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Equity Resources, Mindset & Motivation   |   Sep 15, 2014

Secrets of a teacher who loves her job: make a difference for kids in poverty

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Secrets of a teacher who loves her job: make a difference for kids in poverty

By Angela Watson

Today’s post is the latest from our Secrets of Teachers Who Love Their Jobs post series. Caitlin is here to to share her teaching journey with us and how she stays excited to go into the classroom each day. Thank you, Caitlin!

1. Tell us about where/what you teach, and how many years you’ve been in the classroom.

This is my 8th year teaching. The first 6 years of my teaching career I taught in Washington, D.C. I now teach 2nd grade in Fairfax County.

2. What goes through your mind on Sunday nights when many teachers are feeling anxious or a sense of dread about facing Monday morning? What is your secret to being excited about going to work each day?

I used to get very anxious on Sunday nights, especially my first year of teaching. As years went on, I began to deal with it better by trying to relax. My 3rd year of teaching, I started running and practicing yoga. This helped me clear my mind before and during the work week. I felt that finding something that helped ease my nerves was beneficial to getting me prepared for the week.

3. There are so many little things that make teaching more difficult than it has to be, and it’s easy for educators to get bogged down and discouraged. When something disappointing, stressful, or annoying happens during the school day, how do you keep it from affecting your motivation and attitude?

In the past I have had several administrators. Some were more hands off, while some were micromanagers. I found it extremely stressful when administrators would expect teachers to complete several spreadsheets and forms for student data. As important as data is, I was being bogged down with data. Everyday I had to enter in a grade for every lesson I taught, plus a behavior grade each day. It became very tedious and it was almost impossible to do since I often never had a planning period.

I always tried to give my administrator the benefit of the doubt. We are all here to help children. That is the bottom line. So if my administrator feels this will help children, then I will do it. Sometimes I think administrators forget what it is like to be a classroom teacher and it can be frustrating, but it is important to maintain a positive attitude for your students.


4. A lot of teachers would say that today’s students come to school with more issues than ever before, and each year, they are harder to reach. Would you agree with that? How do you keep from becoming overwhelmed by your students’ needs?

In my teaching experience, I have had students with issues due to home life. This was really tough because no matter how disrespectful a child acted towards me, I always had to remember that they most likely had a lot going on at home. Many of my students’ parents were in and out of rehab and jail. Many of my students were abused physically and emotionally. Many of my students were not fed dinner before they went to bed. They had little to no structure in their home lives, which can make routine in school very difficult for these kids.

I tried my best to form relationships with students and parents, which made situations less stressful at times. I also kept snacks in my classroom incase students were hungry. If a student came to school half awake, I’d let them take a short nap. If a child’s basic needs are not met, it is very hard for us to expect they will be ready for the school day. Little things like snacks, naps, and building relationships made a difference for my neediest students.

5. What’s your strategy for dealing with bureaucratic issues, like excessive/meaningless paperwork, micromanaging of classroom structure, and unfair teacher evaluations? How do you keep the demands of the school system from weighing on you?

My 5th year of teaching, I felt I was given a very unfair teacher evaluation from my vice principal. Many other teachers were in the same situation, but let it slide. As much as I didn’t want this to weigh on me, I couldn’t help but be upset and frustrated. I felt I was evaluated unfairly and I wouldn’t settle for an observation that did not reflect my teaching ability. I realized the only way I would feel better about the issue is if I did something about it.

I asked my vice principal to have a meeting concerning my evaluation. I came to our meeting prepared with questions and notes about the observation. After our meeting, my vice principal agreed with me on some points, while others he did not. To compromise, he suggested we re-do the observation, which we did.

I think that a lot of times we feel afraid to confront our administrators, but as long as we do it in a calm and professional matter, it can really be beneficial. From that day on, my vidc principal took my opinion more seriously and de-briefed with me about my observations more thoroughly.

6. How do you balance the demands of work with the demands of your family and your own personal life?

I try to be efficient as possible. For example, if my students take a test on a Wednesday, I make sure to grade it immediately after school on Wednesday. I do not let grades or paperwork pile up. I complete things as soon as I can so I am able to be out the door no more than 30 minutes after dismissal.

If I don’t have a meeting during my planning period, I do not relax or surf the internet. I get as much work done as I possibly can. I work through my lunch break as well. It is important to have time to yourself once the school day is over. I have had school years where I stayed late and brought too much work home and it didn’t make me a better teacher. It made me more stressed after school, which makes an unhappy teacher the following morning.

7. What helps you maintain your enthusiasm over the years and keeps you from getting jaded or stuck in a rut?

My students’ enthusiasm helps me maintain my enthusiasm. Seeing my students excited about learning makes me realize I have the best job in the world. Not everyone can say they have changed someone’s life and we as teachers can say we have changed so many.

8. What advice would you give a teacher who is feeling burned out but wants to love his or her job again?

Try to stay positive. Think about the impact you have on your students. One spring my students seemed to get in a bit of a slump. I then began to end our day with “shout outs” so students could praise each other and it made a difference in their attitudes. It’s the simple things that get kids more invested in learning.

For teachers who are truly burned out, think about where you work. Is your school making you a better teacher? Can you learn more at your school? Do you feel supported? Is your school environment positive? These are all important. Two school years ago, I was completely burnt out teaching in Washington, D.C. I was unhappy and constantly stressed. I left D.C. and I’m now teaching in Virginia and I couldn’t be happier. Both schools are Title I, but they just have completely different working environments, which can make all the difference. But also remember, that the grass is not always greener! So make sure to always think through your decision if you are considering leaving your school.

9. What’s one practice or mindset shift you would recommend that other teachers try today in order to increase their sense of motivation, purpose, and enthusiasm?

I read an article written by a teacher a few months ago and she discussed how our job is so important because we keep kids out of jail. At first I was kind of annoyed by her article. I thought, But we do SO much more than just simply keep kids out of jail! The more I read her article and thought about it, I realized that she is right. We do keep kids out of jail, which IS important, especially for those teachers who teach at schools where students live in poverty. Students who stay in school and learn how to read will become contributing citizens. To know that I have a part in helping kids make the right decisions in their lives later down the road is enough to keep me motivated.

Any questions for Caitlin? What questions would you like to see other teachers answer in this post series? And, if you’re a teacher who LOVES your job and you want to share how you maintain your enthusiasm, please email me!

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. Thank you! I need to read more positive pieces like this! I have been teaching in an inner city school for over 20 years. It’s easy to get focused on all the things we can’t influence. It takes effort to be mindful of the difference we are all making in our students’ lives. Thanks for the inspiration today!

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