One of the topics that I speak about in my keynotes most often is teacher engagement. I feel that the level of engagement and efficacy we feel in our profession directly correlates to how happy we are in our jobs and subsequently the passion we exhibit when we teach. I’ve spoken about it in the posts The Rules of Teacher Engagement and Why Do Teachers Disengage. I’ve discussed my meaning of teacher engagement as actually being how engaged teachers are in their professions (versus just their professional learning). How much they love teaching. How well they still remember the reason why they’re doing it.
Because I have disengaged from the profession before, I feel like I can talk about it with some degree of expertise, even if that expertise is only because I experienced it and beat it. So I often watch for signs or symptoms of teachers being disengaged because I do feel as part of my job it is my responsibility to help teachers either stay engaged or remember they’re why. And there’s a continuum of disengagement. You are not either engaged or disengaged. It reminds me a bit of the process by which people grieve. Even though grief a similar process and certain stages can be predicted, the actual course it takes can be different for everybody.
I think people assume that you are either happy or not happy in your job. And if you look at a continuum, many people may place happy and then sad or angry at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Even if you want to say you love your job, some may place hate at the opposite end. But I don’t believe either of these to be true. I think that the opposite of happy or love is instead, apathy. When you are sad or angry it means that you are still passionate and you care. I believe this to be true about many things, not just the engagement you feel in teaching. I feel like it’s true about life in general. When you feel numb towards something and the care is gone, you have truly, completely lost your why. And if you’re speaking in regards to emotion toward teaching, I’d most love to be happy, but my second choice would be to be angry because I would know that I still feel passionate enough to fight for what I believe. Apathy on the other hand…I’ve felt that. It’s a hopeless, lost feeling. And if you feel like nothing you do matters, where would you even get the energy to try?
I’ve given many suggestions on how to re-energize yourself into teaching in the other blog posts, but I feel like the most important is awareness of the issue. Knowing it can happen to anyone. I would have put myself up against the most passionate educator when I began teaching. I loved it. I knew about burnout and disengaging. I didn’t believe it could happen to me.
If you reach the point of apathy I don’t think all is lost. I definitely do not think that if you reach this point you need to necessarily leave the profession. Reigniting the flame for learning and loving what you do may just take a little bit more time. I really do actually think being open and talking to somebody about it can help. Blogging, finding a passion, or taking up a new interest and education are a few things that can bring a teacher back into loving what they do. Doing mental body scans, paying attention to your physical and emotional well-being to catch it early, and using self-care are all important steps as well. Blaming others and being angry will not help. Give yourself and the profession a clean slate. The reconnection is not immediate, but the same resilience and grit we ask our kids to employ every day will help get you there. It took me about eight months to figure out why I had gotten into education again after I figured out I wanted to leave. But the time and the effort it took was so worth it.