the teacher's timeout card

If you're a teacher, have you ever had one of those moments when you’ve felt like saying to the class ...  “Sorry folks…need a little space for myself now… just to take the edge off… See you in five.”  Or have you ever felt like saying to the hand brandishing the ‘Time Out’ card, “Hey, can I have one of those too….please?”

It seems like everybody’s talking about – or at least nodding and winking about – teacher well-being. Like it’s a new thing. Like it's an agenda thing. But I still get the sense that ‘well-being‘ is – how shall I put it – for teachers with ‘issues’. Maybe it's because we still have the ‘cream-always-rises-to-the-top’ mentality that we still defer to, with its mantra of those that have what it take, shalt thrive.

Word to the wise ... next time someone defaults to the ‘cream’ trope to justify the myth of talent, ask them to imagine something unspeakable (really stink-worthy and unspeakable) being placed in a vat of cream. Yep. Really picture that stinky unthinkable thing.

Now watch it rise.

I’ve been teaching for 18 years and I've witnessed a lot of unspeakable elevations

Recently I sat through a training session on behaviour management. It was delivered from a somewhat elevated height, and I noticed, amidst many a word on a slide, the phrase: “managing your emotions”. The words just sat there, all J.F.D.I defiant, and I thought: you know, I get it, I’m with you, I’m on 'Team Managing Your Emotions', but what concerns me more is the toll that accumulates from weeks, months (nay, years) of chalking up the ‘managing your emotions’ credo whilst being ‘cabined, cribbed, and confined’ in the classroom, eating upon the ‘insane root’; feeling scorpions brooding in the mind. But enough of casual literary references that betray the fact I’ve only ever taught one play. The point is this: there is a mental and physical toll to this teaching game.

For most of us, it comes a day or two into what’s still quaintly known as the ‘school holiday’ (aka extended non-contact time) when your immune system takes a hit proportionate only to Luke Skywalker’s sucker-punch on the Death Star. 

Simple evisceration. 

Then there’s ‘rumination’, that pesky little buddy of cognitive overload. Rumination toots its horn at the rudest times: like when you’re out with your kids, your partner, or some other significant other. And you just suddenly find you’re not fully present; that your mind is elsewhere. Maybe it's a lesson plan you’re mulling over, or perhaps you're fixating on a student who always seems to be giving your lesson plan a mulling over. Either way, there you are, at the park, vaguely cognizant of the fact that your 3-year-old is sitting on the swing; that you’re pushing the swing; that you are – apparently, hopefully – smiling at your 3-year-old bundle of beaming joy as they experience the rapture of the swing’s giddy rise and fall. But still, you're not fully present; your mind is no more than tentatively tethered to the precarious contents of your conscious awareness.

Is there a solution to this? I mean, do we need an agenda here? A policy? Will formulations of wellbeing suffice? I’m not sure they will. Agendas and policies are never enough, as they’re invariably framed by measurable criteria. By metrics of manipulation. The problem is that now metric infiltration is so complete it’s in the DNA of this system we call education. 

Before you know it, sometime soon, an organisation will get the contract to measure the efficacy of teacher well-being, even though we all know that there is no measurement that can be applied to the highly variable raw material known as… you.

Let’s face it: you are not going to change this culture by berating it. That’s just a needless form of attachment. What you need instead is your own Time Out Card. 

I’ve got one. It’s got ‘Mindful Awareness’ written on it. My teacher assures me I can use it whenever I feel a moment arising. I’ve been given permission. Permission from myself to use it. 

And who knows, if it helps me then perhaps it can help my students.

Mindful teacher. Mindful learner. Maybe even, mindful life.

Now that’s a thought worth noting.

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