How to remember your “why” and bring joy back into your classroom

Teaching in the early childhood education realm requires so much energy, stamina, and willpower. When you first started working in the ECE classroom, you were excited, hopeful, and couldn’t wait to make an impact on each student and family in your care. As days turn into years, that excitement and energy may dwindle a bit just like with any routine habit or job, and it is super important that you keep reminding yourself why you are doing what you are doing. It is so easy to forget the impact you are having on the lives of children and families. Over the last few years, many educators have questioned why they chose this career path. It has been hard, and educators have faced more adversity than they ever imagined. 

Here are some ways to keep your love for teaching alive and to remember your “why” as an early childhood educagtor. 

  1. Rest.

You have an incredibly hard job. You are working with little ones who don’t have words yet, or who are struggling to manage their new feelings, or facing a new transition and missing the comfort of home. You wear ten different “hats” at once and are solving problems every ten seconds, all with energy and a smile. It is hard. So when you are able to, listen to your body and rest. This may look like laying down during your lunch break or not having plans in the evening so that you can rejuvenate. Do not try to be a hero and just push through. If you ignore what your body is telling you, then you will burn yourself out and start to resent the very thing you once loved to do. Take deep breaths, drink lots of water, and rest.

  1. Allow yourself to have bad days.

I know that may seem negative and counterproductive, but it’s better to face the emotions we have head on rather than stuffing them down and not acknowledging them. So, when having a tough day, rather than quitting or swearing to never work with children again, take deep breaths and look at the reality of the situation. You had a bad day. And tomorrow is a new day and a new chance to have a better day. After a long, hard day, I usually like to reflect and see what was in my control and what was out of my control. This allows me to tackle the next day with more confidence. I also like to look at the facts about the situation rather than only relying on my feelings. When working with children, sometimes we forget that they are just that: children. We have the honor and privilege or educating young children, while ensuring they feel safe and loved while in our care. So remembering that they are little humans who are doing the best they can with the skills they have helps me to be able to distinguish the facts from the feelings and re-ground myself in the reality of the moment. 

  1. Keep your “why” in front of you.

Every once in a while, it’s good to be reminded of why you chose this career. Take some time to sit down and write down your vision statement. Answer the following question: Why did you choose “educator” as your career pathway and what legacy do you hope to leave behind for the next generation of children and educators? However you answer that question is your vision statement. Here’s mine: “I chose to teach so that children can see themselves the way I see them- wonderful, complex, valuable and amazing. I hope that they will get a glimpse of their potential and leave my class knowing they can do anything they set their minds to.” Type this vision statement up and put it somewhere you see regularly. Be sure to keep this in front of you on the hardest of days and the most joyous of days. 

  1. Be proactive.

When you’re having one of those days or “crisis” moments where we are doubting this career choice, be proactive about it. Give a coworker a heads up, plan to order that favorite latte, plan to take a self care day as long as there is ample coverage, go outside for a walk on your break, take some yoga breaths, listen to your favorite music, and be proactive. Since I know our teachers are so tired by the time we get to summer, I like to plan special pampering days or schedule a conference or in-service day for them where the topics help them remember why they do what they do. This doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy.  For the next day you have a planned in-service, take a few hours or a full day to make this the topic. Have teachers share why they chose this path and then have everyone write their “why” somewhere to post in their classrooms. Show videos that are fun and heartwarming and challenging. Help teachers feel loved, seen, and needed.

  1. Talk about it.

If you aren’t getting checked in regularly by your director or supervisor, ask to meet.  Share with your boss how you’ve been struggling and just needed to vent and talk about your “why.”  Ask your boss or even a coworker to help remind you of the value you bring to your center and the lives of children and families. Ask what they see in you and allow them to give you the words of affirmation you need. Then, reciprocate by telling that person what you see in them. If you are a director, make sure to do these check-ins and help teachers know that they are humans and that this job is hard. Remind teachers why you hired them and what you see in them. Try to say it in the moment rather than waiting for a formal meeting. For example, when you see a teacher sitting on the floor with a student building a tower, say right in that moment, “I love seeing you down on the floor with the kids. It’s just so special and helps the students feel loved and seen. And trust me, I know it’s not a comfy spot, but these kids are so lucky that you do that with them.”  “Catch” teachers and coworkers doing a great job and say it right then and there. Don’t wait. It can make all the difference to that person during that day. 

Bottom line: We need educators like you. This has not been an easy road. We are tired, and we are all in need of a “pick me up.” To avoid losing who you are, put some of these things into practice right away. It may not happen overnight, but you are worth the effort. You are human, so of course, you will be tired on some days. But don’t allow yourself to get stuck in a rut where you question why you are doing this amazing career. Not everyone can do it, but YOU ARE, and YOU CAN. You’ve got this!

To learn more about how HiMama’s all-in-one solution streamlines building, managing and growing a quality early childhood program click here!

Missy Knechel

Missy is a professor in the early childhood department at Eastern University and director of Victory Early Learning Academy, a childcare center that she started ten years ago. Prior to that, she taught Kindergarten and second grade for a total of 10 years. She has been married to her best friend, Jason, for 18 years, and together they have four beautiful children ages 8, 9, 12 and 13 in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. In her spare time, Missy loves to bake, read historical fiction, sing karaoke and travel to Central America on short term missions.