How Mindfulness Makes Me A Better Teacher

Since I started practicing mindfulness this past December, I’ve become a better teacher. I am calmer, more focused, and generally much more in control of my day than I used to be. The truth is, when you slow down your mind and become present for your students, or anyone else in your life for that matter, amazing things happen. You might just see and hear them for the very first time.

The father of mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hahn, described it as “letting go of judgement, returning to an awareness of the breath and the body, and bringing your full attention to what is in you and around you.”

This is actually a lot harder than it sounds, but for the last six months I’ve been growing in this mindset at work, and have noticed things getting better.

1. Organization

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How can a person possibly be mindful when their desk looks like this?

It hurts my head to look at this desk. It’s my colleagues, and we lead very different existences right now at work. Where he starts his day with many cups of coffee, I drink water. Where he takes a break outside to smoke a cigarette, I go to a quiet room to meditate. And where his desk is cluttered with papers and disorganization, mine is empty except for a potted cactus and New Philosopher magazine. This isn’t to sound overly judgmental or mean, but these things really do make a difference. How you organize your day matters.

How can a person possibly be mindful when they smoke, drink too much coffee, and have a disorganized desk? I don’t think that they can. And moreover, if you’re not mindful, why should people listen to you?

When you look at your desk at work, what do you feel? Calm and control? Or stress and frustration?

2. Relationships

2019-06-06-01.14.44.jpg
One big happy family

One may smile, and smile, and be a villain. Apparently even Shakespeare had to deal with gaslighting. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t call the environment at the center I work at hostile, and we all get along ok with each other, but there is a light version of Game of Thrones being played out on a daily basis, and all the characters are well represented. The lies, exaggerations, inconsistencies, and insults have made maintaining healthy relationships more difficult.

In The Art of Communicating, Thich Nhat Hahn talks about a rule they have in Plum Village. The rule is, “… you have the right to suffer twenty-four hours but not more. There’s a deadline. The deadline is twenty-four hours, and you have to practice the fourth mantra before the deadline.” The fourth mantra is: “I suffer. I want you to know it. I don’t understand why you did or said what you did. So please explain. I need your help.” Of course the words can be changed to fit the situation, but this has been the most effective antidote for dealing with toxic work behaviors I’ve ever come across in my life.

I’ve also found that for stressful situations, like a meeting, if I do a guided meditation beforehand (I like the Yoga Wake Up app), the things people do, like commenting on everything or bootlicking the boss, don’t bother me so much.

3. Student Discipline

Pirate
They’re not always sweet angels… sometimes the pirate within comes out

We’ve all been there. Even Walter White. You have a student who doesn’t care about the lesson, and just wants to make their classmates laugh by being disruptive. What do you do? And more importantly, what do you do in your mind?

This is the most challenging aspect of practicing mindfulness I’ve come across: staying mindful when someone is intentionally disrespecting you. Could be making fun of you, gaslighting you, strong-arming you, etc. As teachers, there are numerous classroom management techniques we can apply, but this doesn’t speak to your emotional response, your mental health. And what I’ve found is, you want to slow everything down. Your body is going to want to speed everything up, triggering a fight or flight mode. But you want to slow it down and stay in the moment, stay mindful.

During a lesson on sports, I was going around the room eliciting different kinds of outdoor activities, when a student looked me square in the eyes, leaned forward in his chair, and said, “F***ing.” His friends started to laugh of course, and I was stunned. But after my initial reaction wore off, I took a breath, slowed everything down, and calmly said, “Really Jonathan? Really?” He dropped his head in shame. It was the best outcome I could have possibly hoped for, and I know it happened because I practiced mindfulness.

Please leave a comment if you have any tips or experiences with mindfulness. And if you enjoyed this post, please like!

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