Teaching was my dream. Through my school years I collected ideas from my teachers. I’ll do this when I’m a teacher, I thought—or, not this, for sure. I taught my younger siblings to read before they went to school, just for the pleasure of seeing words move from the page to their minds and out of their mouths. I pursued teacher training against odds, diapering babies and stretching money as I completed class after class. And finally one day I held my college diploma, the paper I needed to teach.
So imagine my dismay, when in my first year of teaching, I woke up some mornings wishing I didn’t have to go to school. I’d hear the clock alarm and groan. I didn’t want to answer a thousand questions again or smell thirty adolescent bodies fresh from gym or attend a faculty meeting about test scores.
But I discovered early on that a dragging teacher has no chance for a good day. And gradually, over the years, I developed some tricks of the mind to get myself to school. Here are a few:
- I got to school early, closed the door, and turned up the volume on upbeat classical music. The beat brought the energy I needed for the day.
- I tried to remember I wasn’t entitled, that other people with dreams lost them in concentration camps or prisons or slavery. My day could be different, dream bereft.
- I thought of one student, who needed me that day. This took my mind off my needs, gave me purpose, and redirected my emotion.
- Just start the day, I told myself. You’ll feel better after you start.
- I brought a treat for my students. Buying doughnuts for homeroom changed the tone of their day and mine.
- I wore my favorite outfit. Dressing well pepped me up—giving me energy to joke with students and step spritely in the classroom.
- I looked back to one of my favorite teachers from long ago. Miss Bordeaux, for example, knew I liked to write and understood that I took critique as a gift. I looked forward to my returned essays, with her editing marks slashed across them and her knowing look as she watched me read them. Today, I’ll be Miss Bordeaux for Cassia, I’d think. And this gave me energy.
- I’d look to a colleague for inspiration. One year, for example, I taught next to a primary music teacher. Mrs. Jones, I knew, went home each evening to care for a mother with a freshly amputated leg. Most mornings, she’d be in tears as she fumbled with her door key. But all day, through the walls, I’d hear the bouncy music of her small students and see them leaving her room in smiles. If she can do it, I can do it, I’d think.
- Later in my career, especially, I’d look ahead to my retirement. When I sit on my rocking chair, I’d tell myself, I want to rock with a good conscience, knowing I’ve helped and with fond memories, knowing I’ve loved.
- And I drank caffeine, lots of it.
With these methods, I’d fool myself, on bad days, into thinking I wanted to teach. And then, part way through the day, I’d remember again why I wanted to teach.