As I made my way through my inbox, unsubscribing from newsletters in my “toss/restore/organize” phase, I found this article via Behance and 99u.com. It was a lovely surprise among the “six weeks to your leanest body!” Women’s Health newsletters, “40% off bedding” Crate & Barrel ads, and “Wedding Dresses starting at $199!” David’s Bridal missives…and a “that moment when…you realize the crazy person in the article is YOU.”
I’ve felt “crazy/busy” before and operated under the assumption that the more I was working, the better teacher I would be. I look back now and realize that my constant motion, harried tone, and rushing created a stressful atmosphere in my classroom (and in meetings I led when I started in leadership roles). Instead of prioritizing, I labeled everything as “urgent” and raced around putting out fires. Operating like a frantic hamster scurrying along its wheel didn’t make me any more productive. I took on more responsibilities with after-school programs and IB, which fostered an image of me as Ms. Busy Bee. I’d happily tick off items from my various to-do lists , yet I’d put off the most difficult tasks until the end of the day.
The biggest task? Lesson planning. I craved grading–it fit neatly into my items to tick off. I used to do grading during prep periods and get a lot of other tasks done, only to find myself at home on the couch, still wondering what I was going to teach the next day. That would leave me much less time to craft a lesson plan as well as a foggy, tired brain that couldn’t think as fast or anticipate how students would respond to activities or math problems. That led to awkward explanations in lessons, mistimed activities, and confused students.
How does one lay the foundation for this hamster-wheel hodgepodge? Picture this start to the day for Ruffled Teacher.
6:00 Wake up, shower, and hastily pull together outfit from pile of clean laundry. Slap makeup on face, let hair air dry, and gather together books, lesson materials, wallet, and keys from various spots in apartment.
6:30 Pick up breakfast sandwich and coffee on the way to the T.
6:40 Wail when coffee spills on sleeve during sprinting reaction to to “the next train to Ashmont is now…arriving” mechanical voice booming from the T speakers.
7:25 Stagger into school like a zombie; the caffeine still hasn’t kicked in. Wonder if licking coffee off sleeve would help energy levels.
7:30 Print handouts for first period and scoot over to teachers lounge to copy, only to find several coworkers in line behind someone making 54 copies of a 20 page handout.
7:40 Ah, copies are going. Oh, wait…that’s the joyful “beep beep beep” of a paper jam. #$%$^&#^$@!!!
7:45 Rush into class, already cranky.
Embarking on the Happiness Project and starting new habits for 2014 have both left me calmer, especially at work. Decluttering, eating better, and using my time more meaningfully have all influenced this. For example, I now ban myself from checking personal email at work until after my lessons for the following day are prepped and copied, and this looks more like the start to my day. I also started taking my own advice to students and making time to eat breakfast at home and pack a healthy lunch. Sure, a half-hour more of sleep sounds better in theory but having a little soothing morning time and lots of nutrients also goes a long way.
5:35 Wake up (already showered). Put on outfit that was picked out the night before. Start hot water for french press that has been filled with coffee grounds the night before. Comb hair and put on makeup in non-rushed way. Eat breakfast. Take packed lunch from fridge, work bag (packed the night before), wallet, and keys (from same spot on key rack).
6:42 Board the T after a walk or carefully timed bus ride (via the Catch the Bus app).
7:25 Walk into school and say “good morning” to people, already being caffeinated helps with morning cheeriness!
7:30 Walk into classroom with already prepped whiteboard and handouts that were printed the day before.
That kind of a start to the day lays a foundation for Unruffled Teacher. Unruffled Teacher has a calm work style, which the article points out as a mark of competency and of being poised and strategic rather than reacting all day to others’ demands. Both my headmasters evoke the unruffled demeanor. They respond calmly when teachers come to them with crises, and help provide guiding strategies for said crises. I’m aiming to unruffle myself so that I set a calm atmosphere in my classroom and meetings.
1) Block out time needed to achieve realistic goals, and accommodate for interruptions.
2) Understand the big picture and focus less on the minutiae.
3) Slow your roll (as the kids say these days).
The “crazy/busy? you’re stressing everyone out” article brought me to this one about fixing bad habits. I initially thought the changes to my daily routine would be too hard to handle, but I’ve actually grown to like the various processes and habits easier than if I’d implemented them only a few times per week. I realized that simple food triumphs over trying to incorporate fancy gourmet recipes at every meal; it’s the cooking + packing habit that was important to implement. Reading a book on the T for a few minutes each day is sticking with me more than if I’d approached the habit with the mindset that I must read 5 books this month. And oddly enough, I’d been habituating my first steps of the habit by retooling the start to the day and the baby steps for decluttering, eating better, and using time more meaningfully.