Three Ways to Suck the Joy Out of Teaching


"The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives." - Russel M. Nelson

Throughout my teaching career, I felt a lot of joy. In fact, as I look back, so many experiences as a teacher seem surreal. I loved teaching. However, after a few years, something changed. The joy was harder to find and I made a lot of mistakes that sucked the joy out of teaching. As I reflect on my decisions, reactions, and attitude, I can tell you with confidence that my perspective on a few things should have been different.

Do the following, if you want to suck the joy out of teaching and working with children:

1. Forget the age of your students.

When students come into your room, whether they are five or fifteen, treat them like they are your age and that they know all that you know. You'll suck the joy out of teaching in no time. Also, assume that they grew up like you did and that they have the same family dynamic. That'll do it too. 

So many times, when I got upset with my students I forgot that they were six and I was 25 years older than they were. When working with the same age group for a while, it's easy to forget that they don't work for you.  I'll never forget something my husband said to me when he became a high school assistant principal, after teaching fourth grade for eight years. He came home one evening and told me, "Amber... these high schoolers... they are just fourth graders in bigger bodies! I can't believe how much they don't understand about life. It isn't a whole lot different than working with elementary kids." The key word here: kids. They are kids, so they will behave like kids. Too often, I forgot that. 

2. Try to please everyone, except yourself. 

To suck the joy out of teaching, you should please everyone around you, despite your personality, strengths, passions, and goals. Also,  make teaching your #1 priority over your health, your hobbies, your family and friends and your entire personal life in general. Take work home, work late, get up early, work on the weekends and don't do anything with friends.

There's nothing wrong with trying something new and/or helping someone else out by being flexible. And, me telling you that you shouldn't forget your personality and strengths as a human, doesn't give you the right to be a jerk to everyone around you. Where I got myself into trouble was thinking that having a teaching degree automatically required me to lose the ability to say, "No, thank you. Not this time." or "Not yet." for the good of me and my students' sanity. I was happiest when I brought my natural strengths and personality into my classroom. Not when I was trying to fit into the 'ideal teacher' mold that someone else created and thought I should fit into.

3. ignore your heart when it says, "it's time for a change."

When you wake up one morning, knowing that you feel different about teaching, or coaching, or leading educators than you did even the day before, ignore it. Just power through and keep fighting your desire for something new, fresh, and challenging. Before you know it, you'll be so far removed from the joy of teaching and educating others, you won't know who you are anymore. This happened to me, and let me tell you, this works wonders for sucking the joy out of teaching. 

When I burned out, I crashed hard. I was using prep time to search for jobs that were two hours away from where we lived at the time and had nothing to do with education. I was so obsessed with the idea of being done, that I would have made a daily commute to China and back if it meant that I didn't have to face the circumstances that I was in at the time. I am so ashamed of my attitude, my reactions, and my lack of focus on how I could have handled my (then) current situation and used it as a stepping stone to something that fit my desire of change and challenge. But instead, I burned bridges, hurt feelings, and made hasty decisions that cost me to lose a lot of respect (and several friends) in the end. 

questions to ask yourself

What causes me to be the most unhappy in my day-to-day life at school? *(think of things that you have control over, not state testing) What can you do to change that circumstance?

What causes me the most joy? *(make it tangible, don't cop-out by saying "When the students get it.") What do you get energized and excited about doing, creating, teaching, etc.? Make the joy about you and your strengths and personality sometimes. 

How can I do more of what brings me joy and less of what makes me the most unhappy? You really do have more control over this than you feel that you do. I promise. 

Next steps

When you identify the things that are sucking the joy out of teaching. Take action. Hate recess duty? What can you do to bring joy to it? Despise taking your kids from place to place in the hall, because they are so loud you cringe? What are you going to change? Who can you ask for help with these things? YOU are in control.

Take time to focus your energy on a solution, not the situation.

Join the private and free Burned-In Teacher Community on Facebook. Go to to join over 100 other educators who want to support you on your journey OUT of burn-out and help you BURN IN!

Listen to The Burned-In Teacher Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or to hear stories of burnout and ways other teachers are finding solutions and interviews with experts who can also offer helpful support to you.

Download your FREE BIT Action Guide to help you build better relationships with yourself, your students, their families, your colleagues, and your administration. Relationships are the root of all other things, so let’s get started building them TOGETHER!

Take a deep breath. You are your own hero. BURN ON!

Amber HarperComment