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“Keep Calm & Carry On”

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'Streeter Seidell, Comedian' photo (c) 2005, Zach Klein - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

This has been a challenging year for me in the classroom. My classes, as do most at our 100% free lunch school, always have a considerable number of students facing multiple difficult challenges, but this year the number and severity was noticeably larger than usual.

I’ll go into it more in-depth in a post after the school year is done in two weeks and I have a little more distance. However, I read a short article today that shared some wisdom that I hope to carry into these final two weeks and beyond.

I pride myself at being very patient, not being reactive, and being able to “get over” things quickly, but I’ve become a bit worn down by the classroom challenges of this year, and have sometimes not done a good job of not letting my sense of feeling frustrated at one student or class spill over to how I treat other students and other classes.

I’ve previously posted some ways I deal with these issues at What Do You Do When You’re Having A Bad Day At School?

Today, I read a useful short article titled Keep Calm & Carry On.

The author offered two suggestions on how to move beyond feeling frustrated that I think are helpful. Here’s one:

Mr. Loehr was describing something he had observed in the best tennis players – namely that they were meticulous about renewing themselves in the 20 to 30 seconds between points. The first thing these players did when a point ended was to turn away from the net. I loved the metaphor: Turn away from the net. Let it go.

When I’m feeling frustrated, I try to become more conscious of my breathing and slow down, but it’s sometimes hard to remember. I think this metaphor of “turning away from the net” could an effective reminder.

Here’s his other idea related to Adam Grant (see my previous posts about his work here). Grant’s research suggests a simple, and not new, idea:

…that people who give without expecting anything in return actually turn out not only to feel better for having done so, but also to be more successful. Giving, Mr. Grant explains, does not require extraordinary acts of sacrifice. It simply involves a focus on acting in the interests of others.

The author of the article, Tony Schwartz, describes feeling frustrated in an airport and applying Grant’s research by asking people how they were doing, hearing one person respond “I need a cup of coffee,” and then just going to get one for her.

I’m wondering if I could get into that kind of pattern — anytime I have a frustrating experience with a student or class, get into the habit of intentionally doing something “nice” (and out of the ordinary kind of “nice”) for another student or another class? It could be simple — for example, if I see that a student is not feeling well and has been getting up and getting facial tissue from the box in front, I could just bring the box to him/her once and ask if they needed one. Just a thought….

What are your strategies for “keeping calm and carrying on”?

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

5 Comments

  1. Hi Larry,

    Yes, never easy and I’m really supportive of the idea of teachers having visual metaphors by which to cope and keep things in perspective. Really powerful.

    Related to your point on “giving”. Teachers do give so much, so much of themselves. Myself, I’ve completely absorbed the concept of “I keep what I give”. I’ll leave it at that (explaining would ruin it).

    I also think that many teachers do get ‘trapped” in jobs which they aren’t right for, ill matched with. They need also to recognize this and the goal being to find a place which matches however imperfectly their own teaching mindset/philosophy and belief system. Noting of course that even there – they’ll still have bad days!

    David

  2. When I’m having problem with my class (not unusual in the spring with 11 and 12 year olds), and I’m finding that most of my communication is corrective/negative, I make a really conscious effort to focus on kids who are on task, and to publicly acknowledge that. The dynamics (public vs. private) are different in high school, but the key thing is find what is working, and focus on that. By sharing what is working with the class, I’m giving them feedback on expectation, which if you’ve built a decent rapport, most will respond to positively. This is something that I have to do really intentionally when we first hit a bad patch, but once it’s kick-started, it becomes more “natural”.

  3. Thank you, Food for thought. The slippery slopes at the end of term always require us to dig deep. It’s the little tweaks that keep the classroom human and more effective.

  4. I agree, I give the same advice to the teacher-students I help (this is part of my job as a teacher in Europe helping new teachers in difficult districts to find their way and cope).
    I think you should feel satisfied if you did the best you could at that time and place.
    You should never expect anybody to congratulate you, what you do is first and foremost for your own achievement and satisfaction. This usually helps them to keep on.
    Now the metaphor of the tennis player is just great because doing something when there is tension is essential and “turning away from the net” maybe a good way to distance ourselves, keep calm and in charge. The thing is finding a way to turn away from the net each time. On the other hand feeling frustrated and showing it also means we care and may not be so bad every now and then, I think our students actually understand that.

  5. Pingback: Reflections on Teaching » Blog Archive » Week 34: The Ides of Open House

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