By: Tom Cody
Take care of yourself so that you can take care of others.
Educators have one of the most demanding, frustrating, profoundly important jobs in the world. Teaching is difficult under the best possible conditions…and that is rarely the case in our 2020 schools. Your job description is simple: we lock you in a classroom for 180 days with young people who do not have a fully-developed pre-frontal cortex, and you are expected to perform daily miracles with them five or six times a day.
You cannot possibly succeed in this daunting task unless you take care of yourself first. To aid in the human development of young people (by the way, that’s your main purpose as a teacher), you have to tend to your inner life and “fill your own cup.” According to experts, teachers are expected to make roughly 10,000 decisions per day in the classroom. There is virtually no chance that you can pull this off successfully every day without making the conscious CHOICE to be aware of and tend to your own thinking. If you don’t have your own positive, effective inner life then you cannot offer the same to your students.
It’s important to remember that you did sign up for this demanding occupation. You chose to be an educator, unless you somehow ended up at wrong table by mistake at the career fair in college! Once you’ve taken on this profoundly important job, it’s your responsibility to maintain a generally positive approach to dealing with students. There will be obstacles. There will be schedule changes, jammed Xerox machines, slouching students with their ear buds in and hoodies up. These obstacles should not be a surprise to you. They happened in 2019 and they will most certainly happen again in 2021.
One of most important catch phrases in our Top 20 Training world is “Keep Your Day.” Do not give your day away to trivial, negative, unexpected events that inevitably occur in a typical school day. When the school’s network is down, do not give your day away. When a negative parent email arrives, do not give your day away. You don’t have to like these conditions, but you have no control over them. All we have at the end of the day is our ability to choose our own experience.
One of the most compelling reasons to become involved with Jostens Renaissance: this is truly a program that is committed to empowering a genuine, effective, positive culture in schools. Many schools in America are ineffective, not because of their curriculum, but due to their extremely negative school culture. Picture a beautiful, crystal clear lake. When we dump trash in the lake, it is no longer a wonderful place to be. Our own “lake” is our own responsibility…we need to keep it clean. Effective teachers have to develop the ability to withstand negativity from outside sources: parents, fellow teachers, or uncooperative students.
Negativity swirls into school culture just as a tornado rips through a community. Teachers who take responsibility and care for their inner lives are careful to take cover when these tornadoes of negativity blow into the staff workrooms or the school parking lots. There is an art to hearing others “vent” without becoming infected. (Remember: educators’ negativity is usually transferred directly to the students.) Moments of negativity are to be expected, but once it becomes a habit it creates a serious culture problem. Bottom line: learning can only occur in safe, positive environments.
Many teachers become easily frustrated because they don’t always see immediate, positive results from their work with students. Consider the Chinese bamboo tree. Once planted, this tree can require four years of care (water, sunlight, etc.) before it emerges from the ground. In year five, some of these bamboo trees can grow up to eighty feet high! Similarly, we often see very little progress with our students in the first few years, but find substantial growth years later.
Perfectionists will find a teaching career extremely frustrating. Sometimes, even if we take care of ourselves and create a positive learning environment, the results might not be immediate – and certainly not perfect.
Fill your cup by associating yourself with as many positive people as you can. Fill your cup by developing the belief that all students can learn. Fill your cup by making the choice to be aware of your thinking. Then pour whatever you can spare into the students’ cups. They will remember you and your belief in them forever.
Thank you for being a teacher.
Tom Cody is a founding partner and trainer with Top 20 Training, a group of former educators dedicated to revolutionizing education through social emotional learning. He can be reached at [email protected]