I don’t do my best.

My crazy life has been getting to me lately. I’ve been stressed out and tired and just not happy. I’ve been feeling guilty that the lessons I’m planning aren’t awesome, and then, since they’re not, the kids aren’t as engaged as I want them to be, and then I get discouraged, and it’s quite the cycle.

But let’s be real. I have 4 classes to plan for, and simply not enough time. I tutor after school, and sometimes that affords me some extra planning time, which I always try to use wisely (like right now, haha), but it can be tough to focus after a full day of school and when sitting in a room with 7-15 middle schoolers, all needing help on homework or complaining that they want to play games when their homework is done.

The truth is, over the past few weeks, I’ve wondered if I’m doing the right thing. I’ve been stressed. Mostly, I’ve felt guilty that I’m not putting enough time into lesson planning. I keep seeing “motivational” posters about doing your best, persevering until you succeed, and that, if you just try really hard, you can make yourself happy. And, believe it or not, all those things didn’t help. It made me feel like I wasn’t trying hard enough to be happy. Like I wasn’t trying hard enough to plan awesome lessons. Like it was all my fault because I had a bad attitude. But the idea of trying harder, working longer, and actually putting energy into being happy made me want to cry. How could I try to be happy when I was so tired? When the idea of putting any extra effort into anything, no matter how worthwhile, made me dread getting up in the morning, I didn’t need to hear that I just had to try harder to be happy. I simply didn’t have the energy to do my best at, what felt to me like, a million different things. I’m trying to bring 4 levels of Spanish into the proficiency world, and just figuring out how that works is enough to keep me busy all the time, and forget about making all those lessons excellent at the same time.

But then I remembered this post from Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell reminding us that it’s wrong to do the best you can, because doing the best you can at one thing probably means that you’re not doing your best at something else. You can’t do your best at everything at once. It’s impossible. Finding the balance is most important.

Sometimes, you just have to do what you can, and even if that’s the minimum. As little as possible, maybe that’s the best you can do that day. And if my lessons weren’t great, well, that was the best I could do. And if my students weren’t as engaged as I wanted them to be, that was the best I could do. And when I read about all these awesome teachers doing amazing things, I sometimes forget that I can only do what I can do. And I shouldn’t push myself until I go insane.

So what does my life look like now? It looks almost the same. I’m still busy every minute of the day, I still wish I had more time to spend with my husband and my dog, and I’m still tired at 9 PM when I crash into bed.

But, and more importantly, I am not feeling guilty. I may only be one day ahead, or even one period ahead, in my lesson planning. I may not have incredible lessons for every class every day. But my goals have changed. My goal is to have one really engaging lesson every day, for at least one class. That means that sometimes Spanish 1 gets to play Guess Who, 20 Questions, and draw a picture of themselves after reading an authentic magazine article about what your favorite color says about you when Spanish 3 gets a writing prompt and a children’s book read to them and 10 minutes of free (Spanish) discussion time. But another day, Spanish 3 might get an awesome day while Spanish 2 has to do something not as awesome.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I should be trying to plan engaging, cultural, awesome lessons every day for every class. In a perfect world, I most certainly would. But my world is not perfect. So I’m planning some OK lessons, some good lessons, and some awesome lessons. And I’m trying to write down the awesome ones. I’ll blog about some of them next week, I promise. And I’m trying to write down ideas that occur to me in the middle of the OK and good ones that would make them better in the future.

And ultimately, I’m doing a good job. My students in Spanish 3 who, on the first day of school, practically picketed when I told them we were going to speak Spanish all the time, are now comfortable chatting with each other in Spanish. I almost never hear English in Spanish 3 or 4, even when kids are whispering to each other. In my book, that’s a huge victory. And that’s after a quarter of some good lessons, some OK lessons, and a few awesome lessons. And probably a few bad ones as well.

And I’m learning. I’m figuring it out. Slowly. Honestly, it’s kind of like being a first year teacher again – finding and making all my new materials and planning and executing all the lessons for the first time. Figuring out what works, what doesn’t, and what needs tweaking. I’m hoping that next year will be easier, just as my second year teaching was easier. There will still be work to do, but I’ll have a whole year’s foundation of resources, activities, websites, and assignments to fall back on. Not to mention a year’s experience teaching this way; I mean, I surely won’t get worse, right?

So, if you’re in the same boat as me, reading about all the excellent things other teachers are doing, and wanting to do the same, but feeling like if you tried to do that much work for one class you’d never even have the time or energy to plan for your other classes, know that you’re not alone. It’s OK not to be as awesome as some of those others every day.

I won’t tell you that it’ll only get better, or that you just have to try harder, because I know you’re trying as hard as you can, and honestly, it might get worse before it gets better. And maybe you’ll ultimately decide that this teaching thing isn’t for you, or that you need a big, drastic change in your life. It’s definitely not easy. And if you’re burnt out, exhausted, stressed out, and guilty, remember: it’s wrong to do the best you can


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Laura says:

    I STILL think you’re awesome. I took the easy way out by relying on the textbook for the rest of my classes except for the 1 that I’m pushing for proficiency. I think it’s amazing that your upper-level classes are using Spanish because I always find myself resorting to English and I haven’t figured out how to hold myself accountable for Spanish only, so how can I hold THEM accountable?
    I’m sorry to hear that you’re so stressed out, but at least you are seeing the results of all your stress and hard work, and they certainly sound positive! Best wishes to you!

    1. Melanie says:

      Thanks! It really is hard to hold classes accountable for Spanish all the time. I mean, if they don’t want to do it, there’s only so much that threatening to take points and lower grades will accomplish. With my classes, it was effective to have a really frank conversation about why we were in Spanish class and how it’s only really useful if we learn to communicate. And we can only do that by pushing ourselves to speak more even if we’re not very confident. My students responded better to that than any threats or anything else I’ve tried.
      But I definitely don’t think you’re taking the easy way out! ANY effective teaching is a lot of work, textbook or not!
      Good luck to you as well!

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