Breathe

It’s not usually life or death.
For that matter, it usually isn’t even bodily harm or maiming.  Generally, teaching’s just a lot of grading and whining.
Unless, of course, a student catches on fire.  Or decides to eat glass on a dare.  Or sticks a penny in an electrical socket — episodes that serve as rare but spunky surprises in addition to the more standard broken bones of the PE department, chemical burns of the science, and, of course, the kids who come neatly packaged with peanut allergies and epipens.  Or diabetes and insulin.  Or asthma and inhalers or…
Oh, crap.  I’m sorry.  Did I just stress you out?  It’s alright.  Don’t freak.  It really isn’t usually about life and death.  But it is, indeed, a fine balance.
And teachers suck at balance.
I’ll give you a visual.  Here’s a an old-school* scale:
(*please note clever school pun in education blog)
On one side of the scale kindly put “teacher sanity.”  Now, on the other side, put “daily lessons, lesson planning, grading, behavior management, special ed, contact home, professional development, relationships, curriculum writing, RtI, differentiation” and any other daily topic/responsibility that strikes your fancy.  I often like to top it with the metaphorical partridge in pear tree, just to make it look nice.
Done? Not quite.  Now multiply that side of the scale by number of students you have.
Yay!  Ready for a balanced, soothing, change-the-world day at work?
Right.  I know.
Breathe.
And welcome to the calmer, less frequently seen side of Singing Pigs.
Aw, hell.  Who am I kidding?  I’m still a snarky snot.  But I’m a snarky snot who does a reasonably good job of maintaining balance.  You save-the-world types?  You’re cruisin’ for a bruisin’.  You can’t save the world while carrying the weight of it on your shoulders.  All that’s gonna get you is a bad back and a nasty crick in your neck.  You know, that really annoying crick when you think you’ve gotten a good night’s sleep, but really you slept all sideways and now your neck is killing you and nobody believes you because it’s not a visible injury.  That kind of a crick.
Save that bull for the lawmakers who merrily save the world by cutting education budgets and assigning tests with a neat swish of their pen.  Swish!  New standardized test!  Swoosh!  Teacher performance pay!
There.  That oughta do it.  World saved.  So now you teachers can lean back and start worrying about your own sanity, thanks to your friendly local public education policy.
Yikes…That was a bit of a rant, there. Seems I forgot to breathe.
Or rather, this blog is my most effective breath taken.  Converts frustrations into humor.  Provides me with perspective.  Entertains (for god knows only what purpose) other crazies like me.
But you…how are you breathing these days?
What are you doing in that moment when your desk is covered in papers, students are asking for grades, you’ve got a group of kids failing, just caught a couple cheating and are pretty sure at least two families are aiming to have you fired?
Save the Wold By Saving Your Sanity:
Rule 1:  Lock Your Damn Door
An open-door policy is good.  Students need safe spaces to just be.  Spaces where they know they can go to vent, seek out advice, cry, study, or just sit and think.  So now, let’s flip that on it’s head:
Teachers are the main resource for students.  In order for teachers to work most effectively, teachers need to be in a good state of mind.  They need space where they know they can vent, seek out advice, work…
Figured out where I’m going with this one, my dear overachievers?
I’m an open-door kinda gal.  Most days, I unlock my door when I get to school at the ass-crack of dawn, and leave it unlocked until I grab my coat to leave.  But sometimes, oh sometimes, I lock that door, pull that shade and I’ll be damned if I’m answering anybody’s calls.  You got a key?  You can come in.  Otherwise, best to just let sleeping dogs lie.
And I’m a sleeping dog of the female persuasion…
If you’re stressed, you’re kids will pick up on it.   You’ll stress them out because, as I’ve mentioned before, students are professional energy suckers, you won’t get anything done, you’ll both be miserable and behind and..
Just Lock Your Damn Door.  Give yourself permission.
And breathe.
It helps to train your kids, though.  When is your door going to be locked?  When will it be open?  What does this mean?  I forgot that little detail and that didn’t go over so well.
Rattle.  Rattle Rattle.  Rattlerattlerattle.  THUMP THUMP THUMP!!
Thing is, if kids aren’t used to your door being locked, they operate under the “The More Obnoxious I Am the Faster She Will Give Me Attention” theory.
“IF MY DOOR IS LOCKED THEN YOU SHOULD KNOW IT’S FOR A VALID REASON!! STOP YOUR BANGING THIS INSTANT!!!
That last part was me totally losing it.  Something likely to happen with students banging on my door when I’m already in a fragile state of mind.  Of course, it’s also something that then requires an apology and explanation.
“Ok, guys,” I told them later that morning when I’d downed a thermos of coffee and they had recovered from the unexpected browbeating.  “Here’s how it works.  Door is unlocked, you may come in.  Door is locked, Sra. is on the edge of a nervous breakdown and trust me, you wouldn’t want to be in that room anyway.  So don’t bang on the door.  It might cost you a limb.”
Two weeks later I had an early-morning meeting with my principal.  Due to the confidential nature of the meeting, I locked the door.  When I I went to open it to let him leave two minutes before the tardy bell rang, my entire class was waiting quietly outside.  I held the door open for them to come in.  Nobody moved.
“Um…Sra.?” One freakishly well-behaved girl piped up.  “Before we come in…can you just tell us…?”
“What’s up Jasmine?”
“Are you on the edge of a nervous breakdown?”
Frightening students.  Reason #1 to make sure you breathe.
Rule 2: Go For A Walk
Yep.  You’re going to ignore me on this one.  But it’s still worth a shot.
In the middle of your busiest moment, at that very second that you are no doubt, absolutely, unbelievable drowning, toss up your hands, drop everything, and leave.
Not forever.  No worries.  As pleasant as it would be sometimes, there’s no escaping reality.  But teachers’ brains suffer from a common environmentally-induced quirk.
The busier we get, the longer our to-do list gets.  The longer our to-do list gets, the faster we think things need to be done.  The faster we think things need to be done, the more urgent we think the entire list is.  The more urgent we think the list is, the busier we get and the busier we get…
It’s not life or death, folks.
Tell the to-do list to shove it up its metaphorical margin.
And leave.  Then walk.
A brief list of research supporting walking and the brain:
All totally just copied off the internet and completely unresearched by me.  I’m not trying to sell you on the research.  I’m just telling you what will happen.  But first the rules:
1.  You must have a minimally substantial walk.  Under 5 solid minutes doesn’t count.
2.  You must continue said walking until your brain actually, even the tiniest bit, starts to slow down.
3.  Once your brain starts to slow down, you may return to your classroom, if you so choose.  (You might just say “to hell with it!” and keep walking.  It feels that good.)
4.  With your freshly walked brain, look at your list and scrap 2/3 of it.  By which, I mean really prioritize.  Quite possibly using Rule #3, but we’ll get there in a minute.
What will happen:
1.  You will walk, but your brain will be annoyed with you creating an inner dialogue something along the lines of, “Hey!  Hey, yeah, you!  The one walking.  Get your ass back to the classroom.  What the hell are you doing?  You have 85tests200emailsthree studentswhoneedtutoringnolessonplansyouDONOTHAVETIMETOBEWALKING!!!”
2.  You will find it seriously difficult to ignore your brain trash-talking you and you will have an overwhelming desire to run back to desk, apologize to your insulted to-do list, and make amends by adding three more items to it, just to show your love.
3.  However, if you continue walking, your brain will be unable to maintain above smack-talk.  Inner dialogue will slowly transform into something like “You have 85tests200emailsthreestudentswhoneed…ooooh… new carpet in the lobby…tutoringnolessonplans…aw, there goes one of my favorite kids…YOUDONOT…mmm… tacos for dinner tonight.”  
4.  When random distracted thoughts outnumber brain trash-talking, you will return to your desk and, upon inspecting to-do list, functionally be able to prioritize.  And trash the rest. Which we’ll get to in a second.  But first, one more study on walking:
Apparently walking backwards makes your thinking sharper.  Hey, I’m not telling…just planting a little seed there.  If you’re having a really off day, you could always give it a try.  And send me a video of your little backwards stroll.  Which I would never post on my blog…
Rule #3:  Take it to The Extreme
I talk to myself.  Hell, I have whole imaginary conversations with myself.   And others.  In my brain.  I’ve got a whole little alternate universe of full-blown interactions that never happened.  Even with myself.
Confusing?
Yeah, well, that’s about how well your brain is functioning when you’re in the middle of a Gaaaaaa! I can’t possibly finish all of this! moment.  So after your little walk, grab your to-do list and sit down for a come-to-Jesus chat with your Trash Talking Brain.  Simply by having cleared your head, you ought to be able to knock some of the sillier items off the to-do list.
“Really, Brain?  Really?  You had to put ‘clean whiteboard’ on the list this week when I just collected a five paragraph essay?”  Your brain, still slightly distracted from it’s little foray out into the non-classroom world will barely put up a fuss.  “Seemed like a good idea at the time.  Ok…maybe not urgent…oooh…pretty flowers…
Obnoxious little bugger that it is, though, the Trash Talking Brain will quickly realize its disadvantage and regroup.  “Ha!  You got the whiteboard crossed off but now you’re stuck on grading papers, finding tutors and writing lesson plans.  SUCKA!  You’re still stressed out.  I win.  Na na na boo boo…”
Don’t engage.  Nobody ever out-taunts the Trash Talking Brain.  Just beat it at its own game.
Me:  “Gosh, Brain.  You’re right.  Let’s see here…grading, tutors and lesson plans…What can I eliminate here?”
Brain (gleefully):  “Nothing!  It all has to be done!  Today!  You’re screwed!  Brains rule, Balance drools!”
Me:  “So what’s the worst thing that could happen if I didn’t get my grading done today.  Or even this week?”
Brain:  “The kids wouldn’t get their work back!”
Me:  “And if they didn’t get their work back this week?”
Brain:  “They’d freak out!  And you’d get a reputation as a slow grader!  And those points wouldn’t be in the gradebook!  And they or their parents might email you asking when it will be in and…”
Me:  “So, what you’re saying is that worst-case scenario grading doesn’t get in today, or even this week, the kids might think I grade slow.  And I might have to shoot off a couple of emails with an estimated finish date.”
Brain:  “Yeah!  Slacker!  NEENER NEENER NEENER!  Thhhhhhbpt! (Nose-thumbing)
Me: “I can live with that.”
Brain:  “Whaaa…?”
Me:  Gotcha.
Brain:  “[expletive!]…oooh…can we really have tacos for dinner tonight?”
Take the tutoring example to the extreme, however.  If I don’t find a kid a peer tutor, he or she might fall even further behind.  She falls further behind, it’s harder to catch up.  He doesn’t catch up, he fails.  She fails, messes with her schedule next year.  And graduation?
Oh!  Would you look at that?  I think I just found my priority.
We humans frequently operate on fear.  Take fear out of the equation, and things become much clearer.  A parent wrote you a nasty email?  So what?  You’ll answer it and handle any resulting fallout as it comes.  You then have to meet with a principal and the family?  So what?  You’ll do it, then go home and be on your comfy couch for five times longer than that meeting lasts.
Take it to the extreme.  Very few things will kill you.  Unless one of your worst case scenarios ends in “spontaneous combustion,” “e coli,” or “a river full of crocodiles,” tell your Brain to shove it.
Go for a walk.  Smell the roses.
Breathe.
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5 Responses to Breathe

  1. LibraLabRat says:

    I am going to take your "open" door policy advice. I found out yet another nasty rumor has been started that perhaps I have a little too much "affection" for students…..One of my kids asked me if I was on the sex offender registry. NOT. KIDDING. Evidently, there is another teacher who seems to think that I have too many kids in my room at times when there shouldn't be. I mean, it could not POSSIBLY be that right now I am teaching balancing chemical equations and these kids need extra help. Or that some kids prefer to talk to me than the weird counselor who has a delightful knack for diming kids out to their parents with amazing haste….Or perhaps it is the fact that SHE used to be the teacher all the kids thought was awesome. Haters gonna hate, right?The thing is, I have already decided that this school is not having me back as a teacher next year. I have started piecing a lot of things together, and frankly when this place goes down in a flaming ball of investigatory goodness, I do not want to be anywhere in the vicinity. I need to find a nice small rural school, where I will just have to contend with kids and parents who think the world is 6000 years old and Jesus rode dinosaurs. (Also something a student told me.)Sorry to write a bloglet on your blog. I am also currently trying to decide which six out of a group of fifty awesome kids "deserve" to go on this science field trip we set up based on a district grant. In short, I may need a liver transplant by Spring Break.

  2. Teach says:

    Ooh. I kind of feel bad that I giggled when I read that. Your rants are funny. But it is brutal to work where you don't like your colleagues. Especially when you're a first year teacher. Start hitting the job sites now – I was hired for my current position in February of the year I applied…though things are much tighter job-wise, now.As for the kiddos- I'd just field their questions with questions. "Why do YOU think I have kids in my room all the time?" They know. They're just testing the waters to see what you say. And the field trip – you just said it perfectly. Tell the kids that you have fifty awesome kids, but the grant only pays for six and you're super-stuck. Have them nominate each other…you'll just have to structure the nominations in a way that doesn't make it a popularity contest. ie. 1. Nominate six of your classmates on paper. 2. Give one amazingly good reason why each of the six deserves to go. 3. Tell me, if you were the teacher and stuck in such a tight spot, how would you decide who goes? You could actually spin it to be a real teachable moment for the kids on being an adult, decision making, etc. You'll be fine! As long as that liver holds out…

  3. LibraLabRat says:

    We have some "educational" stuff in place. They had to "apply" and write a persuasive essay. Some of the things I learned about these kids. One has a dad in prison. He is a super polite, super smart kid. Another has never left Lawton, OK. A third would like the trip because it would give her a break from housework and watching her siblings while her mother participates in Roller Derby events, fundraisers, meetings….What kind of mentally challenged meat puppet makes a 14 year old take over her motherhood duties so she can skate around in knee pads and little skirts for screaming tweakers and tattooed white trash?I am beginning to see what a friend of mine (whom I have helped perform autopsies and other gross out medical lab stuff) told me…I may be too soft hearted and human for this job. And many of my kids were indignant and FURIOUS when they heard that accusation.

  4. Pingback: Useful Junk: Post Winter Break Plans | Singing Pigs

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