Dear Tired Teacher Douglas and your Equally Tired Students,
I know you and your students are tired. I know you’re all weary. I know sometimes you want to quit and then you--Douglas--call your wife, exasperated: “Why did I choose such ridiculously difficult and emotionally challenging work?” You had a pity party right there on the phone with your wife hoping you could pull yourself out of it, didn’t you, Douglas?
It’s okay. She knows you’ve chosen a vocation (or, should I say, a vocation has chosen you) that is wildly difficult. And schooling is wildly difficult for your students, too. The “litany of social stressors” (Jeff Duncan-Andrade, 2009) that invade their bodies do so without their consent. Your students simply do not have control over the stress they’re under. It’s at home, it’s in their friend groups, it’s because of the work you and your colleagues give them, it’s even coming at them on their phones. Do they, and thus do you, ever take time to reset?
To Douglas and your students (and anyone else reading this): I encourage you to reset during this upcoming break. Saint Ignatius Loyola reminds us that it will take “a courageous heart” to really dive into a retreat like the one you deserve. A reset “must not be a matter of routine.” How can you courageously reset in the New Year? Here are a few thoughts from a fellow teacher like you.
First, reserve class time for focused silence.
Buddhist philosophy has within it a powerful idea: Noble Silence. This is the silence in which the mind, body, and spirit are all calm. Douglas, go to bed early the night before your first day back. Then, when you get to school, meditate in your classroom (I always love me some Headspace). When your students arrive, talk to them about the power of Noble Silence and then build that into your daily lessons. Honor them by protecting time for them, and you, to sit in silent solitude.
Second, encourage your students to ground themselves in their inner calmness through incorporating yoga into the classroom.
In your class, help students regenerate their intellectual energy by celebrating their physical bodies. This can be done beautifully with “Choga” (Chair Yoga) poses. A little Chair Extended Side Angle here, a little Chair Pidgeon there; it all serves to slow down their minds and ground themselves in the calm that is always here, now. Your and your students’ bodies remember the trauma you all have experienced. You would benefit deeply from a recalibration into the power that your bodies possess. Stretch, breathe, and feel your strength.
Third, never forget the power of community.
In my first year teaching at my last school, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Every day, we protected time to pray for her and for the needs of my students (it is a Catholic school). To help my students deepen their understanding of community, I asked simple questions like “Who is a mother figure in your life?” and “What brings you hope?” The fact is that we are made for community. Our brains’ neurons literally mirror the neurons in our community-members when they tell us stories. So, if the truth is that we are made for each other, make time for that in your classroom by sharing of yourself and inviting your students to do the same.
Eventually I invited my mother to speak to the class who had been praying for her for so long. It was a beautiful festival of joyous tears. You are made for community, too, Douglas, not just your students. Remember that.
Fourth, write yourselves letters.
On the first day back, have your students give themselves the gift of loving words by writing themselves letters that ask them why they are amazing, why they matter, and why they are blessed. Write them each a short letter to remind them about the things you love about them; this will give them a jumping off point and will reground you in the relationships that sustain even the tired-est of teachers. Douglas, remember, you can’t give what you don’t have, so write yourself one of these letters, too. You want children to know that they are loved and that they matter each and every day, so love yourself first and then give it away.