Several years ago, while I was teaching high school, one of my favorite students would regularly come into my classroom and ask, “Mrs. Taylor, are you in the mood today?” From the outside that question seemed really odd, but it was a direct response from me constantly saying, “Aaron, I am not in the mood today.”
“In the mood for what?” you ask? Well, whatever antics my precocious juniors and seniors had for me. Most of them I had been teaching since middle school, so on the days when I was on top of my game I could handle their antics. But then there were those other days…
Fast forward many years later and I finally have a name for that mood. It’s actually not a mood at all, it’s mindfulness. Mindfulness is the process of being in the present moment, and not allowing outside issues and circumstances to get in the way. Classroom teachers have very little downtime in their day; (I always envied my husband’s lunch hour at his corporate job). I was lucky to get an uninterrupted 23 minutes to eat, visit the restroom and quickly check an email. Being “on” all day long can be draining and when you are distracted it leaves little brain power to handle the antics of your students. Shouldn’t they learn how to adapt to our moods? Isn’t that part of the school learning process? I used to think so, but this is what I have learned.
We can’t build relationships with students when we are not present.
When I am having a bad day, I don’t see the student that is hanging their head. When I am overly tired, I might overreact to a student’s misbehaviors. When I am not at my best, my students notice and begin to build walls between themselves and me. This is hard to hear, because we are human too, and we can’t be perfect every day. Here is what I learned about bringing my healthiest self to work every day.
Your Health Is Important
Period. Teachers are notorious for coming to work sick, overtired and worn out. Showing up is easier than getting a sub. It’s also hard to miss a valuable day of instruction. It should be obvious, but when you are sick being present with your students and practicing mindfulness in the classroom is going to take a back seat. When you are sick, you should be able to take that much-needed time to rest and recuperate. Take the time over your next holiday break to build a stash of versatile sub plans. The next part of planning for a sub is preparing your students to behave for one. Take the time to train your students on the expectations you have of their behavior when a sub is needed. Utilizing online platforms such as Applied Digital Skills and CS First are great tools to build lessons around. The instructional piece is part of the platform so the sub can focus on classroom management. Next time you need a day, whether it be the flu or just a mental health day, your sub plans are taken care of.
Fill Your Cup
One of the best pieces of advice I received during my teacher training was to find a hobby unrelated to your job that brings you joy. Something active that engages your brain and body but doesn’t drain you (watching Netflix is not a hobby). For me, it’s sketchnoting, yoga, and reading. Find what that something is and include it in your weekly schedule. Even as a busy professional, wife, and mother I carve out time to invest in myself. Put it on the calendar and make it a priority even when life gets busy. It’s a double bonus if the activity is something you can practice personal mindfulness with. Yoga and meditation are common practices that use mindfulness. Here are multiple apps that can help facilitate either of these anytime, anywhere. My personal favorites are Headspace and Calm.
Fresh Start Everyday
Make every day a fresh start, for you and your students. Act like you haven’t told them a million times to do something. Remove the phrase, “they should know better!” from your vocabulary. Maybe they should, but they don’t and that is OK. Learning to “know better” is part of the development process for them. When we remove that expectation, we start each day with a different perspective.
Mindfulness on paper looks simple, but preparing ourselves to practice it daily starts with self care and ends with a ton of grace for our students. Build out a routine to care for yourself, try out an exercise for mind/body awareness and be gracious with your students as they learn to know better.