A few weeks ago I wrote a post about using mindfulness in the classroom and as a personal stress-busting tool for teachers. In that post I mentioned how I wanted to look into training, and last week I had my first mindfulness training session!
25% are Teachers
Part of the first session involved going around the circle and talking about why we were there (specifically why we were really, really, really there – an interesting concept involving 15 minutes of guided self-exploration meditation that I would love to try with the students, asking them to think about what they really want to do with their lives after school), and something struck me right away.
Out of the 16 people in the course, 4 were teachers and another was a university professor and researcher who is currently studying mindfulness and the teaching profession. That’s a quarter of the course who are currently teachers, and another involved in the profession. That’s a significant proportion!
Of all the other people, only 4 or 5 mentioned work as a big part of the reason they were there. The key drivers for most were personal reasons, sometimes with minor professional ones as well. For us teachers, however, the profession was our key driver.
All 4 of us teachers mentioned diagnosed depression, anxiety, and/or stress (DAS) as a result of our profession. The perceived future personal benefits from completing the training were focused on improving our professional lives, with the hope that that improvement would flow through into our personal lives. It seems like teaching is such an impressively large part of our lives that we need to ‘fix’ that first and it will probably ‘fix’ things that might be ‘wrong’ with our personal lives.
And then I realised that for most of the other people there it was the other way around – wanting to improve personal aspects with the hope of flowing through to professional ones.
To me this highlights the personal strain that teaching puts on people. I’m definitely in no way saying that other professions don’t also put strain on personal lives, but the fact that a quarter of our group are teachers is interesting to me. Is it because mindfulness has become a bit of a trendy thing in the education world, so more people know about it and are wanting to try it? Or are teachers more likely to be looking for ways to cope with DAS?
But if teachers are so stressed and busy all the time, how on earth do they have time to spend on something like that?!?! I can hear you crying out in indignation.
I decided to go with a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course – it is a significant time investment. One night each week is a 2.5 hours class, each day is a half hour homework session, and then there is a full-day Saturday training session towards the end of the course. This is no casual, occasional deal!
We all know how many hours we work as teachers, so taking away such a significant portion of personal time does indeed seem extremely unfair. But I’m taking it from the perspective that this is a skill I need and want to develop, and I only ever get better at things through practice. As teachers we often get caught up in improving ourselves professionally, spending our allotted 20 hours per year on PD (and then some!), but we rarely think about improving ourselves outside of our profession. I know it will benefit me personally AND professionally, which seems to make it so much more worth it.
Knowing that I have 5.5 hours less free time a week is also making me be a bit more time efficient, especially with work. My Tuesday evenings are no longer free for planning or marking, so I have to be a bit more savvy with my Tuesday school time, and my spares throughout the week.
I have only been doing this for a week, so I’m sure I’ll get better with the time-management throughout the term. Besides, if I want to make a lifestyle change, I need to get into a routine of giving myself half an hour a day for mindfulness, meditation and reflection. I need to allow myself that time without feeling guilty or pressured that I should ‘be doing something else’.
At this stage I am really only considering mindfulness for myself as a teacher and as a person. Later down the line, if I like how it works out for me, I’ll look further into mindfulness training for students at school, but for now I’m being selfish and focusing on me.
So far I haven’t really seen any drastic changes, for better or for worse, in my work at school. This does not surprise me though – it has only been a week, and we haven’t learned any significant skills yet. We are beginning to learn meditation techniques, but nothing too active yet.
I have noticed that I more actively focus myself in class though. If a student is misbehaving or the class is too rowdy, I am better able to let go of my frustration and turn my tone of voice differently to deal with negative situations in a calmer manner. I am already being a little less judgemental towards the actions of my students and towards my own responses to those, better able to see situations without attaching an emotional response to them right away.
I can definitely see how this is going to better my practice as a teacher. If I can learn to initially analyse situations without judgement or emotion, not only will I be able to deal with them in a calmer, more controlled manner, but I’ll also be protecting myself from emotional turmoil. For example, I could better redirect students to the learning without getting frustrated at them for losing focus, and at myself for letting them lose focus.
There is plenty of research already suggesting that mindfulness training for teachers can ‘increase teachers’ sense of well-being and teaching self-efficacy, as well as their ability to manage classroom behaviour and establish and maintain supportive relationships with students’.
I’m excited to see if this is the case for me – stay tuned for more updates over the next 7 weeks!
If you are interested in mindfulness training for yourself, I strongly recommend completing an official course and not trying to do it through a website or book. There is something very powerful about a face-to-face course for this type of learning. The company I am doing my training through is Openground – you can have a look through their website and see what courses are near you here.
About the Author:
Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys blogging about her experiences, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine. Emily is currently on maternity leave with her first child. You can read more teaching articles from Emily here, or about her life as a new mum over at Actual Mums.