Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Losing My Teaching Mojo

“Mojo” as defined by Marshall Goldsmith:

“that positive spirit toward what we are doing now that starts on the inside and radiates to the outside.”

As many of you know, this has been a school year of big change for me.  I went from being a homeroom teacher to a push-in basic skills teacher.  HUGE CHANGE!  It wasn't something I asked for or wanted but something I was assigned.  So, come September I went into this new position with a positive attitude and hopes for the best.
It is now February and in those few months I must be honest and say it has been a bit of a roller coaster ride for me.  Going into this new position I really had no idea what to expect.  I have spent the past decade or so in a self-contained classroom working with high ability children.  I now travel from room to room working with children who are at the other end of that spectrum.  Sometime around mid-November, I realized that I had lost my enthusiasm for what I do.  I truly felt that what had once been a career that I loved had become a job that I do.

But, let me tell you what didn't cause that.  It wasn't the children.  When you work with high ability students as I did for many year past, you see that they rarely believe there is something they don’t know.  And when they do run into the unknown they don’t hesitate to tackle it with the belief that they will achieve.  Those are not my kids this year.

Working with students who have limited success in literacy has been a challenge and a treasure.  In fact, working with those children is what has kept me going.  I love teaching these children.  I love helping them realize they are readers, that they can answer those tough questions, that they do have a lot to say about what they are reading.    I spend so much time thinking of different ways to teach them that skill that just doesn't seem to be clear.  I love finding new ways to show them that they can do this.  I love the look on their face when they understand that I ask for more from them because I believe in them.  I believe that they can do more, and if they can’t I will do everything in my power to help them.  I love when they start to believe in themselves and see themselves as capable learners.  Working with my new friends this year is the best part of every day and I continue to give 100% of myself in teaching these children.

So, if I love working with my new friends so much, 
how did I lose my teaching mojo?

This new position has been a huge adjustment for me.  A change I thought I would manage with no problem.  After all, I have always been one to embrace change.  Change brings growth.  I was prepared to happily grow in my new position.  It didn't quite happen that way.  Below are a few of the issues that became personal obstacles I didn't expect to impact me as they did.  Some are silly while some are more substantial.  There are a few other more complex issues that I've chosen not to write about for privacy reasons, but I think those below are enough to make my point.

Not having a Home:  I travel to several different classrooms in the course of a day.  I pull along a cart everywhere I go with the supplies I need for each class.  Of course, it never has all I need.  When working with a friend, I may suddenly think of another way to teach the skill but not have the manipulatives or chart I need with me. So frustrating! I do still have my old classroom, but only get there on my prep period. Other than that, I'm in other classrooms.

Multiple Teachers = Multiple Lessons:  I teach across two grade levels in two subjects.  Some days I am repeating the same lesson in different classrooms and some days I am doing a different lesson in every class.  I think the issue is that I travel from a literacy class in one grade to a literacy class in another grade and from a math class to another math class in the same grade. It’s rare that my classes are doing the same thing on the same day.  There is very little time between the classes, and it makes it difficult to switch gears so quickly.

Meshing Teaching Styles:  I work with teachers who couldn’t be more different in their teaching styles.  I tend to be more organized and like to have clear expectations of my students.  I also like to joke around with my students to a degree.  But, every teacher is different.  Some teachers are much more relaxed and embrace a degree of chaos while others are very structured and don’t allow for a lot of “embrace the moment” within the classrooms.  My teachers tend to fall all over this spectrum!  It’s challenging to travel from room to room where the expectations and atmosphere are so different.  To be clear, I am not saying good or bad.  One teaching style is not better or worse than the other.  It’s just different and as a teacher traveling from room to room, I feel I have to constantly adjust how I behave in each room so that I mesh with my teachers. 

Extra Strength to Mild:  I like having a core of students, one homeroom class, that I can work with all day.  When you have a class for the whole day, your teaching doesn't stop.  You are not just teaching a subject, you are molding a child.  It comes from being with them all day, connecting on a deeper level, and having the ability to guide and teach in all aspects of the day. It’s like your students get the “extra strength” version of you.   Now, I sometimes feel as if the impact I could have has been diluted by seeing my students only a period or two a day rather than being with them all day.  Does that make any sense? 

Not Being the Decision Maker:  I can offer suggestions, but ultimately what happens in the classroom is up to that homeroom teacher.  I can think one way to teach something will be (in my opinion) more effective for our students, but if the homeroom teacher doesn’t agree it isn’t going to happen.  If I were co-teaching with one teacher all day long, I am sure this would not be a problem.  In those situations, it is your (plural!) class.  You are truly co-teaching.   However, when you are in a classroom for a period here and there each day you just don’t have the say.  And, I get that!  It’s not my classroom.  I come and I go.  My teachers are great at doing all they can to make me feel welcome and a part of the classroom, but ultimately it is their classroom and I respect that.  Nevertheless, it can be frustrating at times. I would even say that the overall loss of control of what I do has been the hardest of all for me.

Being Tied to a Strict Schedule:  Since I travel to different rooms, I have a schedule that would make airports jealous!  The only difference is my flight always leaves and arrives on time!  I have a schedule that demands I am in each room for a certain amount of time and then move along to the next class.  There’s no extending a lesson because we are having a teachable moment. I have about five minutes between classes and have to get there. I can only plan lessons that can be done in a certain amount of time.  I miss having some flexibility in my schedule. 

Not Teaching All Subjects:  One of the things I loved about being an elementary teacher was the variety in our day.  I enjoyed teaching all subjects.  Okay, let's be honest.  Maybe not science so much!  But, I loved the variety.  I now have limited variety within my day.  I'm teaching either reading or math.  I love teaching reading and would love to do it all day long if I had more control over how I do it.  Nevertheless, I was surprised at how much I miss teaching all the subjects in the course of the day. One of the things I miss is being able to integrate subjects and do cross curricular projects.

I Miss Special Projects:  I don’t get to do the fun stuff anymore.  If the school is making cards for the soldiers or we want to do something fun for a holiday, I’m not in the room.  I visit two of my classrooms for just a guided reading period.  That time is used for that.  If something fun happens, it happens at some other point in the day.  Understandably, the teachers want to take advantage of having two of us in the room and don’t schedule those kinds of things while I’m there.  I miss that!

I Want to Decorate A Classroom:  I told you some of my issues were silly.  But, I really do miss decorating a classroom.  I was in a local teacher store this past weekend picking up some things for the giveaway coming up, and I was dying to buy some new borders and posters. But, I just have no need for them now.

So, how did I get my teaching mojo back?

It was easier than I knew.  I simply realized that I had to focus on what I can control,  what I can do, and what is going well.  My work with my new friends continues to be the best part of my day despite all the constraints.  I am lucky to work with great teachers who do all they can to make me feel welcome and a part of the class.  I've gotten back into blogging.  When I lost my teaching mojo, I also lost my teacher blogging mojo. If I wasn't excited about what was happening during my school day, how could I come here and be excited to share?  Once I decided that I needed to turn things around, coming back and seeing that many of you stuck with me despite my irregular blogging was a major bright spot!  

So, in the end maybe I found my teaching mojo by putting an end to the pity party and realizing it was up to me to make the best of a new situation, to make the best of each day. And once that decision was made, I've happily been rediscovering “that positive spirit toward what we are doing now that starts on the inside and radiates to the outside.” 
                                                                                                    picture source
On a total aside, is it terrible and tacky that I want to limit the upcoming giveaway to followers of my blog? Is that a blogging no-no?  I just want to do something to thank those that were here even when I wasn't.  By the way, adding word verification to my comments seems to have solved my spam problem!  This means I will probably have the give away up sooner rather than later. :-)


  1. I know exactly what you mean! I found myself getting frustrated and burnt out because of what was thrown at teachers. Then I decided to focus on what I could control, and remember why I teach!!

    The Daily Alphabet

  2. I'm a literacy tutor at my elementary school, and enjoyed reading your point of view. I've never had a classroom to call my own, but I'm looking forward to it! This year, I work with 20 students ranging in age from second through fifth grade. I see each small group for 30 minutes a day, four days a week and have to stick to mandated intervention programs. The kids come to me (I have half of a classroom), but I related to a lot of your other points. I found it tough, especially during conference time, to squeeze in with the classroom teachers. Some wanted me there and included me in the entire meeting, others allowed me a couple minutes to "give my speil" and then leave. It was hard to wear so many different hats with so many different families.

    It is also hard for me when the teachers plan those special moments during the time I would pull their kids and forget to tell me about the change in plans. I go to pick up their kid, ready to teach the lesson I planned and find that the kid is unavailable.

    At the same time, I love working with my kids and am grateful to have as much space as I have. I appreciated your perspective, and am glad that you found your mojo!

  3. I'm so happy that you got your teaching mojo back! I know that you've inspired me in the past, so the kids you work with are very lucky. Sometimes we just need a mini break from things or trying to change our thinking to love something again. Welcome Back!!

    :) Kaitlyn
    Smiles and Sunshine

  4. This post was so thoughtful and I am sure hard to write- I am so thankful that I subscribe and read your blog. Your voice is important and I am happy that you have found a way through. I started education as a Special Education Teacher, and I completely understand all of your "issues" I felt the same way. Now I teach First, and feel that my mojo came back, but lately with all that is going on nationally and within my district, I was feeling a little adrift. Thank you for your post, it has put light back into my teaching. Thank you.

  5. Good for you! I can honestly say that this is one of my toughest years yet and I am fortunate enough to still have my self contained classroom...BUT so many changes, so many changes that we as teachers have no control over...
    I hope that I too will get back some of the missing Mo-Jo and get back to doing what I do well. You're an inspiration!!

  6. I can understand how you would feel not having a classroom, I would fell the same way. I feel like I have also lost my mojo because of so many demands that are being laid on us this year. I think all of the teachers at my school are very frustrated this year. I'm trying to stay positive, but at times it's tough.
    On a positive note, I got a new blog design which I love! : ) I'm looking forward to seeing yours.

    Kelly @ I'm Not Your Grandpa, I'm Your Teacher

  7. I totally have empathy for your blog post. It was a poignant piece written from the heart and I appreciate being part of your journey. I think almost all teachers have felt some of that type of anxiety in this new educational world of ours. I am so proud of your positive solution and I am trying to apply it to my own teaching this year. Thank you so much.

  8. I am happy you got your teaching mojo back. I know how it can stink when it is gone. I am in love with your sign. I need to post that at home and school as a reminder to myself. Staying positive is hard but necessary! Thanks for sharing. :)

    Apples and Papers

  9. Some of this sounds as though I could have written it myself. I changed positions this year (my request) and, while I'm happy, I have had some major adjustments that have been hard, like not having a classroom, all my supplies (they're boxed up in my basement), or a homeroom. Thanks for the reminder to focus on the positive.

  10. I appreciate you being transparent. I have lost and gained my teaching mojo many times. It ebbs and flows depending on student make up, demands of district, colleague make up etc. You are so correct in the fact that your attitude and perspective will decide whether the mojo is there or not. You seem to find the good in even a disaster and I encourage you to do that. Your path is different for a reason. This will make you stronger, better, and wiser. You'll look back and think, just when I thought I had lost my enthusiasm was the moment when I should have realized that I was in the middle of my favorite part of my career. When life takes a turn in a direction we weren't expecting, or hands us an experience less than ideal we tend to go negative. You never know the purpose and reason for this experience. Embrace it because soon you will find out and I bet you will cherish it even more! Best of luck to you!

    Always A Lesson

  11. YAY!! I am so glad you have found your mojo and are back to the blogging world! I felt like a lost puppy always checking on your blog seeing if you had posted anything. I haven't been teaching for long but your ideas shared on the blog have enhanced my classroom and my teaching! Thank you so much for sharing your story with all of us!

  12. Glad that you - and your mojo - are back. I, too, am experiencing change. I retired in July after 37 years in education. Yes, it was 37 glorious years filled with constant change, which brings me to the point this old-timer wants to make: "This, too, shall pass." Your current situation is temporary - we are, after all, talking about education. It is wonderful that you have embraced this new opportunity. It will make you a better teacher. Just think of all that you have discovered about your students as learners and yourself as a teacher/learner. Enjoy the journey - and continue to share it.

  13. So glad that you are back! I've missed you. As a new teacher I frequently turned to you for advice last year and have missed your words of wisdom delivered with a bit of humor - just my style!