“You know that old story about the frog that boiled slowly because it didn’t notice the water getting hotter by degrees? That’s how teachers get overwhelmed, too. It’s not usually a big, huge thing that sinks us. Usually, it’s small drops over a long period of time.” Lisa Van Gemert explains, “This is a problem because it can be easy not to notice that it’s happening.”
We asked a few questions and received invaluable insight from our content partner, Lisa Van Gemert. Lisa is a renowned expert in Gifted Education. She shares best practices in education with audiences around the world using a combination of neuropsychology, pedagogy, experience, humor, technology, and sheer fun.
Lisa sheds light on a growing issue among teachers and what can be done to help remedy signs of burnout before it begins. She emphasizes how “The Essentials for Teaching courses are designed to cut off those drops of water at the source so you never get to the point where nothing can save you except a life raft.”
What are some of the most important Essentials for Teaching courses and topics you’ve covered for new teachers?
There are two things that teachers do every day that no one prepares them for: grading and parent conferences. Both can sink a new (or even an experienced teacher). I’d taught for years before I realized the mistakes I was making with grading, and in that time I probably shed a million tears and wasted hundreds of hours. The course on grading is a must-watch.
Nothing will have you Googling “alternate careers for teachers” faster than a big pile of grading staring at you on Sunday night before grades are due. Being intentional and thoughtful about this early on is a game-changer.
Another course I’ve shared with my own daughter-in-law is how to handle parent conferences. I can’t say enough about how easily they can go sideways. That’s also preventable, though, to a great extent. The thing about parent conferences is that everyone has a lot of skin in the game. The teacher feels defensive. The parents feel defensive. Everyone’s defensive, and that rarely goes well. This course is empowering because it takes you off the defensive and into partnership.
I also strongly recommend the small group course, both in Essentials for Teaching and the larger course. Small groups are about more than pedagogy. When done well, they add to classroom culture and build classroom community. Unfortunately, they’re hard to do well if you’re not taught. Do yourself a favor and learn best practices in small group instruction. It will build your confidence and set you apart as a pro.
How do you recommend preventing burnout among new teachers?
If you’ve watched any of the courses, you may have noticed that it’s like I’m talking to a friend. That’s on purpose! I tried to imagine that I had a very good friend who’d become a teacher and came to me for suggestions.
One of the most important things you can do as a new teacher is to find a teacher who’s been teaching a long time and who is still excited about teaching (that’s key) to be your friend. A lot of people will tell you to find a mentor. I think it’s more important to find a friend. Friends are who make you want to show up every day. Friends care if you’re there, and sometimes that’s what we need most.
I’ve seen a meme one time that said, “When my teacher friend isn’t at school, I’m 5% “I hope she’s okay,” and 95% “How dare she leave me here alone.” There’s so much truth in that.
Find a friend and build a true friendship. You will still have days where you wonder why you didn’t become an accountant or an Uber driver, but in the end, your teacher friend will remind you of why you teach.
One place to find friends is social media. Join me on Instagram or join in the Insiders if you’re looking for a friend! I’d also suggest learning how to avoid boredom in students. Nothing will suck the air out of your balloon like hearing from a student that your lesson or class is boring. What? I spent four hours on this lesson! Take the boredom course (and the follow-up to get a great handout!) to learn the science of boredom and tips for boredom-proofing your class.
What advice do you have for new teachers in the field?
I became a teacher because I like office supplies. True story. I love kids, too, of course, but I started teaching because of colored pens. When you’re a new teacher, know that the reason you became a teacher will shift over time. If you realize that you no longer feel passionate about the thing that led you to teaching, don’t have an existential crisis. It’s normal.
One tip I would share is to get really good at review activities. The research into the science of learning continues to demonstrate that review is just as important as initial instruction. I’ve shared some of my strategies for review, and I’d suggest that you plan for at least three ways to review when you create the initial lesson plan. That’s a pro tip!
What mindsets would benefit new teachers?
We’re used to hearing mindset described as either “growth” or “fixed,” but there are far more than two mindsets.
My teaching career had a major pivot when I read Atul Gawande’s book “Better.” In it, he talks about the power of being a positive deviant. He shares different qualities of people who deviate from the norm. One of them is “don’t complain.”
Friends, learn how not to complain. Is there plenty to complain about? Yep. Is it boring? Yep. You’ll drag yourself down, along with your colleagues, if you have a complaining mindset. I’ve written about how this applies to teachers, so you can read more about it. Develop the mindset of positive deviancy, and you will be better for it.
If you’re interested in learning more about Lisa Van Gemert, you can explore her website for everything you need to know about gifted teaching and so much more!