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Facing Discouragement

I hesitate to write this blog post.

Yet it needs written. Maybe for you or for the teacher next door.

Definitely for me.

This week I’ve had too many conversations with teachers who are feeling discouraged. They do not have gender, teaching experience, grade level, or administration in common. They don’t even come from the same states. Yet they are all dealing with feeling overwhelmed, discouraged, and frustrated.

I’ve even felt a little like we’re facing the impossible.

I want to figure out why we are feeling these things. I ask why, and I get a list of answers that will lead from my school door to yours — even if you are teaching half a globe away. I’ve realized WHY isn’t the most important question.

HOW is.

How will we face discouragement and still make the world better for the students in our classrooms? How will we shoulder teaching to the test in order to teach meaningfully? How will we reclaim joy when faced with frustration?

To find the answer, I return to Eve Merriam and her poem, “A Lazy Thought.” Please read it in its entirety, and then come back. I promise I’ll wait.

There go the grown ups…

We are running from one thing to the next, trying to comply with this mandate and that, barely keeping up with the zillions of tasks in one day. Sometimes all of the have-to-dos seem to get askew. Since when was it more important to log a meeting in a computer instead of listening to the voice of a student?

Hurry, scurry, worry, flurry…

These are not actions that belong in a classroom. Sure we have lots to do. This doesn’t mean we have to hurry-scurry. I do a lot in a single day, but one thing I’ve been consciously trying to stop doing is rushing. There is a phenomenon that happens when we slow down. We get more done because we concentrate, focus, and do things well. Less hurry, scurry, worry, flurry leads to more accomplished in a day.

No wonder grown ups don’t grow up anymore…

When we hurry, scurry, worry, flurry, we stop growing. We don’t have time to reflect. We don’t have time to find the good in the day. We don’t have time to consider how our  instructional choices are impacting students.

In the face of discouragement, I’m choosing to slow down. I will keep a steadfast spirit of joy and kindness. Quiet moments of reflection, loud bursts of laughter, tiny conversations about instruction will keep me true to the reasons I’m here. I’m slowing down in classrooms, giving students time to think, and time to put words on the page. Because it matters and, quite simply, teachers are enough.

I hope you cling to this truth too.

Ruth Ayres View All

Unhurried. Finding the magic in the middle of living. Capturing a life of ridiculous grace + raw stories.

28 thoughts on “Facing Discouragement Leave a comment

  1. Ruth, I shared this with several teachers in my building this week, with my team, and with other teachers in the district. This message was one that so many appreciated hearing and they plan to reread it again and again. I am printing it and saving it. THANK YOU. After reading your post, I refocused the next day and really listened to the stories kids were telling and focused on pointing out all the positives. Although I know I should do this daily, sometimes it is harder than it should be and I appreciated the gentle reminder. It made a difference in my day and in the day of the students!


  2. Several times this week I felt like I was defending teaching that responds to the needs of my students vs everyone on the same page in our district’s literacy kits. Defending sitting beside a young reader and writer vs using their computer scores (they even said the computer can tell me a fluency level!).
    I logged on to Two Writing Teachers for a more clear vision. I received it and the support I need. Thanks to all on here and to Ruth’s encouraging words.


  3. Love how you switched the question from “why” to “how.” You are so right! We must keep growing; to do this means to stop the scurrying and hurrying. A great reminder at the outset of a school year. Building community requires our presence, our slowing down and listening, attending, understanding the children as individuals. Thank you for this.


  4. Thank you, Ruth. You always know the right thing to write! I definitely have been “hurrying and scurrying” waaaay too much the past few weeks — feels like every minute outside of teaching has just been filled with more schoolwork! In terms of feeling overwhelmed, your post was just what I needed to read today.

    However, I do think I’ve been better this year at slowing down during class time to go with what the students need, even if it’s a lot more time than what was in my plans. (A fresh start in a whole new subject, school, and age level has helped with that considerably — since I kind of don’t know what I’m doing and don’t have any established units or lessons, it’s easy to let myself be guided by student needs!)

    I especially like your comment about how we can only grow when we slow down. I’ve felt this so much the past few weeks, as I had so many things to do that I barely had time to think straight! I finally had time to slice again this week and it felt soooo good: I NEED that reflection and connection with all of you so badly. Reflection is one of my favorite parts of teaching, but it’s so hard to do when your head is spinning! Thanks for the reminder that it’s just as important as all those other “to-do”s… and maybe more important!


  5. This is what I wrote to my teacher friends yesterday….

    It has been a few weeks and if you are anything like me, your head hurts with what it is filled with every day. In Quantum, Mary and I taught everyone a long time ago about the idea of ‘10’. This is it in a nutshell…they goof up, we screw up, everyone needs to learn how to say sorry and improve and learn to say sorry because some of them haven’t been taught these secret words!!! But every day make a conscious effort to, in your mind’s eye, to put a 10 on the forehead of your difficult children, the ones that are invoking your sighing behavior throughout the day. I love Uncle Kracker and this utube can help you put a smile on your face. Play it when you need to, bookmark it for times everyone in your class needs to smile again. I think it has so much potential for all of us. love nanc
    PS I just had to listen again after a cutting and glue experience in Margaret’s class.


  6. Slow is a word I have been connecting with for a few months now (ever since you wrote about it in a post this summer). The Merriam poem is one I have taped into my notebook and I return to it again and again. It’s going to anchor a post I have percolating about slowing down…

    This feeling of discouragement was very familiar to me a couple of years ago as our district went through many hard decisions. This year, however, has started very positively for us–me in particular. Kathy Gillis says it best–connections. That’s what I think is making the difference. And not just with my students (although I did a much better job connecting those first few days), but with adults who believe as I do.

    My connections with fellow bloggers on this site is important to my well-being as a teacher. I know there are others out there who believe as I do. There are others who want the best for their kids, their schools. Their are others….

    Keep believing. Keep Connecting. And slow down….


  7. Yes! I have to constantly tell myself to slow down. I feel myself rushing a student’s valuable talk because I’m trying to get to the next thing I want to say or teach. I have to remind myself it’s not the next thing I say she’ll remember 10 years from now – it’ll be whether or not I stopped to listen and value what SHE had to say!


  8. This is just the post I needed today. I can relate to this so well: “Since when was it more important to log a meeting in a computer instead of listening to the voice of a student.” I know many have said, “Shut your door and teach”, and most of the time, I do, however, we can’t run away from mandated testing on a computer. I had a very frustrating day of testing with my students yesterday and I came home yesterday feeling deflated. I would so much rather sit one-on-one with my students-I learn so much more than the print out from a computerized test. I am going to print that poem and post it in my room. Thanks.


  9. Ruth- you speak for many in this post, amd perhaps for some who have not faced this moment of truth. Children learn by observation ampnd they learn that what we do does not always match what we say. I’ve written about this before on my blog ( and encourage others to consider reading Mike Anderson’s book, The Well-Balanced Teacher. As for me, I am reaping the benefits of the ultimate slow-down of a sabbatical this year, not from discouragement, but from too many years of hurry-scurry!


  10. I needed this post this morning. I’ve watched the eager faces and excitement of students and teachers turn slowly to the morning trudge and rebut, “There is so much to do.” I’ve watched the potential of the new year turn to “get the testing out of the way so I can teach” mode. All this in 2 weeks. I even worte about maybe, HOW to TRY to keep that magic going yesterday my self……
    BUT, this might REALLY be the answer. We need to slow down and focus on what is important. I’ll try to move a little slower……I’ll try to remember what is important….thanks for the reminder


  11. I try to remember this story about the starfish–of which there are many versions–when I am discouraged about teaching:
    I awoke early, as I often did, just before sunrise, to walk by the ocean’s edge and greet the new day.

    As I moved through the morning dawn, I focused on a faint, far away motion.
    I saw a youth, bending and reaching and flailing arms, dancing on the beach, no doubt in celebration of the perfect day soon to begin.

    As I approached, I realized that the youth was not dancing to the bay, but rather bending to sift through the debris left by the night’s tide, stopping now and then to pick up starfish and then standing, to heave it back into the sea.

    I asked the youth the purpose of the effort. “The tide has washed the starfish onto the beach and they cannot return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun rises, they will die, unless I throw them back into the sea.”

    As the youth explained, I surveyed the vast expanse of beach, stretching in both directions beyond eyesight. Starfish littered the shore in numbers beyond calculation. The hopelessness of the youth’s plan became clear to me and I countered, “But there are more starfish on this beach than you can ever save before the sun is up. Surely you cannot expect to make a difference.”

    The youth paused briefly to consider my words, bent to pick up a starfish and threw it as far as possible. Turning to me he simply said,

    “I made a difference to that ONE.”


  12. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing these words so all of us can be reminded of what truly matters. Thank you for caring so much to share with others your thoughts. Thank you…I’m always learning something from you. Thank YOU!


  13. Thank you for this post! I’m feeling rushed as everyone else. It’s so easy to get swept away in all the demands. The kids are what matter. We need to hold back the rushing and scurrying from them and protect the joy! That was my lesson this week. I had to shake myself out of it…and this post is exactly what I needed to read. Thank you.


  14. Connections. That’s where the heart of the work lies. Connect with the kids. Connect with peers. All the documentation and data collections in the world are meaningless if we haven’t connected. Remind our administrators that they are human by connecting with them also…


  15. Thank you for this post! It has been a rough start to the year – so much I did not write my slice of life last night. I did not want to be negative but was lost in the hurry and craziness at school and with my two groups of students. So many needs, yet such beautiful children. Again thanks for the reminder and thoughts to stay positive.


  16. It takes a lot of slow to grow… I believe in that, I want to live like that in my classroom. I want to be a teacher who is enough. Enough to help students believe they will grow and bloom, and that when they do, each one will be unique and beautiful.


  17. It’s hard when the climat becomes negative. Take care of yourselves and shut your doors and teach. Support in positive ways rather than dwelling on the negative. Very fortunate to be starting my 25th year feeling refreshed but have been where you’ve been. Chin up. Favorite books and silly poems. Knuffle Bunny by Moe Willams works for me.


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