Teacher Feature #49 – Finesse Stress

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The task of being a teacher today is one that may be filled with a variety of frustration. In fact, I believe that the daily stress in our teaching profession has increased drastically over the past decades. This is due to the fact that a teacher’s range of responsibilities and related expectations have diverged dramatically.

Earlier this week, a friend sent me a “swinging” image with the following text “Every time you feel yourself being pulled into other people’s drama, repeat these words … “Not my circus, not my monkeys”. This stress-reducing mantra is a translation of an old Polish proverb “Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy!

Not my circus - Not my monkeys - 400x300

Teacher Feature #49 – Polish Proverb – March, 2015

I wondered why we, as teachers, can identify so well with this powerful, proverb. In my case, during an educational career spanning 40 years, I worked as a classroom teacher with junior and senior high students for 12 years. The vast majority of my educational career was spent as a provincial and divisional Computer/Education Consultant. Many might argue that spending only 30% of my career as a classroom teacher, reduced my exposure to stress significantly. However, I maintain that any dedicated individuals, working in the educational system today, be they Teacher Assistants, Teachers, Consultants, or Administrators are subjected to stress. With this in mind, I wondered why this might be the case.

When I attended university, I worked each summer at Coca Cola on the bottling line where bottles were cleaned, filled with product, capped and packaged for distribution. I’m sure there were the odd days when the job may have had its stressful moments. However, at the end of the day, when we “punched out” our time card, we went home and left those frustrations, and work-related problems, at the job site.

Educators, it seems, do not have such luxuries. Their job, together with the stress of the day often goes home with them. Furthermore, today’s educator seems to be tethered to the job and often to parents by email and other social media applications. The job, which we all know, continues well past the 9:00 am to 4:00 pm day when the school is open. Furthermore, the “teaching day” together with it’s related responsibilities, continues to get longer.

Another reason that I think teachers may gravitate towards drama and added stress in the workplace is that we all want to be helpful. We want to be the “ring leader” and bring happiness and put smiles on everyone’s face. Most students who enter the Faculty of Education do so because they want to improve education and help students succeed. So when students, or other educators, attempt to draw one into their problems, and the related drama surrounding the situation, we often feel the need to “jump in with both feet” and do our best to help. Unfortunately, the results can be both overwhelming and we may not be as helpful as we had first intended. If you are one that can’t avoid jumping in to help “every circus in town”, the following Bill Cosby quotation below will probably resonate with you:

“I don’t know the key to success,
but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

Am I suggesting that you withdraw your help from everyone? No … I think it is more important that you look at “each circus” and determine how best you can support the situation. Sometimes, even walking away and forcing those individuals to work through the issues themselves, provides them with a chance to learn and develop their own coping skills.

When a “new circus” arrives in town, you have to ask yourself … “What is my motivation for becoming involved and, more importantly, what will my involvement cost me in terms of time and stress?” Take time to ask yourself if you can really bring, or add, something unique to help resolve the problem for all involved. If you cannot, bow out gracefully, rather than simply adding another individual to the melee.

Lastly consider what will be the consequences, should you not choose to participate. After all, if you are not going to be part of the solution, don’t be part of the problem. Sometimes one has to be selfish, if you are already trying to manage several monkeys in your own circus. Furthermore, in today’s educational environment, you know there are always going to be new circuses coming to town.

These can be tough decisions but perhaps you will remember this Polish proverb and ask yourself whether you might reduce your stress by not getting involved but in just “monkeying around”.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”
https://www.flickr.com/photos/life-long-learners/sets/72157625102810878/

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Teacher Feature #44 – Teaching Superheroes

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It’s the last day of the month and I am scrambling to write this month’s “Teacher Feature” blog post. I was motivated to write this message by the antics of some of our neighbourhood children who, dressed as superheroes, visited our home tonight shouting “Hallowee’en Apples!” or “Trick or Treat!”. Many of these children were elementary school age and it got me thinking about my teaching colleagues, who are indeed real superheroes.

Teacher as Superhero - 400 x 300

Teacher Feature #44 – Author Unknown – October, 2014

When I began teaching in 1967, I was able to spend almost all of my school day focusing on the curriculum and helping the students in my classrooms. Today, however, there seems to be an ever-expanding plethora of demands on teachers’ time. Often more than half of the weekly hours that the average teacher devotes to school-related activities are non-classroom duties. Often it is spent preparing for classes, marking, working with individual students, supervising extra-curricular activities, attending meetings, committee work, completing paperwork, and contacting parents. In addition, today’s teacher is expected to stay up-to-date on the latest trends, partake in professional development, and learn to use technology and social media to improve the educational experience for all members of their class.

Furthermore, when I began teaching I believe that I had the support of all my parents. Should a student misbehave in the classroom, I knew that his/her parents would back me up and that the individual student would be reprimanded by his parents as well. Toady, I’m not sure that all parents respect and support teachers to the same degree as they have in past.

Donald D. Quinn expresses the challenges of teaching today with the following comparison:

“If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn’t want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher’s job.”

I am proud to state that I have met so many dedicated teachers over my 40 year teaching career who were indeed superheroes because they strongly believed in the words of Barbara Colorose:

“If kids come to us from strong, healthy functioning families, it makes our job easier. If they do not come to us from strong, healthy, functioning families, it makes our job more important.” 

In closing, I leave my colleagues and educational readers with these wonderful, wise words: “To the world you may be just a teacher, but to your students you are a hero.”

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”
http://www.flickr.com/photos/life-long-learners/

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Teacher Feature #41 – Never Stop Learning

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I first began teaching Mathematics to Grade 7 & 8 students more than 45 years ago. I must admit that I was convinced that all the learning on which my students focused, would be found in the Mathematics textbook that each student was issued  at the start of the school year. Somewhat naively, I thought that the vast majority of the students’ learning would come to a grinding halt over the summer months as the books were forgotten and holidays started.

Today, upon reflection, I realize just how much students learn outside the conventional classroom and just how many opportunities there are to learn over the summer months.

 Learning Over Summer-400x300
Teacher Feature #41 – Unknown – July, 2014

I am convinced that as adults, we should take more time to explore those magical “teachable moments” with the children in our charge. Whether it be … how to catch and fillet a fish, how to throw a football, or how to ride a two-wheeler, these are rare opportunities to teach interesting skills that may be retained long after the student has forgotten, for example, how to solve a quadratic equation.

Learning to downhill ski was important within our family. Although our two boys enjoyed competitive downhill racing in Manitoba, they eagerly looked forward to their school Spring Break holiday in March. This was when our family drove out West to ski in the mountains in Fernie, British Columbia. Our boys often wondered why other Manitoba ski families seemed to always arrive in Fernie before us, although we often left Manitoba on the same day. In that my wife was also a teacher, we often spent time “learning along the way”. Other families might travel in the most direct route between point A and B but we always took side trips to explore other interests. Whether it was exploring the life of the North-West Mounted Police at Fort McLeod, discovering the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, or investigating Canada’s deadliest rock slide at the Frank Slide, our family took advantage of these holiday opportunities to learn more about the history and related stories that may not necessarily have been found in the textbooks that our sons were studying in their respective classrooms.

I think back on these amazing opportunities that our family shared and I know our sons are richer for these additional learning experiences.

Perhaps Jiddu Krishnamurti captured the essence of this “Teacher Feature” when he said:

There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”
http://www.flickr.com/photos/life-long-learners/

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Teacher Feature #23 – Good teaching is …

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My wife and I recently visited our younger son in California. As part of our San Francisco experience, we decided to take a Segway tour through Golden Gate Park. Before we were allowed to take control of this “pogo stick on two-wheels”, we were given thorough safety instructions on how to control this unique device. One of the instructor/leaders provided a rather animated and polished demonstration of the do’s and don’ts when controlling a Segway. It was her performance that sparked my initiative to create this month’s Teacher Feature.

Teacher Feature #23 – Gail Godwin – November, 2012

Part way through the Segway tour, we stopped for a few minutes rest and we had a chance to ask this leader if she had a teaching background. She indicated that, in past, several of her Segway clients had asked if she had a background in theater. Interestingly enough, we were the first to ask if her demonstrated skill-set came from an educational background. She admitted that she did work with special needs students and we all agreed that a significant portion of good teaching is in the theatrics of the delivery style.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”
http://www.flickr.com/photos/life-long-learners/

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Car Stereos, Connectivity and Teaching

Food for Thought, Info, Reflection 2 Comments »

My son sent me this thought-provoking illustration:

It seems like only yesterday that I envied friends who had new car stereos similar to the top image. True, they could now play their favourite CD album while cruising in the car. More importantly, in my mind, was the fact that the car stereo hardware could now play music in mp3 formats. Those, who were somewhat technologically savvy, could create “compilation” CDs containing favourite individual mp3 music tracks from a wide variety of entertainers. I still remember friends who had big binders of “compilation” CDs under the driver’s seat and, when you got into their car, their first question was “Do you have a favourite band?” or “Is there a music genre that you particularly like?”.

Today as Steve Jobs stated … “Your entire music library fits in your pocket”. Whether it be on any portable media player or smart phone, today’s youth just want to know where’s the cable to plug in their personal device into the car’s speaker system.

In fact, even this sought-after cable may be soon disappear with the following technological modification:

I conclude this post with a question to my teaching colleagues. With the rapid development of technology and with so many of our youth “connected” to music, shouldn’t we, as educators, explore how we too can become better connected?

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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UnPlug’d: Meaningful Messages in Education

Food for Thought, Professional Development, Reflection No Comments »

As a new school year begins I pondered over the topic of my first September blog post. Should I research and list various educational activities and resources that teachers could use at the start of a new school year? Would it be beneficial to share how some educators are using Google Docs to set up their classes to collaborate and share online?

No … rather than focus of the “mechanics” of teaching, I decided that I would share some “meaningful messages” in education. I believe that teachers can learn so much from visionary colleagues who are willing to share short, focused messages that are supported by poignant and passionate videos. For three days in August, 37 innovative educators from across Canada, who use technology in creative ways to engage their students and enhance their professional careers, actively participated in an UnPlug’d Canadian Educational Summit. By unplugging from their highly networked personal and professional lives, these passionate educators were asked to focus on what matters most in teaching and learning.

Manitoba was well represented by the following six innovative educators:

Participants were challenged to reflect on their educational experience and arrive at this unique professional development session with a short, 250 word story entitled “Why ‘blank’ matters!” At UnPlug’d, participants shared their educational stories, gained feedback, and through peer collaboration these stories were edited and improved so that they might be shared as a powerful online document. These printed stories, together with poignant, supporting story-telling videos, are being shared throughout September at: http://www.unplugd.ca/unplugd11.html

The week of September 26, 2011 has been set as a target deadline for the final online publication to be released in ePub and PDF formats. I encourage readers to review the currently available multimedia products and submit comments (at the bottom of this post) regarding which documents and/or videos had special meaning.

I can guarantee that readers will find a story and/or video which will resonate with them and, should they choose to take action, will help them become a better teacher.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Credit: Flickr Image “UnPlug’d 2011 Delegate Photo” by unplugd
http://www.flickr.com/photos/unplugd/6027365839/

Additional Resources:

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‘Survivor’ – Outwit, Outplay, and Outlast

Food for Thought, Humour 2 Comments »

Have you heard about the next planned “Survivor” show?

Three businessmen and three businesswomen will be dropped in an elementary school classroom for 1 school year.  Each business person will be provided with a copy of his/her school district’s curriculum, and a class of 20-25 students.

Each class will have a minimum of five learning-disabled children, three with A.D.D., one gifted child, and two who speak limited English. Three students will be labeled with severe behavior problems.

Each business person must complete lesson plans at least 3 days in advance, with annotations for curriculum objectives and modify, organize, or create their materials accordingly. They will be required to teach students, handle misconduct, implement technology, document attendance, write referrals, correct homework, make bulletin boards, compute grades, complete report cards, document benchmarks, communicate with parents, and arrange parent conferences. They must also stand in their doorway between class changes to monitor the hallways.

In addition, they will complete fire drills, tornado drills, and [Code Red] drills for shooting attacks each month.

They must attend workshops, faculty meetings,and attend curriculum development meetings. They must also tutor students who are behind and strive to get their 2 non-English speaking children proficient enough to take the SOLS tests.  If they are sick or having a bad day they must not let it show.

Each day they must incorporate reading, writing, math, science, and social studies into the program. They must maintain discipline and provide an educationally stimulating environment to motivate students at all times.  If all students do not wish to cooperate, work, or learn, the teacher will be held responsible.

The business people will only have access to the public golf course on the weekends, but with their new salary, they may not be able to afford it.  There will be no access to vendors who want to take them out to lunch, and lunch will be limited to thirty minutes, which is not counted as part of their work day.  The business people will be permitted to use a student restroom, as long as another survival candidate can supervise their class.

If the copier is operable, they may make copies of necessary materials before, or after, school. However, they cannot surpass their monthly limit of copies.  The business people must continually advance their education, at their expense and on their own time.

The winner of this Season of Survivor will be allowed to return to their job.

Pass this to your friends who think teaching is easy and to the ones that know it is hard.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Credits:
– Anecdote forwarded by: Aleda Sloane
– Remixed Flickr image “Outwit Outplay Outlast” by Thomas Hawk
http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/4629130046/

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