Staying in art education: How to navigate these stressful times without abandoning ship

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So, you’ve had some daydreams of quitting your art teaching position. Then you remember student loans, family obligations, mortgage payments, etc, that keep you showing up at that job. My husband calls this the “I Owe, I Owe, So Off to Work I Go” factor.  Maybe you are ready to throw in the towel but the reality is you have a few years before retirement. Maybe you loved your job pre-pandemic and you are just hanging in there and praying for normalcy to return. There are so many good and valid reasons that keep us showing up to teach even our enthusiasm may have waned. 

Now is a great time to take emotional inventory. What is it that is causing you stress? Is it behavioral issues with students that are wearing you down? Do you feel the administration never supports you? For most people, it is some combination of factors. Make a pie chart to really look at the source of your problems. The larger the problem, the larger the slice of the pie it gets. Once you’re done with your pie chart, do the same with the things you enjoy about your job. For me, I enjoy designing lessons, developing relationships with students, and seeing them grow and make art that would never have been possible alone.  Now, if you were to pie chart your daily lived experiences, you would find your negative experiences are crowding out the positive experiences. This inventory becomes a road map for making improvements.

Some aspects of jobs, and even our lives, are not in our control. But some things are in our control and our reactions are also something we can control. There are strategies you can employ to improve your situation. Essentially, the goal is to minimize the things that are crowding out the parts of the job that bring you joy. It’s the joy we need to maximize. 

Here are some strategies

Change of scenery? Sometimes a job change can improve situations. I mentioned in a recent post that I had a job that for four years I taught the same two half-year classes all day, all year, year after year while moving from room to room. I grew bored, restless, and frustrated that I saw no change in sight. I took a job at a neighboring school system where I had the opportunity to teach a variety of art classes because the department rotated who taught what. It was a breath of fresh air. 

 Mental Self Talk  Amy Morin, author of “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” says, “Feeling down about your job can set you up for a self-perpetuating cycle by taking a negative toll on the way you think and the way you behave,” she explains. “The more you experience negative thoughts and unproductive behavior, the worse you’ll feel.”
In other words, the conversations we have in our heads can have a big impact on our emotions, our view of ourselves, and our actions. The best way to counter negative self-talk is to replace it with positive affirmations. Just like we teach our students to turn “I am bad at art!” into “I can get better at drawing!”, we too can turn our self-talk around. Instead of “This class is so loud and doesn’t follow directions well. I just dread period 4!” You might replace your thoughts with, “The noise level was so much better with the seating change and a few students have really great projects going. I’ve been really patient and that is better than losing my temper.”

Foster Relationships  In and outside of schools, meaningful relationships have a powerful impact on our happiness. They cultivate a sense of belonging, help relieve stress, make us laugh and have fun, and help us feel safe and supported. Don’t isolate yourself in the art room. Make a point to connect with your students, department members (if you are fortunate to have them), and colleagues around the building. Finding a mentor, formally or informally,  can also be a great way to feel supported professionally.  

Focus on Developing a Positive Work-life Balance Detach from work by not checking email learning management platforms (Schoology, Google Classroom, Canvas, etc)  after a certain hour. Nothing like a 9 pm parent rant to ruin a good night of sleep, needlessly.  At the end of the day, separate from work. I loved the long commute I had for that very reason.

Learn to say no. Schools can be very needy. In my first year, I easily spent the vast amount of my weekends at school plays, sporting events, and chaperoning so many events. You can say no. Especially as an art teacher, it’s OK to say, “I just can’t add (insert sets for the play, decorations, a mural for the Junior Prom, etc) to my schedule right now. Thank you for thinking of me.

Look out for # 1 You need to advocate for yourself and practice self-care. I had a colleague who used to slip into jogging pants and go for a run on her off period. I don’t run but through twenty-plus years in education, I carved out time for a sit-down lunch most days. It was my equivalent to her jog. 
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Get some support Turn to a mentor, your department chair, administration, a therapist, etc for support. People can’t support you if they don’t know you struggling. Obviously, you know the people in your sphere and who you feel comfortable talking to.
I had a principle with who I had plenty of differences of opinion. When a family member was ill and I needed to leave school early for a period of time I explained my situation and was granted permission to leave as soon as classes were over. Another time we discovered we both suffered from migraines and traded war stories and strategies. It was nice to know while we had differences of opinion, I could count on her support as a human.


At the beginning of my career, I was silently critical of a teacher who said her strategy was to close the door of her classroom and not get embroiled with school issues. Over the years I softened in my perspective. Sometimes you have to focus on where you can make a change and pick and choose what brings you professional growth and personal joy over what bogs you down. Figure out ways to grade fast and efficiently. Employ those energetic organized teenagers to help see the room is clean at the end of the period. Remember, minimize what bogs you down and make time for the things that bring you happiness.

Read the other post in the series:
Do you need an exit plan from teaching?
https://myartlesson.com/fed-up-with-teaching-art-signs-you-need-an-exit-plan/

How does an art educator make a career change?
https://myartlesson.com/how-does-an-art-educator-make-a-career-change/

 

 

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