You began your school year with great anticipation. Yet, despite all the energy you’ve invested, the grave challenges you’ve faced through September and October have plunged you in survival mode. Between late fall and the winter holidays many teachers find themselves overwhelmed by daily classroom pressures and challenging students. The school year just isn’t what they had imagined it would be.
When Teaching Gets Tough: Smart Ways to Reclaim Your Game is a new book that I think is the perfect read for teachers who are disillusioned by a particularly difficult class or are surrounded by toxic colleagues. This book is comprised of a mere five chapters, each of which designed to stand on its own. You do not need to read one to benefit from another. It’s perfect for busy teachers. It is through reading each chapter, however, you realize that the reasons teaching becomes so difficult fall into a just a few general categories. The first chapter is called “The Big Picture: Attitudes and Strategies,” in which Mendler explains that one’s attitude toward teaching is equally as important as the strategies one uses as an educator. He suggests that the two most important attitudes a teacher can have are 1) Live each day as if there were no tomorrow, and 2) Understand that change is a rollercoaster ride. In the midst of a relentlessly stressful first semester, it is easy to become discouraged, especially at the thought of how many days there are until the end of the academic year.
Of particular interest to me was chapter two, “Strategies for Working with Difficult Students.” Mendler states that dealing with difficult students is the number one cause of burnout for most teachers, and he provides numerous authentic classroom examples teachers can utilize. The plethora of prevention strategies he presents are guided by six pillars for success: relationship, relevance, responsibility, success, safety and fun. I was challenged, however, by some of the suggested cognitive dissonance dialogue presented, as it can be perceived by students as sarcastic.
The final three chapters (“Working Successfully with Unappreciative or Irritating Adults,” “Making the Best of an Imperfect Environment,” and “Taking Top Notch Care of Yourself”) are full of lots of valuable information, although, chapters one and two were of primary interest to me as I work with educators who are seeking ideas to help them reach challenging students. The author begins the final chapter, “Taking Top Notch Care of Yourself,” by stating there is mounting evidence that teachers who behave in ways that promote their own personal and professional well-being perform better in the classroom and effect better student outcomes. This dovetails beautifully with Great Expectations’ concept of “Investing in yourself.”
Each chapter of this book has questions for reflections and key thoughts pertaining to the chapter. Each chapter also provides a section for administrators—school leaders also need support in these areas. It’s a book you can read in small increments. Nearly every section of each chapter can stand alone, enabling you to read small pieces and still take from it realistic and inspiring suggestions you can utilize immediately in your classroom.
Review written by Rick Pierce, GE Instructional Coach