When You’re Feeling Stressed and Out of Time

At the end of anything, whether it be the school year, a vacation, a meditation, a relationship, we need to do the best we can to let it end. Part of the reason accepting the end is so hard is that we never fully begin. There are still things we feel not done. The end can arrive mysteriously because we never fully grasped or embraced the beginning.

 

For many years, when I was a teacher and May rolled around, the end of the school year would feel like a surprise. What once seemed like a tremendous length of time was now almost gone. Earlier in the year, I had to think carefully about what to do to fill each class period. Now, there was too much to do and not enough time to do it all. Maybe part of me just did not want to let go. The once lengthy year was over too quickly.

 

I remember vacations I did not want to ever end, or conversations, concerts, a sunset over the Caldera in Santorini, Greece.  I felt this moment might never come again and I wanted to hold on tightly. Or I felt I had missed something or I preferred where I was to where I was going next. I thought of the place or action or person as responsible for my state of mind and so to let go of it was to lose part of who I was.

 

When you feel the crunch of time or the weight of responsibility, take it as an opportunity to learn how to face a challenge and assert your ability.The calmer you are and the clearer your thinking, the more you can do.

 

If you’re a teacher, realize students are feeling every bit as strapped for time, stressed, maybe anxious, as you. If you’re a student, realize teachers, although more experienced, might feel a stress similar to your own. When you open up to others, you open to yourself.

 

It is so easy to get lost in worries. Worry, stress, anxiety are forms of feeling threatened. The end of the year can give all the thoughts and concerns that you didn’t deal with over the year or didn’t deal with as well as you hoped, the stimulus they need to burst into the open and be revived.

 

To reduce the stressful feeling, if you’re a teacher, besides being very clear with students about what is due when, and helping them figure out how long different assignments might take to complete, talk about stress levels and anxiety. Talk about planning and how taking action is one way to lessen anxiety.

 

It is not just deadlines that cause stress, but how you think about them. You knew for months about most of the work you now face. The end of the year brings up the end of anything, or everything. You feel judgment day is almost upon you and the power of judgment is in someone else’s hands, not your own. You feel threatened or you feel the image you have of yourself is threatened.

 

You might feel not only less capable but more constricted, and so no longer do the things that normally allow you to let go of tension. You feel anxious because you have lost touch with your own depth and want it back. You have narrowed your sense of who you are to who you fear you are, or to how you fear others might see you.

 

But take a moment to breathe in and think about this. To know an image is not right, you must have a notion of what is right. Without a deep sense that there is so much more to you, you can’t recognize how this feared image is a diminished one. So, instead of believing judgmental thoughts, question them. Teachers, remind students, and students, remind yourselves, of your own depths.

 

To counter feeling time-poor, slow down. Give yourself a few moments each day to close your eyes and breathe calmly, mindfully, or look at something beautiful, or exercise with intensity. By giving yourself time, you feel time-rich, that you have time to give. You feel more in control.

 

Practice noticing stressful sensations as soon as they arise. Close your eyes partly or fully and take a breath in; then let the breath out. When you inhale, notice what you feel. Where do you feel stress? Anxiety? Just notice it.Then exhale and feel your body relaxing, letting go of the breath, letting go of any tension.

 

Noticing the stressful sensations as soon as they arise, and switching your attention from the story you tell yourself about stress to your physical act of breathing, can interrupt the stress response and interrupt fear. You feel your life is more your own. You feel more capable and alive.You feel present. You begin each moment fully so you end fully.

The Most Important Lesson A Teacher Teaches

One of the most important lessons a good teacher teaches, beyond the subject matter, is how to live a moment or a year of moments. On the first day of classes, you teach how to meet new people, how to start an endeavor, how to be open to whatever comes. On the last day of classes, you model how to end something, how to say goodbye. You model how to face freaky spring weather in winter and winter weather in the spring. How to face a test, sickness or other challenge. To share insights, listen to the insights of others, think deeply about questions raised, and fears and joys expressed. How to face evil with insight, and violence with calm and clarity. And how to celebrate what you value and value what you celebrate.

 

In this way you model the …

 

This blog, with an embedded story, was published on Friday by OTV (Open Thought Vortex): A Literary Magazine for Open Hearts and Minds. Please click on this link to read the rest of the post.

 

 

The Most Important Lesson

Compassionate Critical Thinking, A Book Worth Owning and Sharing

Here’s a review of my book that cheered me up a little during a tough week.

I sat down with this book, very excited to finally have a copy in my hands to read. I was looking forward to feeling inspired by it as I read it quickly over the weekend, and to feel appreciation for the teacher who decided to share his work.

Two weeks later, I am still very excited to have it, but it is not a book I want to skim through for vague inspiration. Rather, I am awed by what an amazing treasure of detailed information this is! I wonder what the world would be like if these lessons could be offered to every school child. I went to a Quaker high school where every day started with a short period of silence for the whole school. This book takes that kernel of an idea and brings it into the rest of the school day.

I will go further and say this is a wonderful handbook for an ongoing mindfulness or meditation discussion group for adults. The wisdom Ira Rabois writes about is not superficial or difficult to understand, but instead the book offers topics, questions and reference reading on being a human being in this world. His students were so lucky to have a teacher who was able to approach their education with this respect and sensitivity, and the publication of this book brings this opportunity to the rest of us as well.

While it is clear that Rabois has a strong background in Buddhist teachings, what he is able to get across in this book is not limited by a particular philosophy or religion. Rather, he offers a detailed plan to study the human mind in all its fullness and frailty, all its potential and confusion. This book has found a permanent place on my nightstand with a couple other books (such as a book on Lojong) that I refer to again and again for guidance as problems come up.

If high school teachers are interested in helping students develop compassionate critical thinking, they would probably be most successful reading this book first, applying its questions and ideas to their own lives, allowing a first-person understanding of this information to be the basis of their teaching style. If a school has staff development days, even a small amount of time shared reading and discussing this book would be of great benefit to teachers and students alike.

I only wish that the table of contents had listed the Lesson Plans. The vast amount of information presented is not just a single line of knowledge, but rather is also a reference guide for approaching specific concerns as they arise in a classroom, or in one’s own life. For example, It would be helpful to be able to easily find out that “Anger” is discussed in Lesson 14, or that a lesson plan to study the “Geography of the Brain” is Lesson 8.

Definitely a book worth owning and sharing with others. Thank you Ira for being able to articulate and gather together so much wisdom in this form! I am deeply grateful to have it in my life.

To Be A Teacher, Be A Student. To Be A Student, Teach.

To be a teacher, you have to understand what being a student means, which means understanding learning. You have to understand your particular students, what interests them and how they learn. You have to study your own mind. But being a student also means being a teacher. For students to learn, they must be given the opportunity and responsibility to teach their peers as well as teach themselves. Education works best when teacher and student work together, are partners in solving problems and answering questions. To teach, be a student. To be a student, teach.

 

What do you do when you think students aren’t learning what you think they should? Or they aren’t behaving appropriately? These situations arise frequently and often overlap. If a student is frustrated with instruction or doesn’t feel personally respected or feels that the material is not meaningful, he or she will let you know it one way or another. Everything that happens in the classroom is a “teachable moment.” Education is primarily about learning how to learn. It is or should be primarily about how you approach each moment of your life and uncover meaning in it.

 

And everything that happens in a classroom arises out of the relationships established in and around it; with the larger school community, the teacher with students, students with each other, etc. These relationships must be respectful, engaging, and caring, for both student and teacher.  To feel cared for begins with caring. Everything depends on the awareness and feeling you bring to the moment-by-moment living of your life.

 

Especially considering the very stressful situation most teachers find themselves in today, it is so easy for a teacher to berate him or herself, or to attack students for being this or that. When you attack yourself, you become more rigid, less adaptive and perceptive. When you attack or distance yourself from students, your relationship is distorted. You can’t teach a subject or person you reject and won’t look at. If you want to teach about racism, you must first know how it works and look at it directly, in yourself, in the society around you. If you want to fight hate, you must first locate it in yourself and study how it works. Only by looking at it can you see it and bring it to an end. You can’t teach a student if you blame her for not learning from you. You can’t teach a student if you blame yourself for his not-learning. Blame is separation. It is closing the door

 

To teach how to learn, model how to treat life as an opportunity to learn.  When something comes up in the classroom, notice, breathe, consider (nbc); notice what you’re feeling, take a few breaths, and then consider what the student’s actions are saying and what would be an appropriate response. You must first hold the person and your image of him or her carefully in your heart and mind in order to feel out where you can meet. By holding, you care; you are open. This is the first step.  You might go home and, in a quiet moment, close your eyes and allow thoughts and images of the student to come up for you. Ask yourself: what exactly did she or he say? How was she standing or sitting? What might he be feeling or thinking? What was behind the behavior? Let go of sitting in judgment; instead, just sit with the student in mind. Then study how the student learns or approaches learning in your classroom and create the best lesson you can within the limits of your teaching situation.

 

And you don’t do this one or ten times. All of us have been “carefully taught” to objectify and blame. Learning to stop the blame game and be empathetic, to hear and feel what you and your students say and experience, being kind to yourself and your students, requires constant care. When you hear or feel the blame arising within you, this isn’t a message telling you how to act; it is a message telling you to open up more deeply. When you hear yourself saying, “such behavior should not occur in a classroom,” this is the moment you recognize what is going on so you can stop it. You can find the best way you can in that moment to learn from it and respond appropriately.

 

In a classroom discussion, I remember one student saying that he couldn’t be open to whatever came up in his mind. “What if I was facing evil? How could I be open to evil? I want to fight evil, not feel it.” But to identify as a fighter of evil, you need to keep evil alive.  It is difficult to face what hurts. But it’s even more difficult to let go of what is unseen.

 

Teaching is most satisfying for me when I am not fighting myself and am able to think of whatever occurs as simply my life, teaching as one aspect of living. Writing blogs analyzing attacks on education or how to improve my teaching is not interfering with my life; it is living my life. Responding to a student in pain can be painful, but it is why I became a teacher. It is an opportunity not only to help others and do something constructive, but to strengthen myself, to strengthen my ability to live fully and with feeling. And that is truly gratifying.

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Testing Teaches, But What Does It Teach?

I recently talked with a teacher who said she felt stressed and boxed in at school. The problem was a familiar one: testing recently enacted with the Common Core.  Standardized testing contributes to a climate of anxiety and fear. This is not just a response to something new, but is inherent in the psychology of such tests. Any test can be stressful, but when students know that their grades, the school standing, and teacher evaluations are based on them, the level of anxiety is raised considerably.

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