Clearing Your Mind for the Classroom

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In this day and age, we know we love what we do as teachers, but it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to do it. Teaching is hard. Living life as a teacher in today’s climate is even harder. If you look at what the life of a teacher, or anyone in education, was like just 10 years ago, the changes are staggering. Though some changes were necessary to propel us into the 21st century, others have been nothing more than a seizing of power to try to make us look like the enemy. We know why we do what we do and where our passions lie, but it’s hard when we are being attacked in some fashion. One thing to remember, and Rachel Hollis put it best, is that someone else’s opinion of you is none of your business. (If you haven’t picked up her books Girl, Wash Your Face and the sequel Girl, Stop Apologizing, do yourself a favor and get on that ASAP!).

It’s hard to go to work with a smile every day when you know that what you’re doing is underappreciated. We start this career path with all the excitement and gusto in the world, and at some point, the wind starts being taken from our sails. It’s not fair and it’s not right, but it is the reality and the reality is that even though the bureaucratic nonsense plays on our psyches, we need to find a way to compartmentalize those thoughts and concerns and get back to what we entered the classroom to do…to make a difference in the lives of kids.

The only way we could do that is if we are at a place mentally to do that ourselves. We simply can’t rely on others to help keep us energized. It’s difficult to put one foot in front of the other if we simply don’t want to. The day-to-day motions of teaching is a sprint and it seems like a quick trip of your feet takes eons to recover from. That shouldn’t be. We’re better than that.

happy older man teacher holding stack of books with an apple on top in front of a chalkboard

I think the district that you work in really does make a difference. We all know that the administration is a huge part of how we feel about ourselves on a daily basis. There are some districts where the administration is so wonderful. so encouraging. and so supportive. They want you to try new things and if you make a mistake in the classroom, it’s okay…how can you learn from it? How can you move forward? And you’re not seen as a bad person. There are other ones where it seems like the administration is out to get you with those “gotcha” moments. Having one set of those administrators over another may or may not be helpful to your day-to-day.

Of course, we want to be supported, but what if the students are very, very difficult to work with? On the flip side, what if the administration is absent but your students are absolutely wonderful? There’s so much that goes into the teaching community and it all needs to sync up, but there’s so much that’s out of our control. So how do we rise above? How do we become the best versions of ourselves? How do we feel that passion for educational progress that we stepped into our first classrooms exploding with? It’s not necessarily easy, but it is attainable.

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We need to take care of ourselves. We are givers, but we give, and give, and give so much that we often forget to take. It is not selfish to take time to unwind, take time to engage with ourselves, take time to just be. 

So as teachers, what do we do to make sure that we are doing the best that we possibly can and we’re keeping ourselves grounded while we’re doing it? Try to pinpoint…what is stressing you out? I know that’s kind of a loaded question and I understand that we have a tendency to look at the big picture, especially as teachers, and say it’s all-of-the-things. It might be all of the things, but you also have to realize that it’s a trickle-down effect and it can also be a domino effect depending on how things are going for you. 

I would suggest getting a piece of paper and just start writing out the thoughts that are in your head. This is an exercise that my 6th-grade chorus teacher taught me. You can set a timer if you would like or you can kind of just go and see where it goes. You’re going to write down legitimately every single word that pops into your head. You’re not going to stop writing…you’re going to not even pick up the pen. You’re just going to go. Even if you’re thinking something along the lines of, “I have no idea what to write right now”, you’re going to write down, “I have no idea what to write right now”. It seems weird but as you start going, the thoughts just start flowing onto that paper.

woman writing with a pen inside of a notebook

Throughout this exercise, I would like for you to think about what your day today is like in school. Think about things that rile you up…think about things that make you happy…think about the stuff that you’ve been procrastinating with or putting off or you can’t wait to get started or that you’re just completely inundated with. Try to keep your mind focused like that as you’re doing this experience. Your mind might wander onto something else as you do this…it’s okay. Write about that because subconsciously that might be the exact hang up that you have for why you’re feeling the way that you feel right now.

When I take care of this particular activity myself, I usually do it for about 5 minutes. Sometimes I find myself going over and that’s fine; other times I find myself writing a lot of, “I’m not sure what to write right now”, but at the end, it gets it out of your brain and makes it tangible. I generally don’t reread it because I’m living it as I’m going through it, so that’s something that you would have to decide. If you want to go back and reread it, or if it’s cleansing enough that you know you have it out now, you can just crumple it up and throw it away. 

Younger man with beard and blue tie sits back in desk chair with arms behind his head

The best part about this exercise is it takes all of the disorganization that’s going on in your brain and it put it in a tangible place. It helps you get organized, even without you realizing it, because it takes thoughts that are all jumbled up and spreads them out. Once you have done this, the best thing that you can do from this point forward (and hopefully you are feeling a little bit more relaxed) is to try to figure out what the key points are there are going to be the central themes that float around. It could be something simple; it could be that you know you have an observation coming up and it’s really, really rattling you. That’s fine. It could be something much deeper than that. There’s an infinite amount of possibilities of what is going to come out on this piece of paper and frankly, you might be able to do it an hour later and completely different thoughts will come out. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s the nicest thing about this exercise..it is easy to do and it really does give you that mental clarity. 

Hopefully, this is at least a starting point for you to try to figure out how you can take back control of your life and be excited about teaching all of the time again…just like you were when you first started out. You deserve it…you are enough…you’ve got this.

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About admin

After moving from a teacher-dominated classroom to a student-regulated one, Jenn found herself helping colleagues who wanted to follow her lead.  In 2018 she decided to expand outside of her school walls and help those out there who were also trying to figure out this fantastic method of instruction.  She realized that, even though there was a ton of information out there about why student-centered learning is beneficial in the classroom, there wasn't a lot about how to go about making the transition to this method; thus Student-Centered World was born.

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