During my time visiting schools across England, I was distressed to find that one of the traits common to both US and UK schools is the constant stress that teachers in both countries work under. England, like the US, places the weight of most of the ills of modern society firmly on the shoulders of teachers, and like in the US, simultaneously structures schools to give teachers little real power to make changes that might make a difference. Is it any wonder that both countries report high levels of teacher burnout and turnover?
I still read several British education blogs, and found this from @, in his blog 20 Years a Teacher #teacher5aday which encourages teachers to join him in sharing or tweeting efforts for improving teacher well-being throughout the month of January using the hashtag #teacher5aday. The five areas for challenges are #connect, #exercise, #notice, #learn and #volunteer, which are based on areas outlined in the John Muir award. These are small efforts suggested to lead to meaningful increases in personal well-being. They can be explored more here:
By increasing our own well-being, teachers might just increase student well-being and improve our whole school culture. So, here are some goals I am setting to challenge myself in the 5 efforts, and I hope that some fellow US teachers will join in this international project.
#connect: This is a tough one for me since, frankly, I’m pretty socially awkward. I teach in a large school and don’t even know all the teachers in my own building. I have a close group of coworkers who I talk with every day and I depend on their support, but there are so many other teachers who I would benefit from adding to my connections. So this may be the first area I really try to focus on for improvement. If we work together, maybe we can increase the impact we make to improve our school culture from the classroom up through administration and onto wider education policy changes.
#exercise: Oh boy, is this something I need to address -‘nough said.
#notice: The pace of seven 47-minute periods of back-to-back instruction offers little time to notice the small gains, subtle struggles, and incidental opportunities for enrichment that I know are happening around me all the time. I want to practice mindfulness in my everyday routines and slow the pace of my interactions with students so that I can take notice of all these details that will make my work more meaningful.
#learn: I feel like this is one area that I already use to maintain my well-being. I read every day to learn new things and am excited about some books I just bought to read over Christmas break. I take a clogging class, am learning to play the mandolin, and have been trying to refresh my rusty Spanish lately.
#volunteer: I’ve signed up to be a volunteer mentor with TNAchieves, our state’s effort to help more students transition from high school to two years of free community college or technical school. I just received the names of the 10 students I will be mentoring and can’t wait to get started.
When I look at these efforts as a whole, I see that the only way any improvements will happen is if I slow down and take time to live within the moments of each school day. I often find myself thinking, “Don’t ask one more thing from me…I’m teaching as fast as I can already.” But it’s the fast pace that hurts my well-being the most, and keeps me from doing the best job I possibly can for my students. I hope the #teacher5aday will help me to slow it down, and to teach and live more mindfully.