Trading in homework for relationships

Have you experienced working your ass off and your students not responding AT ALL? 

Ugh.😕 For me the belief that I “HAVE TO” get them to engage was actually causing me to push my kiddos farther away. I read research and went to conferences that challenged me to let go of this mindset.

There was a lot to letting go to a “Have to” mindset both for myself and my students. Believing in "have to" sucked me in to adopting all of the responsibility that my students refused to pick up.  One of my favorite analogies is “dragging someone down the street.” What happens when you drag someone down the street and you let go?

They just lay there!

None of my extra work in the form of dragging made my students more willing to get up and walk.

This goes along with the work of Dr. Stembridge in his book Culturally responsive education, which I just had the privilege to facilitate for The Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession. He states, 

I know many students who have learned to minimize the risk in their cognitive engagement by relying on their teachers to over-manage the emotional investment for the students.


It was time to stop dragging and allow people to lay in the street if they wanted to. Maybe that's exactly where they needed to be for this moment in time. It took my most defiant students to help me realize this and I am SO grateful for their determination to be themselves on their terms regardless of the social conditioning that had me believing a lot of "have to's" for them as well. They refused to share my made up worries and forced me to see what was truly important; 💕 RELATIONSHIPS.

I decided to lean into the research and, quit dragging students down the street of learning. I decided as long as they weren’t willing to do any work, we may as well focus on building our relationships. Since they were blowing off the test or work, I would find a way to let go as well! Yep, I threw my hands up and let it go. I realize that’s unheard of for a teacher, and that there are plenty out there who will and have judged me for it but innovation doesn't come from living safely inside status quo. 

I knew I was going to have to get WAY outside of the 📦 which is uncomfortable and scary but worth it to find a solution rather than keep slogging along the same old path or beating my head against the same wall till I completely burn out.

This transformation was amazing because, in the end, my STUDENTS were the ones to come around and start believing in their potential and education. They told ME where they needed to go to make the most growth. They helped decide what the learning could look like for it to be more engaging. I liked my job so much better because rather than focusing on school work and freaking out about standards, I was now focusing on kids; their hopes, dreams, struggles, insecurities, celebrations, and families.

Relationship matters more than anything and when I put that first, I gained 3 months academic growth in math and reading without teaching anything additional! I knew this had to do with the idea that, "emotion and reason are threads of the same fabric; to remove one compromises the integrity of the other." Stembridge 2020  By ignoring the emotional needs of my students to connect first, I was compromising the integrity of their ability to learn.

My most powerful relationship builder was walking home with every one of my students each year. Building a meaningful bridge between families and my classroom did more to create a safe space for my students to come be vulnerable and learn than ANY CURRICULUM OR TRAINING I had tried.

Home visits aren’t always the safest (read the Salty Nuts chapter in my book) and aren’t always possible but I do recommend trading out meetings and grading an overabundance of tests for them.  I shortened my classroom tests because I don’t need 20 examples to know if a student understands a concept but I do need more time to connect in a way that will engage my students.

Instead of grading piles of papers after school (this meant not assigning so many in the first place), I chose to…

  • Chat with family members about POSITIVE things only,
  • Take a moment with a student,
  • Leave some special notes for your students in their journals,
  • Find a way to celebrate the humans we are interacting with.

🍎 I promise it will come back in the form of academic growth and you will feel less overwhelmed and find more purpose and meaning in the work you do as an educator.


About this author:


Teacher, author, and life coach, Jamie Johnson, has spent her life exploring and learning how to teach without sacrificing a high quality of life. Most of her 20 years of teaching were in bilingual elementary classrooms. She has had many roles as a teacher from a bilingual elementary classroom to serving with the Peace Corps in Indonesia and developing an alternative distance learning program in the rural US.

Most recently, Jamie has founded where she serves as a transformational life coach for educators and schools. Her fist book, “Teach and Still Have Time to Pee” is available on Kindle and Amazon

 What people are saying

I've always joked that my desk could be clean if I could simply catch up, but that this would happen at the same rate in which it takes me to fill a bucket with a hole in the bottom. How does one teacher continue to teach like her hair is on fire, keep up with lesson plans, remain in compliance with timelines, balance a work and home life - and still find time to pee? It's refreshing to know that many of us feel the same way - so much so that an entire book has been compiled to remind us that we are indeed worth more than the piles on our desks.
—Betsy Kling, Special Education Teacher

Finally, someone who gets the mental, emotional, and physical drain that is teaching and instead of starting out telling me what I need to do to be better, the author starts out telling me to take care of ME!
—Myree Conway, Early Education Teacher


I had many dreams when I became a teacher. I knew that sacrifices would be made; I just didn't think it would be finding the time to go to the bathroom. This book helped me find time to have a life. It helped me bring out the best in me for others and myself to enjoy. After reading this, I started going through my piles of stuff to see what is holding me back from experiencing joy in my life. If it doesn't meet my goals, I got rid of it. As teachers, we didn't spend all of our time and money going to college to waste away our lives. We don't have to do it all ourselves.
—Kimberly Bouch, Middle School Teacher


Calling all new and budding teachers, this is our reminder that we can have it all without feeling obligated to do it all! I know we feel like we have a lot to prove, but your intro has planted the idea that we've got this.
—Pearl Schramm, Early Education Teacher


Jamie J’s down to earth, funny and personalized writing is exactly what all teachers need to feel empowered, understood and stand as a team together with other teachers. In teaching, it can often feel like we are by ourselves but the message I take is that we all feel like this and we can do something about it. We are worth it and we are great teachers. Teachers are so under appreciated and this book makes me feel like I am worthy and that I am doing a good job!
—Claudette Povey, High School Teacher


Going through the introduction alone, I found myself nodding my head and thinking “ Yep, that’s me!”
—Linda Lang, Elementary School Teacher


Jamie hit the nail on the head by reminding teachers that we ARE worth more than any work waiting for us! It is a hard job to be a teacher-of any age group! There is so much asked of you and you just want to do a good job and to do it right. This book says, sure we all want that, but you have to remember that you are going to screw up, make major mistakes, and you won't perfect...and the big take away, IT IS OKAY not to have it all together all of the time!
—Kellie Herndon, Early Education Teacher

The introduction alone hooked me. It called to me because it described me. I am that teacher with the pile on her desk, never saying no, always trying to do more. I’m also the teacher that is exhausted, pushing through and who needs to learn how to balance herself in her job and her life. I often feel alone in these feelings but just the introduction justified for me that I’m NOT alone!
—Melanie Ford, Elementary School Teacher

Teachers are lifeboats in busy waters - keeping everything afloat amidst chaotic times. However, when the captain of the lifeboat is told to keep the ship from filling with water, administer CPR to those struggling for air, hoist the anchor, signal the coast guard, and ensure the safety of the people in the lifeboat, it’s hard to hold on! Teachers do this on a daily basis, with grace and compassion. This book helps celebrate the victories of teachers, the captains of the lifeboats, and the shapers of tomorrow!
—Maddie Currier, Special Education Teacher

I am enough! I am good at what I do! I make a difference! Jamie gave me the permission and validation I need to believe I do enough, even though I cannot do it all!
—Julie Wysocky, Elementary School Teacher

"One of the best forms of self-care is freeing your voice, even in the face of bullying, and finding validation in being heard." The phrase "freeing your voice" is what sticks with me. I have certainly faced bullying moments when it felt like something was stuck in my throat - that something was my voice wanting to be freed in order to be heard. I matter, my voice matters, and if it is important to me and my values, then it is worth speaking out. Even if the bully I'm speaking to does not hear me, there are other ears that that will, other people who have voices that resonate with mine. But to find these people, and for these people to find me, I must start by freeing my voice, speaking out and speaking up.
—Kathleen Johnson, NASA Science Curriculum Developer and Teacher

"TAKING CARE OF MY JOY, BRINGS THAT JOY RIGHT BACK INTO MY WORK." This quote was my favorite. I need to make this my mantra.
—Melissa Rodriguez, Elementary School Teacher

You can say no. You can set boundaries. You can bend the rules. Doing these things are what makes you a happy teacher, and only a happy teacher can be an effective teacher.
—Jess Mahoney, Middle School Special Education Teacher

Jamie J has fantastic ideas on how to keep teachers (and others) sane, happy, and healthy. This book reminds us that we are important as PEOPLE, not just as educators, and she reminds us to celebrate our successes every day. 
— Kaleigh Killian, High School Teacher


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