  It labels our job.  It is the distinction between the teacher and the student.  It’s not a bad thing at all. Actually, it’s necessary and natural. Then something remarkable happened, a moment with a child.  Andrew was a child who was often distant.  I just hadn’t connected with him.  One day at rest time, after chapter reading, I was laying down on the floor rubbing children’s backs.  The room was dark and all the children had fallen asleep – except for Andrew.  I turned my head and so did he. Our eyes met at the same time.  We both smiled.  It was a moment, a knowing moment, as if we were the only two people in the whole world.

It changed me.  I became a child-centered teacher.  My curriculum and  focus was now based on the interests of the children.  More importantly, I was keenly aware of how children felt, not just feelings of anger or happiness, but feelings of interest and disinterest. If an activity was so-so, I scrapped it.  If something lit a fuse, I fanned the fire.  Often that ‘something’ was sparked by a story or a song.  For example, the continuous singing of a favorite song could drive a teacher crazy.  Instead, I tried to see it from the perspective of the child, and I allowed them to build on the song – eventually making a quilt that hangs in a national place of prominence.

The faint ‘you and me wall’ was gone.

If I could hang onto what children loved, remembering and focusing on those moments, that filled me up.  I felt joyful.  The day at school could have been awful, but if there was something, a remarkable question, a deep discussion during chapter reading, a spontaneous hug, a belly laugh, discovering something in nature, then that was the important part of my day.  Obviously it was the important part of the children’s day, too.

I was not only surviving teaching, I was thriving.  I was becoming ‘one’ with children.  I found joy.  And every time I embraced a moment, children knew.  How did this effect them?  They burst, exploding with more questions and ideas.  And I responded in kind.

I decided to write about those moments, those ‘hundred little things’.  That helped cement what happened each day, and kept me focused on what really mattered.  And, I could then pass those stories along to parents and fellow teachers.  “See what happened today?  This is what the children learned/enjoyed/questioned.” was my message.  That writing has fanned my fire, keeping teaching survival in the right focus (the children) and keeping joy alive.

I have survived teaching and found joy.

Jennie

About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
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93 Responses to Surviving Teaching and Finding Joy

  1. Oh Jennie, this really brought me to tears… what a fabulous teacher and loving human being you are my friend, Oh if the world held but more of you it would be a wondrous place where all children felt love and that they were listened to.
    Still swallowing great lumps in my throat.. Thank you from the bottom of my heart .. Those children you teach are indeed blessed to have you ❤ ❤ ❤

  2. Opher says:

    That is exceptional Jennie – and so difficult to achieve. That’s where it’s at!
    For teaching to be really fulfilling it has to be like that – then it’s a joy. It seems that the establishment conspires to prevent that happening though.

    • Jennie says:

      We need to find joy, regardless. Yes, it does feel like the made decisions are making it harder and harder for teachers. It is not always easy to achieve, but oh so rewarding. Thank you, Opher!

  3. Thank you for this wonderful statement. So true. We are a productivity centered society, Germany too. Not bad, but for a better life our kids should first learn than earn. 😉 Best wishes, Michael

  4. beetleypete says:

    Your words sound so sincere and true, Jennie. 🙂
    A recent report on schoolchildren here has revealed that many arrive hungry and thirsty in the mornings. Low parental income and overcrowded living conditions also mean that some get no decent meals, or proper sleep. And as a result of this combination, many youngsters are finding it impossible to concentrate. This has led to increased expulsions and inclusions, as well as many frustrated teachers abandoning their careers.
    Others are buying food and drink for these kids, out of their own salaries. A lamentable situation, in a ‘developed’ country.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Jennie says:

      It is a travesty when developed countries cannot effectively educate their children. Often those making decisions have never been in a classroom. I can advocate for teachers and for children, but in the short term, the day to day, a teacher has to find a way. If I can’t see and celebrate those ‘moments’, then I can’t help children (or myself). Joy is the word. Thank you, Pete!

  5. Darlene says:

    An excellent post. In any job, if you can find joy in the small things, you will feel satisfied and fulfilled. In teaching, it is especially important. Good for you that you have not thrown in the towel but found a way to enjoy your job, which in turn is a huge benefit to the students in your care.

    • Jennie says:

      Hear-hear, Darlene. This holds true in any job. And yes, it is especially important in teaching, as it directly impacts children. Many thanks!

  6. Ritu says:

    This. This is why we are still teaching. I salute you Jennie and all the teacher brigade out there ❤️

  7. Ellen says:

    As I read your beautiful post, I see you as the matchbox and your students as the little matches tucked inside. You light their flames, that when nurtured will become the fires that burn brightly as they learn and grow. I am also reminded of these words : “The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.” – Alexandra K. Trenfor. I came across this and another quote attributed to her many years ago and, as is my habit, jotted it down. It is also my habit to research the author when they are unknown to me. I was unable to find a single bit of information and while searching discovered that neither had anyone else. A conundrum for sure, but the words are worth repeating and so I offer them to you as they describe you perfectly! Thank-you!

    • Jennie says:

      I love, LOVE the quote! Thank you so much, Ellen. If I can show children where to look, that in itself is a tremendous thing. It is a shame not to know more about the author of the quote. Still, her words are wonderful.

  8. You also inspire your non-students as well. Wait, just a thought. Maybe we are all your students. Well done, Jennie.

  9. We need more teachers like you, Jennie; people who love their job and put their heart and soul into it. Keep up the good work.

  10. Dan Antion says:

    This is beautiful, Jennie, but I am struck by one major idea – you were a good teacher – you worked to be a better teacher. That tells me why you are such a wonderful teacher today.

  11. frenchc1955 says:

    Jennie, thank you once again for this excellent post!

    • Jennie says:

      I thought about you when I wrote this, Charles. You must feel the same way when a student discovers that s/he loves Shakespeare, or when they bombard you with questions. If we focus on the joys, then teaching is a pleasure, if not a passion. We just have to look for the joy. Thank you!

  12. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    Here is an excellent post from Jennie, the equally excellent teacher!

  13. What a lovely post, we can all take your beautiful message to heart and focus on “the hundred little things” we experience or come across each day!

  14. Jennie, I appreciate your writing about the difficulties K-12 teachers are facing today. I’m reading John Warner’s Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities, which paints a very grim picture of today’s K-12 classroom, brought about in large part by the standardized testing movement. I hope you and your readers are able to spread far and wide your message of finding joy in teaching and learning despite the current climate–so that teachers and children alike can survive school with their creativity and spirits intact. One of the greatest joys in my life continues to be the simple act of learning something new, and I count myself very, very fortunate that this is so.

    • Jennie says:

      Liz, you are right. And standardized testing (Massachusetts has the MCAS) is often a grim reaper for students, and drains the teaching out of teachers. I will continue to find joy and spread that message. That’s more than survival, it’s thriving and learning something new, and that is a great thing. I need to read John Warner’s book! Thank you, Liz.

  15. ren says:

    Your start came from heart
    Ain’t that the best part?
    And then here’s your golden bonus
    ya bring da kid out, in all of us!

    You have made a great grand big large and huge difference in this world with your years of being one with your children. Bless you, Jennie and thank you for being you!

  16. tingsha says:

    You sound like a wonderful teacher-these children are lucky to have you in their lives! I enjoy following your blog and have the utmost respect for anyone in this incredibly challenging job!

  17. I still think you should be teaching teachers. You are phenomenal.

  18. Patriel says:

    I ,too, found the magic in a child’s smile , a giggle, a question ( out of the blue) . That is the spark, the fire that gets you through the forms that show up at 2:30 and has to be in by 4 pm. Sharing a story and a silly art project is what makes the day and the teaching moment happen. Jennie, you are the kind of inspiration that charges batteries of tired teachers. THANK YOU !!

    • Jennie says:

      You are absolutely right, Patriel. I’m so glad you find the magic, too. And, I’m glad I could charge your batteries. We teachers need that. Best to you.

  19. Jennie, what a lot of truth and wisdom here. I have noted the same things-society is so very different and I fear children are being robbed of childhood with the liberties to wander, discover , dream and pretend. I see the toll and it is heart breaking.

  20. I do agree with you, Jennie. Our children are overloaded with work and it makes learning hard work and a drag. It is fantastic that you have found a way to experience so much joy and share it with the children too.

  21. Sarah says:

    It is heart-warming to know that there are still teachers like you, Jennie – who thrive instead of merely survive. It can be a tough and difficult route though. With all things in life, there are ups and downs. There’s a delicate chemistry between teachers and students, just like between pets and their owners, somehow students can get a certain mood or react unconsciously to something the teacher is feeling or thinking. Being positive helps to give the scale a tip to the right side. 😊

  22. dolphinwrite says:

    Adults and children are the same as always. It’s what environment they’re growing up in.

    • Jennie says:

      Yes! We expect far more from children than we did 50 years ago, and the child has not changed. Finland does not have formal reading instruction until age 6, and they are #1 in reading in the world. That should be a red flag. The environment changes, but the child (and adult) does not.

  23. What a beautiful post..and so full of honesty. Thank you for sharing Jennie

  24. abbiosbiston says:

    I think the environment is very similar here in the UK as well. I didn’t go to school here but I have friends who are teachers and who have suffered at the hands of endless testing, league tables and budget cuts. My son will go to school next year (at age four, which seems mad to me as I was much older when I started school) and I am worried for him. He goes to nursery two days a week now and it is a totally child-centred environment where they just explore the world. I wish that could continue for a few more years. It makes me feel happy that there are still teachers who have not been ground down by the system.

    • Jennie says:

      The best thing you can do for your son is read aloud to him every day. Children who are read to have a larger vocabulary and do better across all academic areas in school. And, they love it! It sounds like he is in a great nursery school, perfect for a three-year-old. I know what you mean about continuing for a few more years, but his growth from April to September will be huge. And he very well may have a similar teacher next year. Enjoy the rest of his nursery school year, and read aloud. Thank you so much!

  25. ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

  26. dolphinwrite says:

    What can bring back the successes of the past, when America was number one in the world, is parental voting and articulation.

  27. mausamk says:

    It is so nice to read a heart felt post like yours Jennie. I have great respect for you and all the teachers who put in their heart and soul into teaching. Please keep sharing your moments of connecting with kids.

  28. Jennie, you are a joy. I just wish more of our children could experience teachers as dedicated and insightful as you.

  29. dgkaye says:

    You are so right on how much the school system has changed Jennie. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the world could use more Jennie teachers. ❤

  30. Reblogged this on Chelsea Ann Owens and commented:
    Not surprising, the amazing schoolteacher, Jennie, writes of her attitude shift in teaching and her subsequent ascension to perfect preschool teacher. 🙂

  31. srbottch says:

    Jennie, I think this is a lesson that can span other areas, as well. I found different inspirations in my sales career that kept me going. Not having met you, I can still picture you in the classroom, connecting with the children and inspiring them. Incidentally, you hit the nail in the head with your comment about homework. Should kids in middle school be carrying backpacks that look like they’re in the military when a simple book might teach the same lesson???

    • Jennie says:

      I definitely think this can span other areas. The loaded backpack is often filled with repeating what the child has already learned. A good book might teach the lesson in a far better way. Thanks, Steve!

  32. Libby Sommer says:

    I have great respect for your Jennie. A wonderful wonderful teacher.

  33. Agree on many levels! ❤️

  34. I’ve just graduated from college and am currently looking for my first teaching position and what I’m finding as I’m going through interviews is that I want to make the student’s my priority. I want to take a child-centered position because I have worked with students who have been in some really terrible situations and I personally believe that it is important to create a classroom where those students know that they are safe and that they are cared for.

    • Jennie says:

      That is wonderful! When students are your top priority, good teaching will naturally follow. The two best things I can tell you are: 1) bring your own joy into the classroom, because those children will be desperate for love and happiness, something they don’t have at home. If you’re excited, they will be, too. Sometimes the tiniest moment can be the biggest. That happens when you are in a child centered environment. 2) read aloud to children as much and as often as you cam. That is the single most important thing for learning and academic success in all areas. It’s the best thing I do in teaching. I hope this helps. I know you will find a good school. Thank you for reading my blog. As you can see I don’t write about ideas for teachers, I write about the remarkable moments that happen with children. Best to you!

  35. TeacherTalk says:

    When I first started teaching I was very curriculum centered and focused on the content I had to teach. As time went ot became more child centered because if I hadnt mentally shifted then I might have burnt out. Now in year 5 I am beginning by thrive journey! Awesome

    • Jennie says:

      I’m so glad to hear that! You have a great teaching career ahead of making a difference, because you are child centered. Seize the moment and keep thriving! Thank you.

  36. Anitaelise says:

    It’s so inspiring reading this post! The world needs more teachers who think like this.

  37. Lieu says:

    I really like the becoming a child centered teacher aspect! Great post and relevant as I just finished my first year teaching in June and starting my second soon. Thanks for this!

    • Congratulations on completing your first year of teaching! I’ll bet you learned a lot. (I know I did after my first year!)

    • Jennie says:

      I’m so glad you liked it, Lieu. It took me a while for the lightbulb to go on, and to become child centered. Keep up the good work! After all these years, I know reading aloud is the best and most important thing for children. I’m posting a story about that tomorrow. So, I hope you read often to children. Best to you, Lieu.

  38. Thanks for your tips on how to survive the first few years of teaching. I plan to apply them in my classroom.

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