August 29, 2014

Helping teachers survive in- and out of- the classroom

I sometimes have a fantasy that I will be exiled to a deserted island, and that I can only take with me a handful of books. What would I choose?.... Fun to think about... Of course, with e-readers and smart phones able to hold thousands of titles, that prospect is a bit less problematic... But, if I ever do pare down my books, this one, "The Well-Balanced Teacher", by Mike Anderson, would make the cut. (ASCD books, 2010). I picked it up a few  years ago, and liked it so much that I ordered several more copies for our staff. I found myself again  trotting it out this past week, reading over the highlighted pages. Although I've been in the classroom 20 years, workshop week is always a challenging time for me emotionally. Rising expectations and digital complexity are simply facts for most teachers today. And, we are so much more sophisticated and informed about so many issues, that our mental plates are nearly always overflowing. (Which reminds me about a teacher I once had who said, "I have to say no to even good things".)

Although Mr. Anderson doesn't focus on mindfulness, per se, he uses much of the same language, urging teachers to, "Take care of your spirit"... "Engage in personal reflection and spiritual growth"...."Connect with nature".... "Take time to observe", and, "Give students your full attention."... But the greatest contribution in the book may be in the area of perspective. Anderson's clear and sober assessment of the stresses teachers are under is heartening. He's not afraid to be honest, tell the truth, and point out the elephant in the classroom.

He starts with some of his own calculations about the tasks he has to cover and the time allotted for them, and realizes that he simply couldn't do it. There was not enough time to do the things he was being asked to do. From there,  he plunges into a variety of topics, everything from diet, to fun, to collecting "artifacts", those notes and pieces of evidence that reflect our successes and connections that we've had along the way. (Like a lot of teachers, I have some notes from students that are truly prized possessions).

Although I find inspiration all over the book, one thing that I continually reflect on is this: since we can't possibly  do all we are being asked to do, how do we proceed from here? And the message I hear from Mr. Anderson, and his anecdotes from teachers is: don't try. Focus on what you can do, what you do well.. and have fun with that. Don't forget your playful, happy perspective, because that is what will get kids excited about coming to school. And don't forget too, that your health and happiness are  important parts  of your overall classroom success.

The heart of this book is a  compassionate realism, an admission that teachers are human beings who are being asked to do the impossible. So thank you Mike, for your compassion, and for helping all of us to be more relaxed in the classroom, and in our overall lives. And when I'm on that deserted island, I'll be sure to have a copy of your book on my little bamboo shelf.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great reminder at the start of another school year. Thanks, Tim!