Marie Kondo’s Konmari method has taken over social media these days. I have to admit that I’ve taken quite a few bags of donations to the local thrift store after watching her Netflix show, and her file method of folding has changed my dresser drawers forever.
I’ve noticed, too, that teachers are jumping on the trend–like this creative and delightful English teacher I follow on Instagram, who is using the method to inspire a Clean Classroom Challenge with her students. Not only is it a great motivational tool to help clean out the cabinets, but it also allows teachers and students to focus on what brings them joy and what they want in their classroom (and often their lives) moving forward.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this concept of sparking joy, of bringing in and holding onto the objects that delight you and place you where you want to be, and it has shifted my way of thinking about teacher burnout. One only needs to do a quick internet search to find that teacher burnout and attrition is a dire problem, particularly in the first 5 years of teaching. In my educational psychology classes, I often discuss this issue with my preservice teachers. Although the conversation generally centers around the need for adequate resources, classroom management, and administrative support, my students often ask about the joy in the educational system itself. Although they want to be teachers when they graduate, the majority of them admit that they lost their joy for school around 2nd or 3rd grade. There’s actually a sense of grief pervading the discussion, so we take a few days to brainstorm how to stop the cycle.
It’s something Prof. Doris Santoro calls demoralization–that teachers feel powerless to teach the way they want to (or know they should) for various reasons including high-stakes testing and inflexible binds on creating lessons that truly connect with students. She says that the focus on burnout places undue pressure on the teacher to adjust, rather than having conversations around the entire system. Add to that the subsequent pressure placed on students from these policies, and it’s no wonder my students speak of losing their joy for learning so early.
I love the idea of involving students in the discussion of what does spark joy or what they would like to create in their future learning journey. How nice would it be for administrators and school board members to sit in on the conversation and truly listen? And I also think it’s nice for us, as educators, to reflect on what brings us joy in our profession. I don’t mean this as a cheesy, greeting card sort of platitude but as a way for us to really sort out what makes us passionate about our jobs or what could help us feel that passion again. For me, it’s the discussions I mentioned above. I derive my energy from hearing the voices of my students, those future educators who will soon have the opportunity to make a shift in our current system. There’s nothing quite like getting swept up in a brainstorming session and realizing that class is over. It’s what keeps me going–helps me push past the administrative demands and paperwork. And it also helps me plan my future classes. THEY help me plan my future classes with their thoughts, ideas, and questions. That, for me, definitely sparks joy.