Kickboxing Makes Me a Better Teacher
There’s no denying the intensity of the classroom. It’s bursting with energy, it’s full of contradictions, and when you consider that teachers make about 10,000 decisions a day, it’s also exhausting. I think we all have one of those colleagues who makes us think: “where does he get all that energy” or “how can she possibly be so enthusiastic all the time?” Regardless of where those teachers find that interminable wellspring, I predict they have one thing in common: they take care of themselves in order to take care of others. On their last visit to Iowa, Tch followed me to one of my favorite stress relievers: kickboxing. Even though I’ve never felt more vulnerable than when they had their cameras at my daily kickboxing class, they helped remind me why it’s so important. I hope you enjoy the new piece as well as these other stress relieving insights I’ve tucked away over the last 14 years in this profession.
1. Believe you deserve it.
One of my great teaching mentors and dear friend, Vicki Goldsmith, talks about the oxygen mask principle. It’s heeding the advice of those safety-first flight attendants who remind us each time we board a plane that “if the oxygen masks should drop from the overhead, securely fasten it to yourself before attempting to help anyone else.” We need to be able to breathe ourselves in order to do all of that enthusiastic, incomparable work we take on each day.
Even if you hate it, make room for it. I’ll be the first to admit that I go through dry spells too, (droughts even) but there’s no denying that the more I exercise, the better I sleep and the more robust I feel walking into the classroom each day. And if you don’t buy into the idea of exercise (my colleague, Ed, would be scoffing at me right now) then at least heed the research of John Medina whose book Brain Rules makes a pretty compelling argument for why exercise may be the determining factor in sustaining cognitive agility.
Susan Kimball mentored me during my first year of teaching and was adamant about the importance of solitude. She would often remind me that despite all of the moments in a teaching day that seemed out of control, we could control how we reacted by giving ourselves solitude. Making room for the daily space to think, to ponder, to reflect, to imagine helps to strike our much-needed balance between the boisterousness of schools and the quiet of ourselves. (Granted, with three young children, some days the only solitude I get is when I’m brushing my teeth, but nevertheless, it’s room for the cathartic to enter.)
4. Feed your soul.
“Time you enjoyed wasting is not wasted time,” Bertrand Russell. This is a lesson I aim to share with the new teachers I work with. It’s so easy to succumb to the infinite list of things to do when you’re learning to teach, managing a classroom, and figuring out the profession. That list can be so overwhelming that you end up fighting the guilt of spending time doing things NOT on the list. But truthfully, we teach who we are and who we are comes from the way we feed our souls. Whether it’s time with our loved ones; volunteering in our communities; spending time outdoors; or indulging in books, art or (one of my favorites) TEDx, when we feed our souls, we’re securing our humanity, which is one of the greatest gifts we give our learners.
Sarah Brown Wessling is a high school English teacher in Johnston, Iowa. She is the 2010 National Teacher of the Year and is the Teacher Laureate for Teaching Channel. Connect with Sarah on Twitter – @SarahWessling.