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As educators around the country return to school after two very challenging years, we’re pleased to be able to share this reflection from a teacher about her love for teaching and for the impact of her work. At Intellispark, we’re honored to support thousands of outstanding teachers, administrators, and counselors whose love for their students, themselves, and their work inspires future generations.

The job market is awash with options for competent professionals. There are job opportunities overflowing from my inbox, many of which offer higher compensation and less demanding requirements. So why am I here teaching after nearly 20 years? It’s simple: Teaching is not simply my ‘career choice.’ Teaching is an act of love. I have fallen head over heels in a beautiful relationship with this tremendously challenging, emotionally taxing, complex profession. As we fight for improved teacher wages and advocate for manageable working conditions, we can sustain ourselves when we focus on the reasons we love our unique role in the lives of young people. Here’s the thing about love: It doesn’t always make logical sense and it isn’t always easy. As so many of my colleagues have left the profession, I realize that there are a few simple practices I regularly use to maintain my passion for the profession I adore so deeply. I invite you to join me in believing that teaching is an act of love and, like any loving relationship, it demands commitment through the many bumps in the road in order to reap the rewards of deep fulfillment and a life well spent.

Teachers may consider the following tips when choosing to strengthen their hearts as teacher:

Love your students

Relationships are the baseline for learning. This is well-established in research, in countless books, and in the real-life experiences of teachers. I believe that to truly sustain yourself as a teacher, relationship-building needs to go deeper than simply an instructional strategy. I make it my mission to find a way to love and appreciate every one of my students, even when they challenge my skills and stretch my intervention abilities. I keep a few key tenets in mind to support this process:

  • Every child is somebody’s baby. They are worthy of my appreciation, dedication and acceptance.
  • Kids are doing the best they can with the skills they have. When they challenge me, it’s my chance to build their skills or model my own.
  • Undesirable behavior isn’t personal. It’s communication. It’s an invitation to interaction which can deepen the relationship in the long run.

Love yourself

You can’t pour from an empty cup. In order to be the best teacher I can be, I have committed to love myself extravagantly. Am I perfect? Absolutely not. Do I have flaws? Indeed. Am I doing the best I can? Every. Single Day. Loving myself goes beyond the cliched self-care practices which easily come to mind (think bubble baths, candles, and massages). For me, loving myself involves a series of practices designed to protect a treasured (and limited) resource: My energy. These include things like:

  • Sticking to strong personal standards. I know who I am and what I believe. I value myself and can advocate for what I need when necessary. For example, in my personal life I put my own family first whenever I can. My own children need me as a mom, and this holds precedence over other potential commitments.
  • Setting up regular routines. I plan for when I will exercise, shop for groceries, prepare healthy meals and even go to bed at night. This sets the stage for stress reduction because I find I can flow through regular routines without feeling overwhelmed. Having a plan is a great safety net.
  • Setting and holding firm boundaries. My teaching job could consume every minute of my life if I let it. As a teacher, I have learned to set a ‘stop’ time each afternoon for when I will engage in work tasks. I also have regular hours in which I will respond to emails. When I first started to utilize these boundaries, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get all of my work done. I’m delighted to share that when we set boundaries, things tend to fall into place, everything gets done, and the earth keeps turning.

Love your work

Never stop reminding yourself about why you absolutely love being a teacher. Despite the difficulty, this profession offers so many beautiful gifts and opportunities which cannot be compared to any other career field. When I am feeling most overwhelmed or facing a significant challenge, I tap into that ‘new love’ I felt when I first walked into a classroom and saw the faces of young learners. I return to some key practices including:

  • Cultivating gratitude. I know we hear about this approach all the time, to the point where it may become meaningless, but it is truly powerful. Shifting from a mindset of ‘I want’ to a mindset of ‘I already have’ can change your entire experience in life. Take a look at everything your teaching job offers to you, both tangible (that paycheck and perhaps spring break) to the intangible (the opportunity to make a true, lasting impact on a hurting world).
  • Stand on the ‘win’s.’ I keep a list of the ‘win’s’ I have experienced with my students and reread it in times of stress. This list includes things like a reluctant learner choosing to engage and finding success beyond everyone’s expectations. It includes the mended relationship with an upset parent who became a strong ally and partner in the education process. The positives are there, we just need to look for them!
  • Have some go-to students. Each school year, I identify a few students who consistently bring positive energy into my world. There are always a handful who bring the fun, humor and joy to my job. If I’m having a stressful day, I might seek out one of these students for a quick chat.  Usually just asking, “So how is your school year going?” can set off an energizing conversation.

To conclude, keep in mind that the better you know your students, the better you can invest in their success tools available through Intellispark can help provide easy, efficient access to student information. Viewing your lessons and student learning experiences through their eyes can help everyone succeed. There is nothing more fulfilling than seeing a student transition from struggling and disengaging to thriving and enjoying the learning experience. As teachers, we have the chance to transform lives in a way unparalleled in any other profession.

Rachel Jorgensen

Rachel Jorgensen, M.A., is a special education teacher and coordinator of work-based learning at Anoka Hennepin Public Schools and professor at Bethel University who has an interest in empowering students through relationships. She is the author of the book Loving Your Job in Special Education: 50 Tips and Tools and current program director for the Teacher Coordinator of Work-Based Learning Program at Bethel University, which is an online program inviting educators to bolster their skills in supporting students as they transition from school to work. Rachel is working on her second book and parenting two teenagers. Much of her time is spent driving them to their activities!