One-Upping: The Worst Habit


Summer, the sweet reward for our endless time worrying, fretting, agonizing for nine and a half months each year.


I made a list a couple of weeks ago…a list of things I need to do before school starts and I was just thinking this morning that I need to “get on it.”


The problem with “getting on it” is that is when the real stress begins. The pressure to “go-go-go” and “do-do-do” and the ultimate pressure….to make sure everything we plan, post, decorate and conceive is better than last year.


Now, I am all for improvement and continuous learning. Almost every teacher I know and respect is a lifelong geek who loves to research and plan, dream of new methods or new lessons, read new books, paint a new wall, design a new bulletin board, etc.


However, we are also our own worst enemy.


I found myself looking at all my teaching files from last year and thinking about the goals I had set, and negative thoughts began swarming through my mind like locusts, whispering, “You have to do better. This wasn’t good enough.”


Each year, after I hear this thought haunting me, I begin what I like to call “The manic phase.” This means I take on about a zillion projects, trying to become ten times the teacher I was the year before, with my eye on the highest test scores possible and wowing the world with my mastery of all things teaching.


What usually happens, though, is I tire myself out before the year even starts. I feel overwhelmed trying to create and learn “new systems,” and I end up so snippy that my heart isn’t open to what is most important for teaching success…relationships.


So, this year, I am making a commitment to stop the massive “one-upping” tear-down that I do to myself each year.


I am going to focus on three things:


1.) Meaningful timing-My PLC partners and I are focusing on meaningful timing. We are extending a couple of reading units, we are working in time for all the new state and district assessments that were sprung on us last year, we are planning our months as much as possible, so we aren’t FREAKING out each Monday, guzzling coffee and panicking to each other about how we are going to fit it all in.


This just involves being more thoughtful and having more foresight into what is going to cause us stress and how to get the most bang for our buck in the energy department.


2.) Using Technology to Increase Connection-Last year, my school started a 1:1 Chromebook roll-out that starts with 6th grade (my grade!). This felt like a curse to me because it can be a MAJOR time-suck to train kids how to use the device, deal with a few responsibility issues, and instruct about etiquette when it comes to preteens who haven’t done real writing on a computer before.

However, I can’t change the system, so I need to work with it. I can use YouTube to get kids to listen to me. I can think of new ways for kids to track data and manage their progress, and I can communicate with families more effectively.


3.) Community-Treating my classes like a family is a top priority. This doesn’t mean that I am going to be pleasant 24/7 (there’s actually a standing joke with my kids that when they call me “nice,” I tell them to stop lying), but it DOES mean that we have to respect each other and have common goals. Our school is in the experimental stages of adopting Leader In Me. Right now, the adults are working on their personal goals and values related to the program, but our classroom is going to take this a step further this year. We are going to talk regularly about “Keeping the End in Mind” and putting “First Things First.”


No, I haven’t totally bought into the juju of the Covey program, but I do recognize the value in having a common language and not constantly forcing kids to adopt my vocabulary. I have to commit to weaving in some of their language from elementary school if I want them to have a comfort zone, and this means we might have to make some changes.

So, I am not going to lie. My “to-do” list before August 21st (yes, I am saying the day aloud), has about 127 items on it. But I am going to try my hardest to focus on what is most important, not wallow in self-destructive talk, and also not overload myself with projects to the point that my grandiose vision becomes the bane of my existence by Labor Day.

I also have to break the cycle. This can’t happen every summer, or ten years from now, I will be taking a sledgehammer to my classroom in an effort to rebuild, and although that does sound therapeutic, I know when I must draw a line.


Britt Jungck teaches Literacy at Bunger Middle School in Waterloo. She blogs about teaching at .