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L.B. Blackwell

In a previous column, I wrote blissfully of my entry into teaching at a public high school. Several months, two "sick" days and approximately one quart of tears later, I feel moved to write again.

Not to complain, though. Don't get me wrong, I've whined to friends, family, fellow teachers and the good Lord above ad nauseam. But this column will not lament the long hours, mountainous learning curve, burdensome administrative responsibilities and general lack of training under which teachers, new and old, must labor.

Instead, as a fledgling educator, I hope to offer my compatriots a few morsels of hope and wisdom that have helped me stay more or less sane the past few months. And if my hunch is correct, even teachers who have been in the game for a while may find something of use.

Most of these nuggets came from friends — some of them teachers, some not — who were responding to one of my desperate phone calls. A few came out of my own post-crisis reflection. As the second half of the school year is getting underway, may these words lift a few flagging spirits.

* Your task is impossible. Do your best, remember to rest and trust that everything will be OK. An experienced teacher gave me this much-needed bit of encouragement during a tearful phone call. Just hearing another teacher say out loud that what I was being asked to do as a first-year teacher — plan engaging and effective lessons; manage a classroom; deliver dynamic, rigorous and individualized instruction; establish and maintain contact with parents; and grade student work regularly and promptly — could not be done lifted a major burden. I wrote this statement (complete with an unintentionally misspelled word!) on a sticky note and put it on the podium in my classroom so I see it every day. I have not corrected the misspelling.

* Make a "C." For the perfectionists among us (surely there are one or two out there), this challenging suggestion is cringe-inducing. Yet, since my goal is to maintain a modicum of sanity as a first-year teacher I have found such a purposeful lowering of internal standards necessary. On several occasions, I have even written the letter C (or, on extra challenging days, D) on my hand as a frequent reminder that I'm just trying to pass, not ace some imagined exam. Administrators may raise their eyebrows, but if it helps their teachers to avoid a breakdown, they'll learn to lower them.

* Take regular breaks. This is an ongoing practice that I continue to tweak. It began in earnest one day when I burst out the back of the school building during my planning period, desperate to escape the walls for a moment. I ended up walking around the track for about 15 minutes. The walk refreshed me, and I was able to make it through my next class in one piece. Since then it has been a non-negotiable part of each planning period to take a short walk outside. During my walks I pray, call friends, speak gently to myself or just breathe and look at the sky. As far as I am able, I don't think about school.

As a parting thought, I offer this, straight from the pages of my journal: "It's going to feel hard. And it's going to get better — slowly. You are in a very challenging situation with a steep learning curve and virtually no training. It makes perfect sense for you to feel lost and overwhelmed. It is not your fault. You have done nothing wrong. You have to give yourself tons of grace."

L.B. Blackwell has been practicing Eknath Easwaran's passage meditation for more than 10 years. He lives in Chattanooga with his wife and two daughters. He blogs at mundaneway.blogspot.com.

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