September has made herself comfortable on my calendar. She’s brought along new faces, new intentions, new promises to keep.
I knew about September and her baggage. I knew that as soon as I stepped into the educational framework, I’d be automatically drawn to the many stories surrounding pupils and projects. So, I promised myself to meditate, I vowed to walk intentionally whenever I had to move from building to building. I promised to breathe, to drink water before I felt the incursion of teacher-zombie mode. I would not lose ‘it’ but rather be the presence I wished to be.
This year, among other assignments, I have two challenging classes to teach in regular school. One is a grade 7 class with all the fresh optimism of being in a new school and discovering new customs. I witness smiling faces, still unspoiled by threats of bureaucracy or larger, older students.
They want to learn and they want to succeed. This is a fine meeting of minds! What could be more in tune with my plans? I only need to work out disciplinary measures when the smiles turn to bullying or other anti-social disruptions of the velvety classroom atmosphere.
The other class is a 10th grade class. These dear students are in a pilot programme in which we will be working two programs in the time when usually, only one is demanded. We will be studying the English Literature program at two levels of difficulty – first the basic and then the more advanced. My role is to successfully guide them through it. I don’t expect velvety ambience but I’d love to feel student resolve to work with me towards our goal.
Be the presence, I say to myself.
Calm, attentive, rewarding effort and recognizing positive interaction – that’s my task.
But when shouting and conversations about up and coming parties take precedence over ‘George’s character’ in our story, I need to apply counter-measures.
I pull out Whole Brain Teaching techniques (thank you Chris Biffle). When the class gets noisy, I say “Class!” and they say “Yes”. If I choose to say it briskly then they must answer briskly. If I go mellow, then they must respond ‘mellow’. They need to notice me, my voice and my intonation. This is a sound measure to capture attention and refocus scattered minds.
I like it.
I am not required to yell, stand on a desk or speed-dial a Principal in order to secure quiet in the room. I use a stance in the room and one word.
So far, this word has had to be repeated a few times in order to get full-class response, but it still works better than the heavily abused ‘SSSSSHHHHH’ or the slightly more linguistic “QUIET” neither of which seems to be effective for longer than a split-second.
It’s mid-September. I still remember to walk intentionally from class to class. I’m still wearing my Canadian-bought Crocs, which are slightly more stylish than the originals, but are so utterly comfortable that they cradle my step and help me notice my feet on the patio stones that pave the underlying sand dunes of our desert school.
I remember to breathe, but usually only when I wish to remind others to breathe. Their anxiety helps me remember my own!
I drink water. Unfortunately, as I deplete my huge bottle, students deplete their own and I’m forced to reassess upholding the school rule which states that in a double lesson, the students must remain seated for the first lesson and only during lesson two, can they get up and refill their bottles or empty their bladders.
Bureaucracy! (as I feel my pulse elevate, I breathe!)
I’ve also been given an added pressure. I’ve heard through the grapevine of past students that so far, or at least as of last week, I’m considered the ‘best’ teacher in 7th grade, and true or false, that piece of info adds additional weight. What a huge standard to maintain! The best teacher keeps calm, teaches at a few levels to inspire all students, employs different media to allow all students to show off their knowledge or learn new skills. The best teacher is pleasant and utterly human. The best teacher needs to have a pleasant smell and an appearance that speaks for itself (energetic, alive, etc)
Even the second best teacher would be a title I could live with. But ‘the best’? Oy. and ommm.
In October, I have a few more projects and courses to study.
But now, mid-September, I have a chance to pause for Rosh Hashana. Here is time to read a few brilliant writers, enrich my heart, hug my family.
May I have the inner resources to deal with pressures one ion at a time, and in my doings, maintain my effort to be in the present moment.
I wish you the same!