What Keeps You Coming Back? (Ep. 097)

Tim and Andrew are back together after quite a few episodes apart! They are talking today about appreciating your time off during break, but also focusing on the reasons why you keep coming back to school day after day. Listen as they discuss how to keep your mindset right, the best reasons to set long-term goals for yourself, and the advice they have for teachers who might be feeling burnt out. Full episode transcript below.


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Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz. Everyone is on a winter break right now, and I assume, since we’re all teachers, it is a well-deserved winter break. Now, I always like these breaks, because it’s a great time to relax, to enjoy some time off, to do all of the things that you never have time to do when you were teaching. As great as that is, I know that partway through break, a little part of you is ready to get back to school. Honestly, I think that’s a good thing. I think you want that excitement. You want to look forward to what you’re doing every day in your classroom. We’ve talked before about burnout, how to deal with burnout, and I think this conversation kind of fits into that mindset. We’re going to talk today about some of the positives, some of the things that make you want to continue to come back to your classroom day after day.

Andrew will kind of dive into that positive mindset and talk about all the ways that we keep things running right and keep ourselves wanting to come back to the classroom. We’ll talk about the short-term things that we look forward to, and kind of those long-term goals that we set for ourselves as we keep looking forward to coming back, because both of those things, both short-term and long-term, are so important in keeping the right mindset. Let me bring Andrew on. I’m looking forward to it, because it’s been a few episodes since he and I have been together for a podcast, and we can get the conversation started about positivity, inspiration, and what keeps us coming back year after year. Andrew is here with me now. Andrew, how are you?

Andrew: Hey, man. I’m doing awesome. How are you doing?

Tim: I am doing really well. Excited to talk to you. It’s been a while since we’ve chatted together, but we’re on break right now, and even though it’s right in the middle of the holiday season, everyone’s still kind of thinking about getting back to work, because it’s always in the back of your mind. You’ve been doing this for well over a decade now, so my question for you is, besides that sweet, sweet paycheck, what keeps you coming back year after year?

Andrew: Well, man, thanks for the kick in the feelings right there, making me feel old. You really strung that one out there. “Over a decade.” I had one of these moments right before Christmas break, holiday break, and I think this answer is going to come up a lot, man. Sometimes it’s easy to get kind of bleak or pessimistic and start to feel that burnout a little bit, but then you have kids. It’s all about the kids, your students. I had a kid come up to me, he’s like … I do this thing every morning. We share good news, good things, and I pick on three, four kids, I’m like, “All right, who’s got some good news?”

A kid came, he turned, and he said, “Mr. McCormick, my good news today is my drawing. It’s looking way better than I ever thought it would. When we first started this project, I didn’t think it was going to be very good, and I’m really proud of myself.” I was just like, “Right on, man.” I kind of pivoted a little bit, and I asked everyone, I said, “Looking at when we started this semester in drawing class and where we are now, who in here feels like they’ve gotten better?” Almost every kid raised their hands, and I think that’s why we do it. We do it to connect with kids and to show them not just the art skills, but things like perseverance, and grit, and creativity. Sometimes I just think, “If I didn’t do this, who would do it, and would these students be having as good an experience?”

Tim: Yeah. I think that’s a really, really good point, and I’ve felt that same way before too, where we have something special in our art rooms, because so many other courses have this curriculum that they have to follow day by day by day, and you have to get to page 413 in math, and you have to read this in English class. It’s so structured, but we can take the time to have real conversations with our kids.

Those connections that you talk about, I think, are so important, not only for us and making things enjoyable, but much more so for our kids, because especially when kids maybe aren’t getting those needs met outside of school, for whatever reason, you can be that sort of positive force and you can, like I said, create those connections and, like you said, teach them so much about perseverance, and grit, and creativity, and whatever else comes up, and just life in general too. I think that’s a pretty amazing thing, but I think your kind of focus on positivity is a really great idea, and it kind of leads me into my next question, just kind of on that microlevel. What keeps you coming back day after day? Like what do you focus on on a daily basis to try and be positive and to try and enjoy your job a little bit more on that daily basis?

Andrew: Well, I mean, I’ve had a couple moments where I kind of ventured away from teaching, and I’ve felt not fulfilled. There’s something about just how challenging this job is that is what makes it so rewarding. Every day I screw up, and every day I get a chance to do it better, and every day I get a chance to kind of make up for the mistakes I made the day before or the mistakes I made with the lesson before, or how I didn’t connect, so I don’t know that there’s that many jobs that give you that many opportunities to make mistakes, challenge yourself, learn from it, get better. I just think if I were in sort of like a more typical nine-to-five job that didn’t require much in the way of innovation or imagination and creativity, dude, I would be so bored and so not fulfilled. That’s a selfish thing. I just think like, “It fills me up. It fills my bucket up, and I really love it,” but then I also think I enjoy the challenge, and I enjoy thinking about what I can do better.

Now, that’s also part of the bane of a teacher’s existence, is, I feel like I’m never not a teacher. I think I’ve said this on some podcast before, my teacher brain almost never shuts off. Even into the summer and Christmas break, I’m still thinking about, “Okay, what’s a better lesson I could do? What’s a better curriculum? How could I better connect with this kid?” There’s usually about a couple weeks in July where the noise of my brain has shut down, and I can enjoy life and not be a teacher, and then a couple weeks later, it’s like, “It’s almost August. I better start thinking about curriculum and projects.” That’s both awesome and it’s a little bit challenging, but I don’t know. I stay pretty positive.

I think last year I had kind of a rough year, and I would tell anyone who would listen on this podcast, or people I’d meet on the street, total strangers, this is probably one of the most challenging years I’ve had. This year’s gone a lot better, and I think going through that, going through a rough year and then kind of seeing the strides you’ve made kind of come to fruition, that’s an awesome feeling. I just think it’s really important to think about, kids learn so much more what they see versus what they hear and what they do, and I think it’s really important as a teacher that we model that positivity and then they pick up on that. I don’t know. I think if I weren’t in this job and I didn’t do this every day, I would not be a positive person, because I can be pretty pessimistic if left to my own devices.

Tim: Yeah, that’s true, and that actually leads me into my next question, next thing that I think we can both talk about. What are some specific strategies that you have to just make sure that you are appreciating what you do, to kind of keep your mindset right, to kind of stay positive, both on the short-term day-to-day basis, and also thinking long-term? Like what do you do to make sure that your mindset is right?

Andrew: Well, I think as reflective teachers, as critical thinking teachers, it’s really easy to beat ourselves up with all the things that didn’t work and ways we could have done things better, and that is what makes people effective and good teachers, but I think at some time, also, you have to kind of shut that down and be thankful and grateful for the things that are going really well. I know it’s kind of cheesy. I’ve transitioned a little bit, and I don’t just teach middle school anymore. I’m back to traveling between some buildings. I travel between a middle school and a high school, and I just, I model thankfulness to my students, and I model giving kids props. It sounds really cheesy, but this always works.

Like if you’re feeling a little bit down, you’re feeling a little bit burnout, frustrated, angry, and who hasn’t felt those things at least once during every single day as a teacher? Right? But when you do feel those things, to try to kind of flip that around on its head and just be like, “You know what, guys? I am so thankful for how hard you’ve been working,” and sometimes we got to bend the truth a little bit with our students. Sometimes it’s like, “I’m not really saying what I want to say to you guys right now, because you’re kind of driving me crazy, but I’m going to flip this around and on the positive. I’m going to say something really nice to you and how we’re doing.”

I think it just kind of comes back to you. I don’t mean to get all hippy-dippy and grand karmic universe stuff, but, I mean, I’ve seen kids that I’m conflict with, like they’re misbehaving, and I’m trying to get them to do more in their artwork, and they’re not trying to hear it, and they’re getting a little bristly and edgy. I’ll just say, “Hey, man, I love how hard you’ve been working on this project. I can see that you’ve really come a long way. I really appreciate that, and I know you can do this.”

You can just see these kids kind of melt in front of you, because they’re all ready to just one-up you and go to battle, but then when you spin it around and you’re like, “Get positive,” despite the fact that our knee-jerk reaction is to be like, “Listen here, man, I’m going to tell you what the deal is,” those kids just kind of melt. I don’t know. I think there is some kind of mental jujitsu you can do as a teacher, like when you are feeling down and burnout, just really try hard to verbally, out loud, tell your kids something awesome, something positive, something that you’re thankful for. I’m going to give you another example. I know I’ve been talking for a long time, but I have an eighth-hour class that is just awesome. It’s the final class of the day, and every teacher knows that’s one of usually the worst classes. That one and the one right before lunch, right?

Tim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Andrew: These guys, man, they come in, and they work hard. They are serious, down to business. Almost nobody has any missing assignments. Everyone’s working really hard, and I probably tell them three to four times a week, as they’re leaving to go out the door to go home, I’m like, “Hey, guys, I just want to tell you I appreciate the heck out of you guys. You’re working hard. I love seeing you guys every day.” I just don’t think kids hear that sort of stuff enough, and I think when you kind of put that out in the universe, it kind of changes not only their brain chemistry, but your brain chemistry. It’s hard to be down on yourself or down on things when you’re just like, “I’m really thankful for you guys, and you’re awesome,” and you just kind of start to believe that stuff, you know?

Tim: Yeah, and I think there’s a lot to be said about that positive mindset, because it’s something that I do as well, something that … A strategy that I used to use in my classroom all the time, and I still do, like with my kids in the car, on my own kids as we’re driving to school, is, you just start the class or just start the day with, “Hey, what’s one thing that you’re really looking forward to today?” Or, “What’s one thing that we can be positive about today?” I think when you’re always looking ahead, when you’re always looking forward to something, then you can really, really change your mindset and really kind of get that positivity going. But then, like you said, it’s also important to kind of reflect on that and appreciate what’s going on in the moment. It’s okay to say, “Hey, I love what you guys are doing right now. I really appreciate how hard you work.”

Whatever it may be, it’s always good to stop class once and just talk to them about what’s going well, or at the end of the day say, “Hey, I really appreciated X, Y, and Z today.” That positive mindset, like you said, is kind of contagious, and I think that that’s helpful for everyone, for your kids especially, but for you as a teacher as well, to kind of stay positive. Go ahead.

Andrew: Well, I want to kind of ask you a question, because I’m kind of thinking about, this talk is really about motivation, us, the teacher, and being engaged and fired up and fighting back against burnout, but we’re also kind of venturing into notions of classroom management and kind of building that positive environment, because that’s really integral to get teachers to be engaged and inspired. We’ve both had those classes that just kind of drive us bonkers. Right? For whatever reason. Too many kids, bad chemistry with kids, wrong time of day. I was just thinking I have a class right now, first period, and usually you think kids are like half asleep first period, but they just, man, they love each other, and they just love talking. They just never stop talking.

I’m like, “Okay,” I bet I tell them 15 times at class period, “Hey, guys, we are being way too loud. Hey, that table, you’re out of control. Knock it off. I told you to get back to drawing.” Why do you think kids misbehave? That’s the question I want to kind of get to, and then I want to get back to this hypothetical or real class. Why do you think that kids misbehave?

Tim: Oh, man. There’s a lot of reasons, but I think it goes back to what we said a little while ago about kids have needs that need to be met. Right? There are certain things that everybody needs, and at the age that our kids are at, social interaction is way up there. A lot of times, kids don’t get those relationships outside of school. They don’t get them at home, and so they’re really looking for something when they’re in school. That’s just kind of how the teenage brain works for a lot of it. It’s tough to fight that, but on a base level, I think kids are a lot of times looking for something that they need that they’re not getting outside of school.

Andrew: The thing that I think that they need and want that they’re not getting is attention and like, “I see you,” right? Like that kind of props. Think about this kid who’s like, “I want attention,” whether it’s positive or negative, and you just stop the entire class and you’re like, “Hey, this table over here, I done told you three times already,” you got everyone’s eyeballs to stop what they were doing and turn and look at that table, look at that kid. I mean, just … Like I can almost see and feel the power that just shifted from you to then that kid, and he got everyone to look at him. Right?

Now think about if we flip that around on the positive, and instead of always calling out all these little negative things, and we instead go like, “Holy cow, you guys, hold on. Stop. Stop drawing. Look at what this person is doing right here with their shading, their painting,” whatever. “This is what I’m talking about, you guys.” Then the sort of norm is like not this negative recognition. It’s like this positive recognition. That’s kind of like a long-term game thing with your classroom management, but I’ve been trying to do a little bit more of that.

The funny thing is, that’s like, back when I was an elementary teacher, I didn’t yell at all the kids who weren’t sitting down criss-cross applesauce. I looked at the kids who were and was like, “Thank you, Billy, for sitting down like I wanted you to,” and everyone’s like, “Oh, I want to be like Billy.” But somehow, I think as secondary teachers, we kind of forget that, and we’re just like, “These are young adults. I’m going to start talking to them like that,” and then we just jump to right all the things that are going wrong, so …

Tim: I-

Andrew: I don’t know. I think I’m more like an elementary teacher.

Tim: I just think that that positive mindset, like we’ve talked about here, has a really big effect. Yeah, I think changing your mindset to get in line with that can be really helpful when it comes to staying engaged as a teacher and staying positive with what’s going on. Let me finish it up here. We got one last question that I want to ask you. What advice do you have for teachers who are just kind of grinding it out? We’ve talked about trying to keep it positive, but if you can’t do that, if you’re still feeling like you’re just going through the motions on a daily basis, you’re not loving your job, what would you tell them? Where can people go, or where should they go, in order to find inspiration, or how can they change things up to make them want to keep coming back to their classroom?

Andrew: Well, I mean, I think one of the things that it’s tough if you’re a new teacher, or you’ve switched over jobs, or something like that, but I think trying to put things in perspective is really helpful. I know it’s tough, and sometimes it’s hard to kind of switch gears and think logically instead of emotionally. I was guilty of that last year. Like I said, I was just like, “This is the worst year ever, worst year ever,” and then it’s like, “Oh, second year, oh, things are going better.” Right? I didn’t have that perspective to know that I was kind of like in a rebuilding year and it was just going to take time to get better.

If you have other colleagues that you can talk to, I guarantee every veteran teacher’s had a bad year, a bad class, a bad semester. Not that it’s just commiseration, but it’s like the perspective that like, “Yeah, you’re going to get out of this, and you’re going to be fine,” and actually like the old adage of, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” you’re going to be a better teacher for having a year where things kind of didn’t work out, but you’ve got to be able to pull your mindset up to focus on your kids to want to come back next year and to want to give it another go. I think all it requires is that one kid, that one kid that you know you’ve made a really big positive influence in their life, and if you weren’t there, I mean, that kid just wouldn’t have had that.

I mean, I think that’s what keeps me coming back every year, and I’ve got hundreds of kids like that, whether it’s kids when I first started teaching who now we’re kind of connected via Facebook or Instagram or something, or … The kids that I have now, I mean, you just think about this sort of positive influence that we cast throughout our career, man, it’s an awesome job, and I really mean it in like the overpowering power, like just awesome responsibility that we as teachers have.

Tim: Yeah. I think that’s really well said, and I think that’s probably a good place to leave it. We’ll take that advice, we’ll run with it, and we’ll close it out there. Andrew, thank you very much for the awesome advice, the awesome insight into what’s going on-

Andrew: Man-

Tim: … in the classroom.

Andrew: … my pleasure. It must be break, because we are just spewing positivity, and sometimes that’s not always our forte, so we must be relaxing and kicking it and feeling some good vibes.

Tim: I think so, and I think that’s a good tone for this episode. That’s something we needed.

Andrew: Right on, man.

Tim: We’ll talk to you later, man. Thank you to Andrew for coming on. As always, he’s very well spoken, has a lot of great ideas. I hope our conversation about this has been helpful for you, and I hope you can take some time to appreciate all of the good things that are going on in your classroom and start thinking, what are those short-term things that you really love? What are your long-term goals? Just spend some time in the next week or so thinking about these things and getting your mindset right, and if you’re interested in another perspective on this, check out the Everyday Art Room podcast from last Thursday. Cassie Stephens talked about how she hits the reset button over break. She has some great advice, and it’s worth a listen. You can find it on under the podcast tab, and even though it doesn’t seem possible, Cassie is even more entertaining and more charming than Andrew and me, so I think you’ll enjoy that listen.

Then, really quickly, before we wrap up, I want to remind you to sign up for the Art Ed Now Conference. It is just over a month away, February 3rd, and it is the best day of professional development that you can find. Alexa Meade, an amazing contemporary artist, is going to be our featured presenter. There are over 20 other incredible presentations that cover every topic in art ed. I’ve seen some previews of some of the presentations, and let me tell you, you are going to love them. Some of them are hilarious. Some of them are really inspiring, but every single one is going to entertain you, and it’s going to make you think. Check out all the details about the conference and register at You do not want to miss it.

Now, next week, we will be back to bring in the New Year, Andrew and I together again for the second straight episode. We’re going to be answering some listener questions in a New Year’s mailbag that should be quite a bit of fun. If you have any questions, send them to, and we’ll see if we can get some of your questions on the air. I hope you can join us next week. Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Remember that you can sign up for our email list at Now go enjoy your break. Thanks for listening.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.