By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller
We know a lot of teachers. And we listen to them frequently. So it is with sufficient data that we tell you the back-to-school bell has a different ring to it this year. An increasing number of teachers are not looking forward to the start of this school year. You know why.
Respect for teachers appears to be at an all-time low. You know that and so do we. Benefits are being cut. Class sizes are increasing. Legislators are raising their demands while lowering their level of support. Teachers are being held accountable for student learning while accountability for students, parents, and legislators seems to be nonexistent. The number of teachers' aides is being cut back. Experienced teachers are being let go. Union rights are under attack. State budgets are in the toilet and you know who is being asked to help with the shortfall, while you also know who is not being asked to share in that responsibility.
It's as if someone declared open season on teachers. And in the midst of mounting burdens on educators, it is time for school to begin. Welcome back. So what are we to do? Put a smile on our face and pretend all of this is not happening? Act as if the emperor really is wearing clothes? Hardly. Are we to listen to the rah-rah ramblings of those who remind us to be professional, suck it up, and win one for the Gipper (students)? Not likely.
Yet, we do care. We are professional educators. We do want to create a positive, emotionally healthy, successful year for our students and for ourselves. How can we do that in the midst of the increasing negativity that swirls around us? Perhaps the following list of twelve Teacher Mind Skills will help.
1. Remember your first day. Get back in touch with how excited you were to be a teacher on the first day you stood in front of a classroom. Reconnect with the feelings of excitement, anticipation, and joy. Recall the passion you felt that day and the sense of purpose that drove you to become an educator in the first place. Allow those feelings to fill you up and warm your entire body. Know that you can go to that place and time whenever you have a desire to feel those feelings.
2. Know that what is happening in education today is not about you. Refuse to take it personally. Let no legislator define your importance, no matter what they say or do. What they say and do is all about them. It is not about you.
3. Concentrate on what you are FOR rather than on what you are AGAINST. Giving attention and energy to what you are against weakens you and strengthens the opposition. Energize yourself by giving your time and effort to working on what you are for, what could be, the educational world that you envision.
4. Close your door. Now you are in your element. Breathe deeply. It’s just you and the students. This is where the action is. This is where you change the world one student at a time. This is what you went to college for. It's game time. Strap on your helmet. Start up the fog machine, run out there through the fog, and do what you came to do. Showtime!
5. Develop an "elevator speech." An elevator speech is a response to the question, "What do you do for a living?" It's called an elevator speech because the response is short enough to give during the duration of an elevator ride. Use the problem/solution format. State a problem and follow it up by showing how you solve it. "You know how some children who don't have the skills necessary to survive in today's world aren't as responsible as they could be? Well, I help them learn life skills, increase their competencies, and prepare for a world that is everchanging. I am a professional educator." And when you deliver that speech, stand tall.
6. Be present. It is not possible, in this moment, to make a statement at tonight's board of education meeting. Focus on the child in front of you. Return his or her smile. Hug with your eyes. Put your blinders on, blocking out the distractions. There is joy in this moment, this communication, this human encounter. Get into the now, and frustration, annoyance, and other separating emotions will disappear.
7. Accept that what is, is. Accept it on an emotional level. Yes, work to change what is with this student, this parent, this contract, this legislator on a physical level. Work to make the physical what is correspond to your greatest vision of what could be. If you invest time and energy resisting what is on an emotional level, it will sap your strength for dealing with the physical level. Your greatest possibility for altering what is on a physical level will come if you first accept what is emotionally.
8. Turn the page. Give up last week's and last year's problems. Drop old burdens. This is a new day. Literally, turn the page. Write a new goal. Make a new journal entry. Add a new favorite quote to your white board. Begin again.
9. Sit still and be silent. Chaos swirls around us. To deal with that chaos effectively, learn to become quiet. Your internal guidance system will show you the way. Quiet your mind and wisdom will come.
10. Refuse to let anyone should on you. There is nothing you should do. There are lots of things you could do. You are a professional educator. Decide for yourself what you will do. Trust that you know.
11. Do what you really want to do once every two weeks in your classroom. Show up with your guitar and sing Civil War songs. Share with students that you're interested in learning a foreign language and ask them to give you suggestions on how to do that. Teach only what you want to teach for this day. Share your passion. Tell your students why you love horses. Bring in your political button collection. Just do it. Be subversive if necessary. You know that it’s easier to beg for forgiveness than it is to get permission.
12. Give your students a lot of YOU this year. They will not be taking a year of fifth grade from you. They will not be taking algebra, Spanish, or English literature from you. They will be taking YOU for fifth grade, algebra, Spanish, or English literature. You are the most important thing you have to offer to your students. Your classroom is you. Your Teacher Talk is you. The materials you select to use with students is you. Everything that goes on in your classroom is flavored with huge doses of you. You are your own best resource. Use it liberally.
Implementing the mind skills above can help you create a positive frame of mind this school year. The state of education in your community is what it is. You get to decide what meaning you want to give to what is and how you want to BE in relation to it. Take responsibility for those choices and you will feel more empowered. If all else fails, just stop and smile. It feels good.
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the coauthors of Teaching the Attraction Principle to Children: Practical Strategies for Parents and Teachers to Help Children Manifest a Better World. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for educators and another for parents. To sign up for the newsletters or learn more about the seminars they offer teachers and parents, visit their websites today: www.chickmoorman.com and www.thomashaller.com