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  • Writer's pictureChristine Hertz Hausman

Cultivating self-compassion: Setbacks and solutions for new teachers (and helpful reminders for ALL

If someone tells you teaching is easy, they probably don't really know teaching. Teaching, real, from the heart, cutting edge, responsive teaching, is challenging, difficult work. But challenge and difficulty are the companions of words like joyful, rewarding, and meaningful. Teaching is for the dedicated, the passionate, the hopeful, and the innovative. The real key to teaching is how we see setbacks, because let's be clear, we are going to have a lot of them- new teachers and veteran teachers alike.

Here are some tips for overcoming and reframing setbacks:

Setback: Feeling really embarrassed or frustrated when you make a mistake

Work toward a growth mindset: If you see a setback as a threat to your identity ("but I am supposed to be GOOD at this!!!") it is very hard to confront it and learn from it. But if you can see setbacks as a natural part of learning and living, and you can look at it honestly and come away with some valuable feedback about what to try differently, then you will grow and develop and constantly improve and refine your practice. For more, check out Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck.

Setback: Finding yourself pleading with the students to do something you need them to do

Teach from a place of empathy: Teaching is all about relationships and connections. Often, as teachers, we need to put aside our desire to get things done, keep things moving and have a neat and tidy teaching moment to connect, to really connect with a student. Take the time to form strong relationships with all of your students- these relationships will form the foundation for all of the learning to come.

Setback: Starting each day with a frown and sense of anxiety

Cultivate your spirit of play: As teachers we are joyful, willing to improvise, willing to laugh. Play is a natural right for children, but it is also an essential one for us, as their teachers. Understanding child development is serious business, but teaching isn't, teaching is about ensuring a joyful challenging journey for each child. How can we do that if we do not remain joyful and challenged ourselves?

Setback: Googling other jobs because this one is not anything like you thought it would be

Go easy on yourself: If growing and evolving as teachers means that we'll face setbacks at almost every turn, it's important that we actively, intentionally practice self-compassion. Kristin Neff- author of the book Self-Compassion- suggests talking to yourself like your best friend would talk to you. The bottom line is this: when the going gets tough, the tough need to get gentle. Acknowledging your imperfections and being kind to yourself will calm you down, reset your brain and help you focus on moving forward.(p 48)

Setback: Feeling embarrassed to ask for help

Find a mentor: Want to learn to swim? You don't jump in the pool and just start flailing, you find a teacher. Same is true in teaching, don't jump in and assume you got it, find teachers and mentors to support you in the process. The beautiful and amazing world of technology means that your mentor does not have to be physically present in your life. They can be, which is great, but there are a myriad of other ways to find a voice of reason and aid. Twitter, facebook, google hangouts, and online communities can all be your support. This is helpful to know because sometimes your vision of teaching is not going to be the dominant view in your school community. Don't go it alone! Go on twitter, join chats like #kinderchat, #1stchat, #tcrwp, #G2Great, #edchat #educolor!

We all find ourselves fixating over the things we can control: setting up the room, reading the curriculum, filling in a planbook, but real, true teaching comes at the times when we least expect. Stock your boat with ideas, mentors, books you love, but know that it has to roll with the waves. Teaching is about our interactions with the present, so take a deep breath and set sail.


This post originally appeared as a part of a Q&A series with Larry Ferlazzo on Education Week.

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