Do you remember when you were at primary school and, when you got to school in the morning, your teacher was always there in the classroom waiting for you? I don’t know about you, but there was a time when this simple fact of life made me believe that teachers lived in classrooms. This is quite strange, because my mum was a teacher and she, of course, did not have to live in her classroom! Anyway, the point of all this is, teachers do not live in classrooms. There is more to a teacher’s life than verb plus infinitive versus verb plus gerund or the square root of sixteen. Ok, before you offer me a first class degree in “stating the bleeding obvious” from the university of “No S***, Sherlock”, I will try to expand upon this…
Teachers, as we are all too painfully aware, are as flawed as everybody else. We can oversleep, get stressed and get fed up, with the best of them! However, once we are inside the classroom, our students expect us to perform as though our lives were limited to the scope of those four walls (except with all the knowledge gained from without, naturally!!). And why not? Students (or their parents) are paying for the privilege of spending one, one and a half or two hours in a room with us, and the learning of which they expect to partake. Besides, who knows, maybe some of the younger ones believe, as I did for a while in my infant years, that your whole life purpose is to be their teacher in that classroom with them for whatever length of time their lesson is!
It is funny how so far the timing of my acknowledging each of these goals seems to coincide with a real life example with which to connect them. In this case, the challenge to “leave it behind” was put to me in spades on Friday. During my two-hour break between classes, I received a skype-call to tell me that my grandfather had passed away in the early hours of Friday morning. He was based in England, I am in Indonesia. Thus, as well as taking on board the news that I am never going to see him again, I was, and still am, also faced with the question of what to do regarding the funeral. Despite such world-changing (for me and others who knew him) news, life goes on, and most persistently at that. After completing that skype call and then skyping a friend, because I did not quite know what else to do, I had approximately half an hour before I was due back in the classroom.
So there we are, the scene was set for goal number four, and no mistake. And what did I learn? That you can’t make life go away, but you can bring things in and out of focus, if you really try. I think this is the trick to keeping life from interfering with classroom time. By focussing extra hard on your students, you can increase the amount of space they take up in your mind, thereby decreasing the amount of space available for other distractions. I have noticed this before though, when faced with more minor stresses and annoyances.
For me it works like this: At the beginning of the class, I make myself notice the colours of my students’ clothing, their hairstyles, what kind of pens or pencils they are using, what type of shoes they are wearing, and I make small talk about some of it. I remind myself how lucky I am to be in the classroom with this group of people. Doing this drags my mind away from whatever is bothering me and helps refocus it on my students, letting them fill the space in my brain that was previously chewing over what the boss said, or the reports that still need writing before tomorrow, or as in the case of last Friday evening, that my grandfather has passed away.
Inside the classroom, the students are the most important thing. When life outside the classroom is being particularly bothersome, it has a habit of trying to detract from that, which means we need to make extra effort to maintain the level of focus that in ordinary circumstances is natural.
Of course, outside the classroom, it is essential to learn to deal with whatever issues are plaguing us, rather than keeping them suppressed indefinitely. One such stress management skill I have been developing over the last couple of months is yoga. I do twenty minutes sometime before I go to work and twenty minutes after work, before I go to bed. As a teacher, you spend a lot of time focussing on the wants and needs of your students, colleagues and the management. I find that yoga helps me take the time I need for me, making it easier for the rest of the time when everybody else has to take priority.
In conclusion, then, we teachers are only human but we need to learn some crafty tricks, to give us the super powers we need to keep our lives from invading our classrooms in a negative way. We also need to develop stress management skills that work for us outside of the classroom, as this can minimise the effort needed to contain the stress when the time comes to start teaching.
Now, I do believe it is time for some yoga…