Lessons from a Struggling Teacher

December 6, 2016 School No Comments

Approaching Education with a Relational and Growth Mindset

In 2005, as a recent college grad with a degree and license in teaching, I thought that I was going to change the world. After 1 day of teaching, I quickly understood that everything I had ever been taught in regard to teaching was flawed and based on the perfect circumstances. Teaching co-ed 8th grade Health in a socio-economically struggling school in Las Vegas was far from the perfect circumstances. 80% of my energy went toward behavior management, which made it very difficult to teach the standards the job required. The stress from trying to teach the curriculum standards, while dealing with behavioral issues, made it impossible to connect with my students and left me tired, frustrated, and lost nearly every day.
After struggling through two years of “teaching” I left the profession. I probably would have left earlier, but I felt guilt about giving up on something I was passionate about and had invested so much time and money. I entered into the mainstream health and fitness industry and worked in many capacities for the next 8 years. Although I loved my work, a part of me still wanted to teach. Then, a couple of years ago, a friend introduced me to Sunrise RTC.
After starting at Sunrise, I soon discovered, many of the things I struggled with, and reasons I left teaching, are same things that my students struggle(d) with prior to Sunrise; they stopped putting an effort into school, and in some cases stopped going. Below are 5 examples:
1) Lack of Social Connection – Human beings are social. We thrive as individuals and groups when we are connected to others. When we fail to develop, or lose connection with those around us, it becomes increasingly difficult to find personal, professional or educational success. In my first teaching job, I was so focused on an authoritarian and structured class that I failed to make the personal connections to my students that would have allowed me to teach them as individuals, rather than to a standard or objective. I have seen the same thing happen with my current students; their non-participation in educational endeavors is more observable when they don’t haveAcademics at Sunrise | Sunrise Residential Treatment Center personal connection and accountability for their academic achievement.

2) Unclear or Unrealistic Expectations – When I started teaching, I envisioned myself being a role-model and expected that as I modeled healthy behaviors, my students would fall in line and be just as excited as I am about health. I got frustrated that my expectations weren’t delivered. In talking with most of my students, most of them have expressed feeling like overwhelmed about not meeting their perceived expectations, which can lead to the next point

3) Feelings of Inadequacy and/or Incompetence. Failing to personally connect with my students and setting my expectations as high as I did, it was no big surprise that I failed; and with failure after failure, and struggle after struggle, I started to feel incompetent, inadequate and started experiencing adverse emotions like sadness and anger. Upon arrival at Sunrise, many of our girls have these same emotions stemming from the inadequacy of comparing themselves to others and putting unneeded and unrealistic pressure on themselves.

4) Too-far gone to make up missed time. The more disconnected I became with my students, the more frustrated and inadequate I felt, the more I fell behind. I was playing catch-up in attempt to stay ahead of my curriculum, and in the end just fell further and further behind. My work wasn’t enjoyable and it’s difficult to put effort into something that you don’t enjoy. The majority of our girls come to Sunrise behind academically. They systematically lost their personal connections to teachers and peers, became overwhelmed, felt inadequate, sad, stressed, stopped attending class, and then didn’t see the need to make up missed work.

After a lot of self-reflection, I started to find personal growth and professional success. I was blessed to experience many other jobs, but still felt like something was missing and more growth was possible. I was very fortunate to find Sunrise when I did. It has become the perfect fit for me being able to teach with autonomy, and be involved with my students on a more personal level than a typical public-school teacher/student relationship. Just as I found Sunrise at the right the time and it has provided me with purpose and opportunity; I have observed the same in my students, finding Sunrise at the the time it will be most beneficial for their personal growth and potential.
I have been able to draw on personal experience to build relationships with my students. I have found that the more personally connected I am to my students, the more invested and accountable they are in my class and school in general. The relational and growth mindset of the Sunrise treatment protocol and education program makes the environment less restrictive, and more effective for teaching and learning.