I love love.
For many years, I tried to recreate the enchantment I experienced with Valentine’s Day as a young girl by offering a “Love In” for my students on February 14. I created “love stations” that students rotated through to find different tasks. At one stop, they found compound-word hearts: a basket full of cut hearts, each labeled with one half of a compound word, serving as a fun puzzle. At another, students had to read a love poem from a stack of poetry books. “Write a love poem” was the task at a different table, and my favorite, Sonnet 18, would serve as the example. But before all that, students had to listen to a love song so they would be in a “love-ly” mood.
For the most part, my middle school students were willing participants (though they were more excited about the candy-gram deliveries that day). It was a day when even students with minor disagreements with one another took a day off to be nice.
But then it ended. I’m not sure exactly what year I had to cancel the “Love In.” At some point, I realized that I needed that time to teach specifically to my standards, answer my principal’s daily question “How will this get results?,” and search for more rigorous work.
But still I believe, deep inside my Valentine-shaped heart, that teachers can find love in a school building. Here’s four ways how.
Start With the Students
Let’s face it—teaching is difficult. Teachers hit the floor running early in the morning and are still rocking and rolling long after the dismissal bell rings. I always tell struggling teachers—especially those beginning their careers—that when they feel that exhaustion (which sometimes turns into disillusionment), they should focus on what matters most: the kids.
Look for the ways that positive relationships are making a difference in your classroom. If your philosophy is “We are a family in this classroom, and this is a safe place for all of us,” and your students know it, then there will be many instances when those learning moments are obvious. Concentrate on those moments when a student “gets it” or when a student’s witty comment results in contagious laughter, and realize that you’re making a difference in the life of a child.
Continue the Love With Your Colleagues
There is certainly love to be found in friendship, and the best jobs are the ones where you get to work with your friends. From planning lessons together to data-diving into assessment results, if you stand side-by-side with your colleagues, your job site will be a place that gets you excited to go to work in the morning.
Look around during your faculty meetings. There’s often a feeling of “We’re in this together,” or, on some days, “We survived this together.” Try to cultivate that bond by supporting colleagues during meetings and reaching out to help in small ways during the day.
Make an effort to see your colleagues outside of school, too. Knowing the teacher in the classroom next door on a personal level means you’ll have some support during the day-to-day trials. And it’s always nice to have a true friend nearby when you need a sounding board (or when the copy machine jams).
Love Yourself, Too
Like they tell you on airplanes—“Put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others”—teachers must take care of themselves first. I once talked to my daughter, a psychologist, about how to help a struggling teacher who was leaving the school building crying every day. She said she would start by asking the teacher two questions: “What are you eating?” and “How much are you sleeping?” Teachers must meet their own needs before they can address the needs of 30 or so squirming bodies in a classroom.
After those “lower level” needs are met, there are other ways that teachers should love themselves. Finding interests outside of school is one way to balance all that work stress with fun. My former mentee Jenny worked hard and played hard in her first few years of teaching. Her stories of rock climbing and horseback riding inspired me to take a community dance class for my own benefit.
Figure out what hobbies you’re interested in, set aside your schoolwork for a night or a weekend, and do it!
Love the Profession
Being proud of what you do is important, too. Avoid toxic, negative conversations about teaching and remain positive and solutions-oriented. If others don’t know the amazing things that are happening in your school building, tell them to come look! A day in a school watching the magic, learning, and love may change those naysayers’ minds.
Choosing this profession most likely started for you as a tiny seed of love: for children, for a subject area, or for social justice. Make sure that love continues to grow, even if there are difficult days. You’ll always have the honor of making a difference in someone’s life.
And I love that about teaching.