The isolation of teaching can very often feel like a desolate wasteland. Students aren't achieving as much as we'd hoped. Parents are absent, except when they want to file a complaint. Colleagues come together once a day during lunch and vent on one another. Principals and other administrators make demands that sometimes seem impossible. And the public-well, in their eyes, we are the source of all their problems.
I was close to burnout when I finally learned the secret to longevity in this profession: Reliance on my faith was all that could sustain me. I found this out only after looking for sources of strength and sustenance from other places and people. I love to walk, so I made it a priority to walk every day to stay in tip-top condition. I love to read, so I set aside time every day to read just for pleasure. I love crafts, so I made sure I was always making something to give to someone else. I love gardening, so I planted and nurtured a garden in the small plot our condo association allowed me. Yet none of these things helped ward off the discouragement and weariness I began to feel day after day at school.
From before the beginning of my teaching career I was known to others as a woman of faith. But looking back now, I see that I only brought that faith out on special occasions. It was a separate piece of my identity. I kept it in a treasure box and used it as a last resort. A tree that is watered only when it looks like it is dying will not thrive. It may survive, but just barely. We can tap into the Living Water purposely. A tree's roots grow after its water source, so too can our faith. Make time everyday to feed on the Word of God. Praise God daily for your life source. Look for ways to spread the Gospel right where you're planted!
Changing our focus on what and who sustains us can change lives-ours and those we are called to teach. Who knows? Someday a child or his parent may ask, "How can you be so peaceful in the middle of this situation?" That's when you can share the water with them.
Sometimes we struggle to remember why we went into teaching to begin with. Usually we had a teacher who made a positive impact on our lives. They were our mentors. In his book The Courage to Teach, Parker J. Palmer says, "If we discovered a teacher's heart in ourselves by meeting a great teacher, recalling that meeting may help us take heart in teaching once more." We need to be reminded what makes a quality teacher so we can become one. Think back to your own school days. Who made a difference in your life? And the next time you're in the teachers' lounge or lunchroom, ask the question aloud to your table mates. It can brighten a discouraging day!