Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

This Week: Getting Out Of The Hole, Finishing Projects, And Teacher Self-Confidence

You might be thinking, “It seems strange to be figuring out new productivity systems with only 10 teaching days left to go, no?”.  In the past week I’ve been trying to come up with a new strategy to get more productive, and writing about it has led me to adopt some new strategies.  My plan is to come up with a theme for the week, and then base my plan around that.  I can never keep all of the things in my head, and I would find ways to get distracted from doing what’s on my to do list.  After reading some ideas from the slightly overwhelming Getting Results the Agile Way, I’ve modified my current Evernote system.  Each week I try to make a encompassing story for my week, a central theme of what I want to accomplish. For example, this week the story is  “dig myself from out of the hole” I’ve written it down and changed the background image on my phone to match.  Now there are a lot of “to-do’s” associated with this “story”, but I can’t remember all of those.  However when I have a few free moments at school and I see the picture of digging myself out of the hole on my phone I am more likely to go and look up something to free myself from all the backlog when I otherwise would be looking at reddit or something.   I also made a notebook for doing a “Brain Dump“, so I can empty my head at the end of each day.

What I’m teaching this week

This week I plan to get my classes finished with their projects.  I’ve been tweaking projects from previous years to end this year, and I may need to come up with some scaffolding or mini-lessons in response to student’s struggles, and I am going to try harder to give students written feedback along the way.  In the spirit of this week’s theme, I’m going to stick to the due date and make sure I provide a lot of support to get the kids, and myself, out of this “hole”. Because most of the students have big final projects in all of their classes, this time of year is very stressful, so I need to spend a lot of time just letting kids know that I hear their struggle, but that they can still do a project at a high level.

What I’m blogging this week

Keeping with the theme of getting out of the hole, I am going to read more and post a summary.  I have been saying I was going to do it for the past few weeks, and I need to sit down and go through my feed reader.  I may also put up one of the projects that I assigned this year.

What I’m thinking this week

Is there some correlation between teaching and low self-confidence?  As a starting teacher it always felt like there was something I could improve,  but always focusing on improvement means I’m always focusing on the things I do wrong.    The idea of constantly being flawed led me to walk out from most classes looking at the things that went wrong or were not well done. Often I would even fret over things that were out of my control, like how I handled the fire drill.  As I got more experience I kept this negative focus on my work as a teacher.  Much like Mal in the movie inception, I could never really view my successes in the classroom as real (I even struggled to not write “successes”).  Perhaps the hole I need to get out of is the mental one.

I could probably write a much longer blog post about this.  Are there other people who feel this way?


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End of the line


  1. I, too, have noticed that teachers often don’t think much of themselves… I suspect confident people are weeded out, or their confidence is slowly strangled by weeds. I think the “easy” false solution would be, oh, practicing positive self-talk… but I think that’s just a first step. Your picture idea is awesome and I’m going to steal it insofar as trying to remember to put something with a theme near my face each week… my “don’t be upset… by results you didn’t get… from the work you didn’t do” is getting old …
    Thanks for a thoughtful post 🙂

    • Carl Oliver

      Thanks for your comment!
      It sounds like you’re describing a situation where any confidence is temporary at best. That sounds about right. With all the change, and all of the difficulty, it’s hard to ever say with full confidence “this is going to work perfectly tomorrow.” So if the confidence is never promised, the “easy” of thinking positively would be temporary too. Like how blowing your nose is a temporary relief for a cold, but coming out of the cold and getting some chicken soup is the only way to really “cure” the illness. What would be the cure for the confidence problem? Having a supportive school?

  2. I wrote a similar blog post about my confidence level as an educator a month back. I think it comes from a few places — one, we really care about both teaching and learning, and thus any (perceived) mistake represents this idea that we’ve messed up someone’s learning, someone’s math experience, someone’s self-perception/confidence, etc.

    Second, we are reflective and we’re used to analyzing student work, which makes it easy to turn the mirror on ourselves, so we are aware of our own limitations and flaws. This is not inherently a bad thing — there is no superhuman perfect teacher who hits all the right notes with all her classes every day for the whole year. Even the blogging stars have their off days or at least their off lessons or at the very least a remark they wish they could take back. The constant reflective striving we have is a good thing as long as you don’t get down on yourself, because ultimately we are just like our students: constantly learning and being knocked down and overcoming challenges.

    • Carl Oliver

      I’m glad you took time to comment. I went and read a post about students confidence on your site. It probably wasn’t the one you referred to, but it seemed like there was a relevant point. The quote from the psychologist said that confident students point externally when they had difficulties in school (i.e. “That’s a hard class”) where as the unconfident students point internally when they had difficulties in school (i.e. “I’m not good enough”). With teaching, it is very hard to apply the external attribution to the difficulties you face because you simply can’t have success when you blame the students. Attributing difficulties to the school system are kind of futile as well because they are so widespread it is hard to complain about it. It’d be like complaining about the ants that come to your picnic. Walking into the classroom is very hard on you because it’s hard to not to attribute some or all of the difficulty to yourself.

      It certainly doesn’t help that so much of the profession is so reflective and we develop such a sharp eye for offering critical feedback. This can be a double edged sword. Perhaps there is a way to handle this blade so as not to nick yourself, but I haven’t figured it out. Maybe I’ll write a post if I make some progress. Thanks for commenting.

      • Interesting that both the “confident” and “not so confident” examples are still “fixed.” I wonder if the confident student went on to consider “and I could have done x, y, or z …” or “but I learned this…” per that “growth mindset” (this year’s version of “internal locus of control” and I think a worthy refinement)…. .
        A supportive school *helps* confidence but … if you’re working at an *awesome* school but … somehow, you still don’t feel like you’re doin’ right (because you aren’t, in this case)… it’s even more disheartening. When you’ve found the “perfect” job and you can’t do it… why look for something that’s a better fit? fortunately stepping back and re-organizing strengths (and recognizing that the classroom wasn’t a good fit, but teaching still is) and finding a slightly different direction worked.
        Oh, and … this time of year is just rough, period.

        • Carl Oliver

          The growth mindset looks to be pretty powerful. Our principal just gave the staff the book mindset, and it looks to be a big part of what we will try to do with kids, but I guess I didn’t think about it in terms of teachers. We are often considered to be a finished product, like we don’t grow and change as professionals, and that mindset is obviously troubling. I can’t recall how many times I’ve heard myself say “Why I am not good at this yet?!?”

          Supportive schools and awesome schools aren’t necessarily the same, that is a good distinction. Some schools have a culture that can be really bad for a teacher, and other schools which aren’t really successful have a really good fit. There are so many schools out there, all with their own unique flavor of support, definition of success, and ability to reach that level of success, it’s hard to find a good fit. It doesn’t help that a number of factors also prevent teachers from finding a good fit, I’d be curious to see some study of teacher mobility.

          But yeah, this time of year is rough.

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