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How to disrupt & resist grind culture for teachers

October 12, 2020 No Comments

On Instagram, we’ve been discussing grind culture a lot. While the discussion about it started relating to students, I’d like to approach it from a different angle- what about the grind culture of teachers?

There’s no doubt that it exists- it exists in every profession really- but how do we resist it? Should we combat it?

Those are the questions I am answering in this post. 

But before we begin, let’s define exactly what grind culture is. It isn’t something sexual as one of my readers first assumed (HAHA WHERE IS YOUR MIND?!) but rather, it’s the societal standard that you can only succeed by exerting yourself at max capacity professionally. Everyday.

You dedicate your life to your work.

It goes past being a workaholic, because workaholics at least eat and drink and sleep. They just spend all waking hours thinking about work, wanting to be at work, or working. Grind culture takes it a step further. Sleeping as little as possible is celebrated. Working so much you forget to eat or choose to skip meals is celebrated. Having too much work and not enough hours in the day is celebrated.

Grind culture- sometimes called hustle culture- is waking up on the weekend and drafting emails instead of preparing waffles.

Sadly, the idea of posting your unrealistic work-life balance via social channels like Instagram and Twitter has also gained popularity. Phone calls while on a hike? Zoom meetings at your staycation?

Those are the new expectations for productive work .#grindneverstops #24/7boss #smashinggoals. CRINGE. 

Don’t get me wrong- Working hard can be good. But working to look busy and looking like you’re grinding and celebrating not taking care of yourself is meaningless. It’s toxic and we shouldn’t perpetuate this idea that it’s “cool” and “trendy.”

Sadly our society  is now obsessed with going hard and not going home. This work ethic might initially seem admirable – but at its core it’s rooted in a toxic approach to the world of work and I have seen teachers bear the brunt of this intensely. The worst part is they think it makes them better teachers, and that they’re doing it because they love what they do. Or rather, they’ve been brainwashed into thinking that loving what you do means doing nothing else but work.

This toxic culture has its roots in racist ideals, stemming as far back as slavery. Here are some articles about how grind culture is rooted in white supremacy and by resisting it, you’re being anti-racist too. You can read them here & here.

This article released by Forbes and this one published by the NYtimes are excellent resources for further reading. 

So how can we-as teachers- resist this 24/7 workaholic lifestyle?

Make no mistake, our job has always been demanding- even before grind culture & Covid -19 became a thing- and that is why teachers have some of the highest burnout rates in the world. I recently took a 6 month break from teaching (I know I am privileged to have been able to do that, don’t all come at me) and it allowed me to shift my identity from just being a teacher to being a more well rounded human being. Here are some of my strategies to resisting grind culture as a teacher:

You don’t need to make everything from scratch 

Many teachers spend hours crafting these elaborate activities/assignments/quizzes that require a lot of planning and creativity. While that’s great and I applaud you for it, it’s not necessary to create every single activity from scratch. The internet exists and there are many free things that you can use from teachers pay teachers, Khan Academy, Quizziz, IXL & a host of other websites with free resources.

I know how pressured teachers feel to make things from scratch, to be innovative and creative… not only do they have high expectations of themselves, they want to challenge the students and also impress administrators.

But, sometimes simple really is better… I have found great success with simple activities and assessments that allow students to be challenged but also gives them an opportunity to rest and reflect afterwards.

I am not saying that your week-long scavenger hunt to test ‘life in the trenches during World War 2’ is bad; I am just saying that not every lesson needs to be something fancy. Choose a few of your assessments that you will go all out for; but for the rest, explore others’ creativity and give yourself a break.

Lean on your colleagues

One of the reasons I always bang on about the importance of working at a school that has qualified and experienced educators is so that you can have people to collaborate with- who know what they’re doing. My colleagues are my first port of call for help and you’ll be surprised at the numerous ways they can help you; not just by sharing resources and ideas but also, by providing a place to vent and commiserate. 

Many people have the wrong impression that teaching is a very isolated profession- a lone teacher surrounded by children or sitting isolated in an empty classroom. You’d be surprised at how untrue this is. Collaborating with colleagues is an essential component of being a teacher but people don’t always take advantage of their teams; don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice from people who share your work environment!

Take a sick day- even if it’s just for your mental health

Unless you get paid out for not taking days off and you REALLY need that money, I always advise taking days off. They’re yours and are owed to you. Taking a day off to rest, recharge, catch up on errands or just spend time with loved ones means you can return to work recharged ready to give the best of yourself to students. 

Remember that students don’t benefit from a teacher that’s exhausted, burnt out and despondent.

You cannot pour from an empty cup.

Be honest with administrators about what is really necessary

A tricky one but one that’s worth a try. Sometimes you just need to be realistic with your head of department about what is useful (send emails instead of hosting meetings) and what isn’t useful (cramming students with an unreasonable amount of assessments). This year my department and I had an earnest meeting with a school administrator about the need for detailed, planned down to the minute, lesson plans  for English Language Arts. We decided against it and now we just work from our pacing guide and  plans from our curriculum software. Its decreased my planning time and allowed me to focus on more important tasks.

If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

Prioritize things other than work

As I said earlier, your job doesn’t get the best of you if you dedicate all your time and energy towards it. Balancing your life out and finding joy outside of work can actually help you be more productive. Sometimes that means taking an hour to try out a new coffee shop, skype with your friends or go watch the sunset at the beach instead of marking essays. 

I’ve noticed that teachers will happily put work related tasks at the top of their to-do lists but wouldn’t consider gettin a full 8 hours of sleep as a priority. Why? Its equally as important if not more!

Treat the weekends as days to be enjoyed rather than days to catch up on work.

Your summer vacation doesn’t have to be crammed with professional development courses. 

A school that doesn’t want you to have weekends or holidays is not a school worth working at!

It doesn’t make you a good teacher to stay hours after school has ended. It makes you overworked and underpaid because we both know that no one is paying you extra to stay after school. Set yourself a schedule that includes going home at a decent hour or at least- take 2-3 hours break after school ends to do other things and return to your work after you’ve had a chance to rejuvenate. 

Look for other opportunities

At the end of the day, there will always be schools that bleed you dry expecting the maximum amount of work from you no matter your  mental health and personal circumstances. The same schools that will expect you to come in on weekends even though there’s no specific task to fulfill and to stay for weeks during the student’s summer vacation just to say that you’re there even if you’re not doing anything useful at all. 

We spend a lot of time trying to alter ourselves to fit in with schools and districts, hoping they’ll hire and retain us as teachers. But what about figuring out if those schools or districts are actually good for us? Sometimes you just don’t fit into an environment and that’s ok. Its actually more beneficial to walk away than forcing yourself into a toxic work environment.

I see many teachers- especially expats- holding on to jobs that make them miserable. Why? When the entire world is literally yours for the picking? Teaching is one of the most sought after jobs internationally with entire recruitment agencies dedicated solely to helping you find a suitable position. 

You don’t owe loyalty to a school just because they were the first place to hire you.
You don’t owe commitment to a school simply because they pay you for doing your job.
You don’t need to stay stuck at one particular school just because it’s ‘what you know’. 

You are the only one who can make the decision to improve or worsen your quality of life. 

I hope that by teachers becoming more assertive about what they actually want/need and disrupting this horrendous ‘work to the bone’ culture, we can not only find joy in our jobs but also demonstrate to schools that fulfilling our needs is just as critical as fulfilling the needs of our students. 

If you enjoyed this post, please pin it to Pinterest using the graphic below!

I have many other posts on teaching particularly teaching abroad, please find them here. You may be specifically interested in these posts about teaching abroad:

Interviewing for teaching positions

Questions to ask prospective schools 

The racism of teaching abroad

Questions to ask yourself before teaching abroad

How do you prevent work from taking over your life? Let me know in the comments below!

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