By Doni Joszef –
The school halls are abuzz with eagerness and ambition.
Renewed hopes and refreshed aspirations permeate the atmosphere.
This year will be a success story like no other, and they have nifty notebooks, perky pencil sharpeners, and super snazzy iPad cases to prove it. A starry-eyed sense of optimism is palpable.
But old habits are hard to break, and new habits are equally hard to learn.
Snazzy school supplies are a great start, but a start is just that: a start.
Frothy resolutions – though well intended – tend to go short lived, unless secured by substantive strategies to perpetuate a plan beyond the buzz of getting the latest & greatest gadgets for academic achievement. To paraphrase the wisdom of King Solomon – “plan some strategies for yourself before setting out to battle” (Proverbs 24:6).
While this observation may surely resonate with students, it holds an equal dose of relevance for teachers, as well.
Like their super stimulated students, teachers embark on similar strides of enthusiasm, only to lose this initial kick of momentum as soon as the ride hits some choppy turbulence.
And who could blame them?
Today’s teachers have one of the most difficult tasks of any profession.
To inspire students in an age of rampant cynicism and societal skepticism is an intensly challenging (and occasionally rewarding) occupation. Add the skimpy salary, the 24/7 email (which, for teachers, may be more accurately described as a perpetual parent complaint box), the ever shrinking attention-span of today’s students, and the ever growing pressure to meet ever escalating scholastic standards, and what you have is hardly the optimal design for mental sanity.
Without taking proactive steps toward securing some semblance of equilibrium, teachers may feel deflated and defeated quicker than they can say “is it summer yet?”
With this in mind, we’d like to share some tips and tidbits recommended by education researchers as strategic points for teachers to ponder as they set out to inspire young hearts and minds.
Without crystalizing and clarifying our goals, we quickly lose perspective of the overall forrest, and get caught up in the nitty gritty details of the trees. Goals may be scholastic in nature (“I want my class to pass the regents with flying colors”) or humanistic (“I want to develop a meaningful relationship with each of my students”), or professional (“I want to learn new tricks of my tricky trade”), or all of the above.
Keep these goals in mind as you go about your journey, and use them as reference points to assess the quality of your progress in achieving them. Without a concrete conception of our final destination, the journey becomes blurrier and more confusing with each passing step.
TEACH THE MIND, TOUCH THE HEART
In a world so enamored by “Big Data” and all things digital, the heart and soul of teaching can easily get lost in the shuffle of screens, statistics, and state standards. Students are thirsting for genuinely warm, sincerely engaged role models with whom to connect. Of course, there’s a curriculum to cover and we don’t suggest replacing practical pedagogy with peppy picnic outings. But the penetrating words of Carl Jung remain truer today than ever before:
“One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings.
The curriculum is necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.”
DON’T TAKE THINGS TOO PERSONALLY
Today’s students are a challenging bunch.
Their minds wander, their patience wane, and their willingness to submit to the charges and challenges of authority figures seems to slide at an equal rate as their shrinking attention spans. In retaliation, they may actively (or passive aggressively) undermine your well intended wishes, press your emotional buttons, and do all the clever things students like to do to drive their teachers insane. It becomes a sort of cat and mouse game, where students bait teachers to test the lines of their limits. This, of course, makes the experience more punitive than productive, and may give even the most talented teachers a reason to feel depleted.
Underline and highlight and laminate and internalize the following statement:
These antics ARE NOT personal attacks.
They have nothing to do with you, and everything to do with the pent up restlessness of your students. They may project their frustration onto you and the rules you seek to enforce, but they don’t hate you; they simply hate the fact that they have to sit in tight desks for a rather long and laborious school day. As hard as it may be, try not to take things too personally. Just as we irrationally resent meter-maids who sometimes decorate our windshields with parking tickets for no other reason than the fact that they’re doing their jobs, students will inevitably resent their teachers – no matter how warm and welcoming they try to be – simply because they’re trying to theirs. It’s not personal, so try not to personalize it.
CARE FOR YOURSELF AS YOU CARE FOR OTHERS
Teaching is a so-called “caring profession” which means it requires emotional (in addition to intellectual) effort on a relatively constant basis. As a psychotherapist, I can empathize with the challenge teachers face in balancing self-care with other-care. Our jobs are personally demanding and can tug at our feelings on a multitude of levels. If we don’t nourish our own emotional needs, we’ll hardly be able to nourish those of others.
It’s not self-indulgence; its self-maintenance.
We need to be continuously conscious of our emotional equilibrium if we are to be truly impactful and genuinely influential in the lives of those in our charge. So, remember, self-care is an invaluable ingredient in the recipe of any caring profession – teaching most certainly included!
We wish all teachers and students an incredible year of intellectual, social, emotional, and spiritual growth!