1. Tell us about where/what you teach, and how many years you’ve been in the classroom.
I’m Janel, and I teach in a suburban middle school. We have 1200 6th-8th grade students. I teach 7th grade Reading in a mild/moderate classroom. I am the 7th grade Reading RtI interventionist. This is my 14th year to teach.
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?
It is exciting to know I get a fresh start to a new week. I pump up some of my favorite jams and I take time to reflect on the previous week’s lessons. I evaluate what worked, what didn’t work, and what I need to change. I also use Remind 101 and send an encouraging quote or message to my kids. Before Monday morning, my kids know our goals for the week and that we are working on together to achieve together.
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?
As I reflect on this question, several strategies come to mind. I give myself permission to shut my door, turn up my music, and dive myself into my fun work. I sponsor Friends of Rachel and giving back always makes me feel better. I enjoy planning for them. I also might leave with a co-worker on our plan and go get a Sonic drink or a sweet desert from our local bakery. I also have an amazing principal who practices an open door policy. Several times her office has just been my quiet timeout, a place to vent or cry, or just get another view point on an issue. Lastly, I think it is important to have a “go-to” person on campus. I am blessed enough to have two people I can turn to. At anytime I can walk in their room and sit and observe, write a note, or pull them in the hallway for a 30 second vent. At the end of the day, even in what I think is the worst day, I am usually met by a student in the hallway or in my room who gives me a hug or tells me to have a good day and all that negative stuff just melts away.
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?
I do think, over the years, my kids have been coming to school with more intense, various issues but it hasn’t necessarily made it harder to reach them. After all, they are just kids and deserve everything I have to offer them. I strive to build positive relationships with my kids before learning about their issues-those come to light because I have built the relationship and the students share them with me. I don’t become overwhelmed because I use the resources my school has. We have a great backpack program through our Parent Club, access to various counseling resources, and parent connection activities. Building those relationships with parents and the community has helped immensely.
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?
As a special education teacher, I understand how overwhelming paperwork can be. What works for me is staying organized. I keep a planner, to-do lists, and send reminder e-mails to myself. I have also given myself permission to leave my work at school. What gets done, gets done and if it doesn’t I can wait until the next day. If it is pressing, of course, I will bring it home or go in early to meet any kind of deadline. As long as I stay on top of things and organized it doesn’t become weighing on me. I don’t have to finish everything in one day; I am able to chunk my work and that works for me.
6. How do you balance the demands of work with the demands of your family and your own personal life?
I make time for me and I workout. We have dinner together every night at the dinner table. Every weekend we do something together as a family, whether it is movies or walking in the park. Schoolwork stays at work. If I do bring it home, I will do my homework while my daughter does her homework. Another option is to wait until they go to bed and complete anything I need to do.
7. What helps you maintain your enthusiasm over the years and keeps you from getting jaded or stuck in a rut?
Professional Development! I am so lucky to have a principal who knows the best workshops and supports us in attending! It is the same at the district level! Our expectations have not changed at my school the six years I have been there, but the way we achieve them have because our students have changed, state expectations have changed, and professional development has changed. I’m always learning and wanting to try new things so I can be the best for my kids. Most of my professional development I complete in the summertime because I don’t like to lose any time from my kids in the classroom.