A couple of weeks ago, I walked into my classroom and greeted my class as usual. One of my students looked up at me and immediately said, “Wow, Ms. Sahoo… you look tired!!” Now, hearing that you look tired from someone you know is bad enough, but hearing it from an 8-year-old is a little more humbling. My students don’t hold back with their commentary (for example, my outfit probably wasn’t cool enough for third grade if I didn’t get a compliment on it that day) so I knew exhaustion was written all over my face.
My student was correct in pointing out that I did not seem like my usual, energetic self that day. The months leading up to the end of the year are tough, and the long weeks were getting to me at that point. There were a few things I started doing, however, that really changed my trajectory and helped keep energy up in the classroom.
The first thing I did was stop eating fast food. It was a hard break-up, going from eating Taco Bell twice a week to never entering its alluring drive-thru, but it was a necessary one. When I committed to taking the time to make my own dinner and buying only healthy foods, I started feeling and looking better. It was a lifestyle choice that immediately translated into more energy in the classroom. Don’t tell Taco Bell, but I found other ways to “Live Màs.”
After making the decision to eat better, I decided to change the way I prepped for my classes. If my students thought I looked tired, it was definitely time to up the energy in my lessons. In planning my lessons, I would always add something I knew would engage and entertain them. My assistant principal gave me some great and simple advice about joy in the classroom: “If you aren’t having fun, neither are they.” In my opinion, fun and energy go hand in hand. Adding quirky examples into my lesson plans (nothing screams fun like finding the perimeter of Ms. Sahoo’s USC rug, right?) made all the difference.
The last, and arguably most important, thing I did to bring energy back into my classroom was to reflect on what I needed to accomplish. My administration set up a school-wide initiative for teachers to re-invest students in their end-of-the-year goals in math and ELA. It was a wonderful idea, and helped reinvigorate students across the school. My partner teacher and I decided to have our students graph their progress towards meeting academic goals, and then commit to and memorize their end-of-year goals. Just the act of showing our students how they were doing, and how close they were to meeting their goals, was enough to revamp their efforts in the classroom. They know that the “password” to enter my classroom is their end-of-year math goal, and in class we will always purposely work to meet that goal.
The end of the school year has proven to be challenging energy-wise, but the most essential thing I’ve learned is that all bad days are temporary. For that one day I was told I look tired, there were four more days where my students were more engaged and excited than I had ever seen them. It was just a matter of taking care of myself better, and making sure that students were invested and engaged in what I was putting in front of them.
Maheen Sahoo is a founding 3rd grade math teacher at Rocketship Spark Academy. She attended the University of Southern California, where she studied Philosophy, Politics and Law with a minor in Communication Law and Media Policy. In her daily life, she enjoys using her students as an audience for her puns and teaching them about important USC traditions. She also squeezes in some math from time to time. Fight on!