We’ve all been there. Survival Mode on Auto-Pilot.
At some point in every teacher’s career, they experience a school district, school, or classroom that they realize isn’t going to change. They’ve made complaints, documented, changed classroom management systems, altered and differentiated the curriculum, and scheduled meeting after meeting, after meeting… yet nothing changes.
It’s at this point, that teachers do one of two things: Quit or enter Survival Mode on Auto-Pilot.
Quitting seems like a decent option, but when #teacherguilt sets in, many teachers turn from this option, unless their mental health is at risk.
So the other option is Survival Mode on Auto-Pilot.
What is Survival Mode on Auto-Pilot?
At first, I was just going to address Survival Mode, but my husband added on the term “Auto Pilot” to describe the level of commitment and spontaneity that isn’t present.
In “Survival Mode on Auto-Pilot” you’re doing just enough to get through. You’re not going above or beyond. You end up disconnected from the world around you. You don’t have goals. Your dreams have become a distant memory.
You’re just… surviving.
What Survival Mode on Auto-Pilot Looks Like As A Teacher
As a teacher, it can seem a lot worse because we are around children all day. For us, it manifests itself as the following:
Not showing interest in students or building relationships
Not going beyond what’s required in the curriculum
Refusal to deal with students social/emotional learning and growth (You say to yourself “I’m not paid enough to do that/I don’t have the time for that.”)
You show no enthusiasm or commitment in Professional Development sessions or Staff meetings (Worse than a normal teacher)
You distance yourself from colleagues and don’t participate in events or activities planned
Your only joy comes from the final bell ringing
Why I Entered Into Survival Mode on Auto-Pilot
I can recall a year or two when I was in Survival Mode on Auto-Pilot. My data looked awful on a weekly basis. The administration kept piling on the work day after day, expecting it to all be finished in a week, with a smile. My students’ behavior was out of control and no phone call home, failing grade, or consequence could change it. When I complained about their behavior and their inability to grasp grade-level concepts, I was told that they were “playing me” and that “they know that stuff”.
During the first term, I changed my behavior management plan almost 5 times. I adjusted and readjusted small groups. One of my missions was to teach test-taking strategies. I asked the administration to come and model and no one showed up. “Class Dojo” became a constant companion for contacting parents.
I spent nights crying before bed knowing the day was coming. Mornings in my car were spent, silent, knowing that another day with no change was coming.
But my family and I weren’t in the financial position for me to quit. I searched for jobs and none came up that could support us.
So I entered into Survival Mode on Auto Pilot.
Internally, I wasn’t being the teacher I wanted to be. I knew I could’ve been doing more for my students. But there was a place in me that was tired of being shot down by my administration and students when I try and put my best foot forward.
Survival Mode on Auto-Pilot = Burned Out Teacher
As teachers who step into Survival Mode on Auto-Pilot, we’re simply tired. Burned out. We enter into a compliant stage where we do what’s required, and nothing more.
It’s not that we don’t want to do more. It doesn’t mean that we don’t think our kids deserve more.
It’s that we’re tired of going above and beyond, for it to be stomped on, spit on, criticized, and laughed at.
We’re only human. We can only tolerate and give so much.
We cannot and should not be required to pour from empty cups.
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