How I Survived the Education Reset Button

The Reset Button…

When I was a boy I used to play lots of video games and on the console was a button that would reset the game.  This button exuded evil…  The button itself was not evil, but I have many memories of someone hitting the button out of spite or anger when one of us began losing.  Or how about that time someone pressed it just because they felt like it when you had reached the final level after playing all day to get back at you for something you did days before?  Or what about the one time that my Dad was winning against my Godfather in Intellivision Baseball for the only time in the history of man when I ambled up as a toddler and decided to use my newly discovered motor skills to press the button.  My Dad never had another opportunity to win against my Godfather again, due to the fact my he was just that good at those games that sported stick men on the screen.  (I should know.  Despite training for an entire year on Intellevision Football, I was only able to kick 1 field goal and lost by a whole boatload of points when playing him…)  

The Reset Button…  I think that framing the amount of change that has occurred during my short career as a teacher is an appropriate way to look at how much change I have been exposed to.  I have been teaching since the fall of 2007.  I have had to endure so many changes over time. 

Below is a list of some of the changes that I have had to endure:

1.    I have taught in 4 different buildings since I started teaching. 
2.    I have been a High School teacher and Middle School teacher.
3.    I have taught grades 7-10. 
4.    At one time I was in 3 different buildings over the course of 3 years, due to the fact I was surplused at that time. 
5.    I have been a special educator, general educator, case manager, co-teacher, soccer coach, allied softball coach, and social studies bridge project coordinator. 
6.    Charter School Teacher and Public School Teacher.
7.    I have coached soccer at four different schools, Middle and High school.
8.    I have prepared students for 4 different standardized tests that had multiple parts.
9.    I have been teaching 8 years.  Out of those 8 years I have either switched subjects, gone to a new location, taught a different grade, or taught a different group of learners for 6 of them.  The past two years were the first two years I taught the same subject to the same group of learners in the same building for two years in a row…

Talk about change!  And, these were just the few that I could think of off the top of my head.  I have also served under 4 different principals and many different assistant principals.  I have never understood how people get up in arms about teachers staying in one place forever teaching the same subject.  That just has not been my experience.  Even when I was in the same building I was moved around to different jobs so often that it felt like I was teaching a new class every year.  I know other teachers have had different experiences, but for me someone has always decided to press my reset button again and again.  Sometimes I did it myself as I pursued my dream job and sometimes someone else did it as the needs of the school were being fulfilled.    

A couple weeks ago I heard my cell phone ring and when I answered it was the principal of my school.  I had thought that our discussion would be about the teaching student I was supposed to work with this fall, but she had different news.   They had decided to make a change and told me I would be teaching US History in the Humanities Magnet Program instead of teaching the classes I have taught for the last two years.  My professional reset button had been hit yet again.

Now don’t get me wrong this is a huge opportunity for me and I am excited.  It is a huge honor and I was humbled that the school thought highly of me to be the one and only 8th grade US history teacher in their flagship program.  But it is a little like having the reset button hit before I reached the next checkpoint or inn in the original Final Fantasy game.  I did a bunch of work and have the ground work done, but some stuff will need to be redone in a different form.  Much of what I have used I the past will not apply to these learners because it is of a different level. The supports will be different and the needs of the students will be much different.  So the work will have to be revamped all over again, even though the curriculum is based on the same material.  

When I heard the news I did have reservations about the change.  I have a three month old baby here at home.  I moved to a new school to coach soccer that is closer to where I teach, but I am new there to.  I was hoping to have stability at work, but now more change…  So, what was I to do?  What are we as teachers supposed to do as we continuously work in this volatile climate where change is the constant norm?  Wallow?  Curl up in a ball?  Rip out all our hair?  Turn the lights out and pretend to be Batman?  (I once had a principal marvel at that fact I had any hair when I told her at that point I had never taught the same learners or the same subject two years in a row!)

Below are some things that have helped me deal with the stress that the changes have brought to me over time:

1.    Understand that the perfect job does not exist. 

When I began teaching I looked forward to the future where I was going to find the perfect job with the perfect students.  It simply does not exist.  Once I got the job I had worked so hard to get in a regular ed classroom with social studies students there was always something I could find that I didn’t like.  Maybe it was a student that challenged me at every turn. Or maybe it was the fact I was doing a job I didn’t love.  If there is anything that I have learned is that no teaching job is permanent.  Shouldn’t we enjoy the time we have with the kids we teach even if it is not our dream job?  There was always something, which brings me to my next point:

2.    Find the Bald Eagles on the Mountain Side.

Since I often have trouble finding joy in my life because I tend to see the big looming negatives in front of me like mountains, I began keeping a journal of the little joys every day. ( Believe I got this idea from a Tony Robbins Video somewhere)  I would sit down before I went to bed and would write down my victories.  When faced with the fact I did have fun that day my life felt much better.  It is a little like looking for Bald Eagles in the Alaskan countryside.  When looking for them you are to look for a little white spot in the green that will appear like a golf ball in the trees.  I often felt like I was looking for specs of joy on some days, but those moments are there.  You just have to use your binoculars to zero in on the joy and focus on that. 

3.    Ditch the huge To-Do list in favor of the quadrant style lists.

This will help you break down what you need to do into manageable chunks.  I found at a school that I was always freaking out because I always felt like I was going to be buried in work.  There is always so much to do!  I had tried lists before, but once I wrote it all out I would look at it and basically pass out from fear.  It was just overwhelming and I would just give up before I even started.  Now I have four quadrants on my board near my desk that have things I need to do at home, at school, the relationship/phone calls I need to make, and ideas for my blog, or things that need to be broken down,  etc.  (I believe this was another Tony Robbins suggestion.  It really works!  I listened to his stuff in the car for a while.  I highly recommend his practical application stuff!)  When I look at the quadrants it is much more manageable.  I no longer freak out and I understand that I should only be able to achieve 2-3 things a day in each quadrant.  Not everything can be done in a day, but if we get most stuff done during the week that is pretty cool.  Plus, I can then put the things I accomplished in my journal when I got home at night that made me feel good. 

4.    Understand you are building a foundation.

So I have been building my foundation for 8 years now.  I am still not done.  I understand that I am going to have one incredible foundation as I continue on my journey.  My Grandfather used to love to say that, “People can fire you or take your things, but no one can the things you have learned.  You always take your mind with you.”  I have always thought this was a great way to look at change and even if you have seen great changes in your life the things you have learned along the way will always be with you.  So at this point, I have spent the early part of my career learning how to teach everyone under the sun in four different subjects.  I can honestly say that no matter what classroom in what location that I will figure it out.  I always have.  I can do it and so can you.

5.    Remember that if you teach kids the skills they need to know they will succeed on standardized tests. 

At this point standardized tests are a part of our professional life.  I don’t love them.  No one within the school system does either.  But they are the best way people have come up with to hold the teachers accountable and no one has really offered a solution that will replace them with a viable cost effective option.  They are not going away.  That being said, I am a believer if we teach kids the important things they need to know and the skills they should be learning they will succeed anyway.  I think that over time the tests will get better and that people will understand that humans can only take so much stress.  But for now, they are here to stay.  So don’t stress about them.  Just do your job and teach the kids the skills they need to be successful.  If you do that they will do well in the end.  Plus, I think that that the tests will probably become more reasonable over time and more appropriate for kids.  We have been fighting over this for a long time and will continue to do so  

6.     Make some friends and they will become your World Wide Web.
Ever need a partnership?  Ever wish you knew someone somewhere else?  Talk to people.  They will be your saving grace.  I would avoid those people who sit in the teachers lounges complaining about life and what Billy Bob did in class that day.  Teaching is hard enough without having a bunch of Debby Downers constantly bringing down your state of mind.  Relationships make life worthwhile.  When you talk about the good times what do you remember?  If you are like me probably a bunch of times you were hanging out with some awesome people.  They are there in your building.  To this day I keep in touch with a wide variety of people in different ways that are now my network.  When I need help or partnerships I now have people I can call on.  Plus, it wasn’t just me that has moved others have as well, which has now opened doors for me or helped me help my students as they moved around the county.  I know this can be daunting.  I am not great at it either, especially with new people because I can be kind of shy in crowded rooms, but it does pay off in the end.  I doubt I would have a great a network as I do now if I hadn’t move around so much.     

7.     Listen to some awesome music and do some reading.

I used to eat with people that talked about a lot of negative stuff.  I now spend my lunches recharging my introvert batteries by listening to music I like, such as Trance music.  I try to find some stuff that is fairly positive to keep myself up beat.  I always have had a bunch of work to do so the music helps me get into the grove.  When I do not have students in my room for a myriad of reasons I like to read some kind of fiction that relaxes me.  My lunch is only a half hour and after going to the bathroom, heating my lunch, talking to someone, I usually don’t have a lot of time left, but I usually try to make time to do something a little fun.  I usually read something light and fun like adventure stories or a sci-fi thriller.

Those are some of the ways I have survived the change over the course of my career.  I know in some ways they are kind of general, but they have helped me deal with everything.  I now know that I need to just enjoy every minute of being the Humanities Magnate US history teacher.  It’s going to be challenging, but if I have learned one thing it is that my Reset Button will be pressed again someday.  It might be next year or in ten years.  Until that time I need to enjoy the job and blessing it brings every day.  I am probably only going to be given one shot at this and I might as well enjoy it.  I plan on having some fun having some in depth conversations with some neat projects.  I am also toying around with the idea of doing some flipped lessons.  I think the possibilities are endless here and I should enjoy it while it lasts.  Who knows when the next Reset will be?

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