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Friday, August 10, 2012

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… for teachers
I’m always a bit wary of self-help books, especially when they turn into multi-volume franchise operations. I expect a corporate merger at some point into a single series with titles like Seven More Highly Effective Chicken Soup Recipes for Women Who Love Men Who Just Aren’t That Into Sweating the Small Stuff on Their Bucket Lists.

That said, I do find this book useful. 

Basically, it’s all about keeping things in perspective. I find that hard in my personal life, but even harder in my teaching life. I tend to feel like that guy in Men in Black III who can see all sorts of possible future disasters but doesn’t know which one to prepare for.

So I always find it useful to be reminded that “life isn’t one big emergency.” Or, as my doctor friend pointed out: “What’s the worst thing that can happen if you make a mistake? If I make a mistake, someone could die.” (Well, yes. That certainly trumps my anxiety about assigning a reading that may have been slightly over the students’ heads.)

Here are a few of my favorite chapters, and how I think they apply to teachers.

In Another Hundred Years, All New People

I like to think about it this way:  “Next semester, a whole new class.”  As in: This too, shall pass.

Remind Yourself that When You Die, Your “In Basket” Won’t Be Empty

This means that it’s OK if you don’t finish all of your correcting tonight.  Really.  Especially if you’re coming down with the flu.  Just get some rest, OK?

Praise and Blame Are All the Same

Wonderful student evaluations?  You’re the best teacher in the world!

Horrible student evaluations?  You’re the worst teacher in the world!

My most memorable set of evaluations were from a group where about a third of the students said I was incompetent because the class was far too easy, another third said I was incompetent because the class was far too difficult, and the remaining third thought everything went fine. 

Be Flexible with Changes in Your Plans
Ooh, this brings back memories.  When I was first teaching I’d prepare the “perfect” lesson … and more often than not, end up feeling really flustered because someone was out with a cold and someone else had left his folder at home and of course the VCR and the overhead projector weren’t working.  (Yes, I’ve been teaching for quite a while.)

Take Up Yoga 

Or jogging.  Or hiking.  Or Tae Kwon Do.  Or just about anything that moves your body and clears your head.  I’ve finally realized that I’m not only happier and more relaxed, but actually a better teacher, when I take a break from hunching over my computer and remember that I’m not a teaching and correcting machine, I’ve got a mind and a body and a soul.

Redefine a “Meaningful Accomplishment”
We aren’t all going to be Teacher of the Year.  Most of us will never be thanked by a grateful former student in an Oscar speech.  No matter how much time and effort we put into a course, we may or may not get glowing evaluations.  What keeps you coming back semester after semester?

When I think back over nearly two decades of teaching, the moments that really stand out are things like this:
  • Watching a group of strangers from around the world walk into the classroom in August, then watching a group of friends saying goodbye to each other in December.
  • Having my hand shaken by a student who was justifiably proud of himself for getting a C in a required course he hadn’t wanted to take.  “I know I wasn’t the best student.  But you were really patient with me and you helped me understand better than I’ve ever understood before.”
  • Letting go of my lesson plan as discussion of the assigned reading evolved into a gentle and respectful listening to other students’ beliefs about heaven or reincarnation.  
As the first day of class rapidly approaches, I keep reminding myself to let go of my worries and expectations of what might happen this year, and to be open to what each new group of students will bring and will take away.  Everything else is just small stuff, isn't it? 

About the Author

Catharine Hannay is the founder of and the author of Being You: A Girl’s Guide to Mindfulness, a workbook for teen girls on mindfulness, compassion, and self-acceptance. (Sales of the book help me continue to run with no sponsorship or advertising.)


related posts:

Recharge and Avoid Burnout: Tips for Mindful (but Busy!) Teachers

and more Self-Care for Mindful (but Busy!) Teachers