What determines a person’s workplace happiness, or lack thereof?
Is it your supervisor’s personality? Their management style? Your coworkers? The task you’re there to do? The amount of freedom you’re given? Or some combination of all of these?
I ask because I am happier at work than I’ve ever been. I’ve been reflecting on the reasons why.
I am teaching at such a sweet little school this year. Our school is small; only 320 students. I know just about everyone there, at least by sight, and by now they know me, too. Kids who aren’t even my students say hi and wave to me in the hallway. A kindergartner who I don’t know kissed my hand this morning.
Even though my school is 100% free/reduced lunch, we don’t have a lot of behavior problems, which are two things that unfortunately tend to go together. This leads to most teachers feeling pretty happy to be at work, which makes for a cheerful environment to go to every day. Any experienced teacher can tell you that a school’s environment makes a huge difference in what it is like to work there. You can feel it and see it in subtle ways as soon as you walk in a building.
I’m also happy because I’m being given a lot of freedom to teach what I want to teach, how I want to teach it. If I decide to pull a group, I can pull a group; if I decide to push in, I can push in.
I don’t have someone breathing down my neck telling me I have to do guided reading at a table in the homeroom class all day. I think once my administrators saw that I knew what I was doing they pretty much left me alone to do it. Which I appreciate! Because by now I do know what I’m doing most of the time.
So I’m getting to teach ESL through really fun, rich content that’s the same things students are learning in their homeroom classes: 3rd grade social studies and 4th grade english/language arts concepts and 5th grade reading remediation (which doesn’t sound fun but is, in this case).
I love my students, and they love me back. Most are eager and want to learn. They are also needy. I am buying clothes and books and making social work referrals. But don’t count them out! I have a feeling our progress this year is going to be something to see.
Years ago I once said that I loved teaching ESL so much that I would do it for free. Over the last few years I lost that. I got bogged down with school politics and who was talking about whom and whose parents didn’t care and which teachers weren’t any good. In some ways I lost sight of why I became a teacher. I still knew why, intellectually, but I couldn’t feel it in my heart anymore. I needed a year away doing something else to come back to it refreshed.
But now when I am teaching about Frederick Douglass or the three branches of government, elements of poetry or phonetic vs. non-phonetic words, I am thinking: This is what I was born to do.
I know no one asked me, but if I have any advice to give new and/or pre-service teachers, it would be the following:
- Pay very close attention to the vibe you get from administrators. That will set the tone of the school. Ask them about their management and evaluation style.
- A school with a negative environment will kill your soul, and it’s almost impossible for one person to change it despite their good intentions. Visit the school before agreeing to work there, during a school day if you can. What do you see when you walk through the halls? How are adults talking to children? Do kids and adults look happy? This is important.
- No matter what the school environment is like, make a work friend! You need someone to talk to about all of the craziness that happens on a daily basis.
I’m feeling grateful and blessed.
What do you think is the main thing that leads to happiness at work, and why? And if any young teachers would like advice from me about work, I’d be happy to give it!