Teaching WellBeing

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Gladwell off the mark with class size

A few weeks ago Outliers and the Tipping Point author, Malcolm Gladwell, gave the keynote address at the Imagining Ontario’s Future Conference. He’s a brilliant writer and thinker – but if he wants to speak on K-12 education he should spend some time in a classroom. Preferably a class of 35 Grade 7s in a portable resourced and designed for 25, in the unaircondiditoned heat of a sweltering Ontario June day.

He caused a bit of a stir in education circles. He said that reducing class size was pursing a dead end – what mattered most was improving the quality of teachers.

Now I agree that quality teachers are key to having a good educational experience, but what kind of quality education can an individual deliver in an over-filled, under-resourced classroom?

Not surprisingly, the Toronto Star’s Saturday’s paper on May 16 included many letters from incensed teachers.

I was one of them. Here’s what I wrote:

Advice to Mr. Gladwell: stick to what you know. Teaching K-12 is not like speaking to a university lecture hall full of grown-ups. Teachers negotiate diverse levels of academic ability, facility in English, behavioural tendencies, and home-environment influences in classes of children from ages 4-18. In his book, Outliers, Mr. Gladwell states it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert in any field. I have my 10,000 hours in teaching K-12; he has about 10,000 to go.

No Air-brushing please

Yesterday I had plans to do 12 sun salutations when I woke up, go to work, come home and go for a walk to enjoy the warm, sunny day. That would be followed by making dinner and lunch for tomorrow, call a friend to make plans, prepare a workshop, prepare some applications for courses, update this blog, and about 6 other items on my ever-growing to-do list, finished of with a half hour of yoga.

I managed to wake up, go to work, take a short walk, eat dinner, call a friend (who wasn’t even home – so that cut down on time used up!) and research some applications. I felt frazzled – because I hadn’t accomplished anything that I felt I really needed to. Then I felt cruddy – because I hadn’t completed my list. Then I felt guilty – because I don’t even have toddlers to care for and I still couldn’t get much done so early in the week. Then I felt cruddy again – because if I really were a superwoman I’d have toddlers – or atleast a cat.

But I did manage to sit in meditation for 5 short minutes – just long enough to quell the growing anxiety in my chest. In that quiet, I asked myself: who am I competing with that I have this anxiety about having it all together?

We are fed this socially air-brushed ideal of what our daily life should look like. We should all be happily married, economically secure, accomplishing everything in an organized and optimized fashion, eathing perfectly balanced meals, and filling our day with perfectly balanced activities and goals, and of course looking quite perfect as well with no interruptions, dramas, or emotional reactions to anything or anyone.

If that’s not the photo of our daily life, we must be doing something wrong. Or so we’re led to believe.

Real people develop real character and life experience for the very reason that their life isn’t airbrushed. It’s brushing up against imperfection that gives us our wisdom, strength, compassion, stories and laugh lines.

Give yourself a break. You don’t have to do everything, and you don’t have to do it perfectly. No one is watching. No one is going to evalute you. Do the work that takes care of you and those you have in your care. The rest of the to-do list will get done – you know it will. Commit to not doing it with anxiety. Every morning and evening I light a candle, do some relaxing breaths, remember what is important to me, what I’d like to accomplish, what I need and what I am grateful for. Sometimes all I can manage is 2 minutes, sometimes I have time for a 30 minute meditation. The point is that it calms my centre, refocuses me on what is important and what isn’t. The calm beginning and end to my day assures me that everything will be ok, that I’m doing fine.

In the fashion world air-brushing has been exposed for the unrealistic expectation-maker that it is. Jessica Simpson is celebrated on the cover of this issue of Marie-Claire sans make-up or retouching. We should keep in mind to not try to live up to air-brushed expectations of daily living as well.

What’s Your Key?

I wonder if I would have read anything on this blog and considered it helpful when I was at my stressed-out-teacher worst? Back then I’m not even sure I knew I was stressed out. I think I assumed I was fine. I mean – I felt stress – all the telltale signs of it – but it never occurred to me to see that as something negative even though it felt negative. I was just doing the daily grind of what every teacher does, flavoured by my own teaching ideals. I just assumed since I loved being a teacher this must just be how it was supposed to feel.

It never occurred to me to question the job itself and how it’s done. ‘That’s just how teaching is’ is the message I heard. In June – after the bulk of the year is done, reporting is done and you’re basically just holding the kids at bay until the holidays – I’d have a giant crying meltdown once I got home. I’d always assumed this was normal.

Until I realized it happened every June. After my fourth June, it also happened at the end of August – right when you’re supposed to be refreshed and enthusiastic to start another year. That’s when I knew I was stressed out. Stress wasn’t the key – unhappiness was. It was the key that unlocked the door or my denial and placed me on a path to wellness. Everyone has their key. My friend got a big tumour (luckily benign) – that was her key. Until teaching becomes a profession where teacher wellness is approached proactively, rather than reactively; until unreasonable workload is considered a problem and not a norm – we need to be on the lookout for our key and open the door for ourselves to wellbeing.

Keeping Busy?

Are you keeping busy?

A couple of people asked me this recently – a part of a long-time-no-see kind of greeting.

My automatic response was: I’m busier than I need to be.

I wasn’t being entirely honest. Ok – not at all honest, actually. The truth is I haven’t been busy lately. Work has slowed to a comfortable pace and I’m enjoying my time just.. enjoying things, taking things slow. What was it that kept me from answering honestly? It was like some subliminal vibe informing me that the appropriate response is: Yes, I’ve been keeping busy.

What is it with our society? How did BUSY become a vituous quality worthy of a friendly greeting? If I’m not “keeping busy” then what is the image being projected upon me? That I’m unprofessional? Unintelligent? Spoiled for having time on my hands? Sloth-like?

I’m not trying to make a big issue out of a small well-meaning comment by friends. It just made me realize that our society in general seems to have an obsession with BUSYness? Are we afraid the BUSYness gods are going to come raging at us and give us a good talking-to about being slackers! Yikes! Can’t you be working at what is important and living life without being busy? How can we ever discover peace and create a life where stress doesn’t cause negative anxiety and resentment if BUSYness holds such a prominent place in our psyches?

It haunts my psyche too. I’d like to exorcise it! I don’t want to be busy. I’d like to be purposeful. I’d like to do what I need to do, choose to do, want to do with my time. The hours in the day are too precious to waste on being busy.

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