the teacher's time out card

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?”

Seems like everybody’s talking about – or at least nodding and winking about – this teacher well-being thing. Like it’s the new thing. An agenda thing. But I still get the sense that ‘well-being‘ is – how shall I put it – for teachers with ‘issues’. Maybe this is due to the still prevalent ‘cream-always-rises-to-the-top’ mentality 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, perhaps ask them if they can imagine something unspeakable (I’ll leave this to your imagination) being placed in a vat of cream. Yep. Really picture it now.

Okay? Now, watch it rise.

I’ve been teaching 18 years and boy have I witnessed the elevation of some fairly unspeakable matter.

Recently I sat through a training session on behaviour management and noticed, amidst many a word on a slide, the phrase: “managing your emotions”. The words just sat there, all Just-Fuckin-Do- It defiant, and I thought: you know what, 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, confined’ in the classroom, eating upon the bloody ‘insane root’, feeling the 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: just simple evisceration. Then there’s ‘rumination’, that pesky little buddy of cognitive overload. Rumination toots its horn like this: you’re out with your kids, your partner, or some other significant other when you suddenly find that you’re just not fully present; that your mind is elsewhere. Perhaps it’s with a certain lesson plan you’re mulling over; or perhaps its fixating on a certain student who always seems to be giving your lesson plan a mulling over. Either way, there you are, at the park, vaguely cognisant 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 are not fully present; your mind is no more than tentatively tethered to the precarious contents of your consciousness.

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 – guess what? – measurable criteria. By metrics of manipulation. The problem is that now the infiltration is so complete it’s virtually in the DNA of this system we call education. It’s now neurobiological. And 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. No, 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. 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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