As teachers across Idaho prepare for the start of the new school year, I want to share two things that help make the beginning of the school year less stressful for me as a teacher. I, like many teachers I know, have very high expectations when it comes to academics and behavior. However, I’m well aware that in spite of those expectations, sometimes things won’t always turn out the way I planned. Life happens. People get sick, teachers included. I won’t always be at my best and neither will my students. No big surprise. And that’s okay. The important part is to overcome these temporary setbacks and to get back on track. I’ve learned that when I share this with my students, I’m winning them to my side. They understand that Mr. Soza will be flexible and that eases a lot of tension; not just for them but for me also.
Secondly, in The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, the authors write about Rule #6. An anecdote is given of two prime ministers who are discussing affairs of state. During their discussion, three times they are interrupted by individuals, one is angry, another hysterical and we are not told in what state the third interrupts the discussion. However, in each instance, the interrupters are admonished by the resident prime minister to remember Rule #6, at which point, each interrupter immediately shifts into a state of calm and even apologizes for their actions. The visiting prime minister asks the resident prime minister, “My dear friend, I’ve seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Would you be willing to share with me the secret of Rule Number 6” (79). At which point, the resident prime minister responds, “Very simple. Rule Number 6 is ‘Don’t take yourself so ___________ seriously'” (I removed a profane word).
And, in case you were wondering, there aren’t any other rules.
The purpose of the rule “is to lighten up, which may well light up those around you” (80). As a classroom teacher, I am an authority figure in charge of much. I am in charge of planning and organizing instruction. I am in charge of ensuring that my classroom runs smoothly. I am in charge of daily activities, grading, enforcing school policies, etc. When infractions and misbehavior arise, I can be chill or I can be a jerk. If I make a mistake, I can admit to it and even laugh at myself a little. I can choose to not take things or myself so seriously. “Humor,” the authors write, “can bring us together around our inescapable foibles, confusions, and miscommunications, and especially over the ways in which we find ourselves entitled and demanding, or putting other people down, or flying at each other’s throats” (80). This is especially powerful for teachers who are too hard on themselves or take things too personally. They may overreact in their discipline or act before they think. They may become too critical of themselves as a teacher, end up feeling defeated and may begin to doubt their future as a teacher. If that’s you, chill out, take a deep breath and don’t take yourself too seriously. If students cannot learn in a high stress environment, how effective will a teacher be if they are stressed out and anxious? Remembering Rule #6 is a good strategy to implement as a means of self-care and a deterrent to needless stress and anxiety.