I recently had the pleasure of reading The Zen Teacher: Creating Focus, Simplicity and Tranquility in the Classroom by Dan Tricarico! It is my mission to read every book from the Dave Burgess Consulting Inc., and this book came when I needed it the most in my teaching career.
I am half way through my 10th year of teaching second grade. Before that I taught a year as a reading interventionist for grades K-5. I love my job and I truly feel I was born to teach! Being the type of teacher I am though, I always strive to be better. I never settle and halfway is not in my vocabulary. I always go all in! While I feel it is a one of the reasons why I am the teacher I am today, it can be rather exhausting. Oh my. Just admitting that makes me feel extremely guilty. I struggle daily with finding that balance and serenity that I know veteran teachers should have by now. I also just celebrated 5 years with the Mr. and 3 and a half years as a mother. Whenever I wear one hat really well, I sometimes feel the other hats lose their oomph.
I am in an evaluation year, and my administrator asked me recently if there was anything she could do for me this year? This question stumped me. Not because I feel I am done learning or that I’m too good to receive guidance, but because as teachers we often don’t get asked that question. I found myself in her office a few hours later asking for the following guidance:
- finding a balance
- Allowing the positive experiences/notes/feedback/etc. trump the negative ones and not dwelling on the negative
She immediately recommended this book! It’s like this book knew I needed it. If you haven’t read this book, stop what you are doing right now and purchase it immediately: http://amzn.to/1RdpTcz
I must admit I was a little leery at first. I do not know much about Zen but for some reason or another I had decided it was only about chanting and breathing. Not that there is anything wrong with that mind you, I just felt that wasn’t for me. However, the more I thought about it I realized it had to be more than just that. Perhaps it was time to be open and learn. So my reading journey began and here are top ten favorite parts:
- Belief: The first thing I appreciated right away is no belief is pushed on you. I never felt I had to believe in any spiritual philosophy different from my own which made the book more enjoyable for me.
- REAL: The author is REAL! I think it is important to hear from other teachers that teaching is hard and that we all have our moments. Teachers need to hear that we ARE doing amazing work and we all deserve a break. It is ok to take time for us. I need to hear that a lot so one more voice telling me this is a good thing. This book is honest which I always find refreshing.
- Gratitude: I loved the chapter about gratitude. These lines were extremely powerful for me: “In truth, gratitude is one of the most powerful tools we have to stay grounded and to keep our spirits centered. And if we practice it regularly, gratitude reminds us of the blessings in our lives and keeps us from worrying about some slight in the past or some potential catastrophe in the future. When our mind is focused on what we’re grateful for, it’s nearly impossible to feel unhappy.” YES! Thanks to the author’s suggestion, I have started a gratitude journal. Since I love technology, my sister showed me this amazing app called Stigma. This app allows me to record what I’m grateful/thankful for. I also can chart my feelings throughout the week/month/year and word clouds are created with my most used words. I started using this December 7, and have already noticed the positive impact on my classroom and home life.
- Zen Teacher Assignments: I appreciate baby steps and things to do right now to help me reach an overall goal. I love that each assignment felt attainable and something I could do right away.
- Rituals: These can create balance when they are the right rituals that allow us to focus our attention. I loved his prep period rituals: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are for working, Tuesdays are for writing, and Fridays are Friday Fun Preps! What a great way to end the week and recharge your batteries with a fun project or breath of fresh air.
- Space: I felt the most rejuvenated reading this section of the book. I needed someone to tell me that it is ok to make space on your calendar for non-teaching things. You don’t have to sign up to be on every single committee. I also needed to hear how decluttering and subtracting things from your life needs to be done in small steps and not in overwhelming numbers. Start with 15 minutes a day and declutter a small area or single surface instead of an entire room, classroom, and or house. PHEW! I wanted to start cleaning right away after reading his 10 ways to declutter a classroom.
- Put Down Your Sword: Choose your battles and focus on making relationships. My favorite quote from this chapter was “A warrior in constant battle is a tired warrior. And teachers are tired enough.” TRUTH! Sometimes we have to choose a different or better response to a behavior and or school issue. We cannot let it always control us.
- What did you do last week for fun?: This was an eye opening chapter in which he discussed asking kids this very question. Kids often have schedules crammed tight with so much that the fun is gone which leaves them unable to answer the question. As an educator, I want them to be able to answer as well as answer it myself. If my schedule is crammed so tight too, the message will be lost to my students.
- Self-Care: “We don’t keep driving our cars when the “check engine” light comes on.” I am completely guilty of driving my teaching life with a check engine light on with the thought always being if I can just make it to this…. then I will slow down. The problem is there always something else and that one more thing can sometimes be the tip of the iceberg.
- No as a complete sentence: It’s ok to just say no. You know you and if you think it will be too much it is ok to admit that. I loved these lines the best: “Saying no is a rebellious act that may ruffle feathers. Be ready for those reactions and learn to embrace them…..It just makes you a rebel with the courage to follow your own personal vision.” Learning how to say no is something that I have recently started trying and feeling validated yet again was just what I needed.
I love that the book ends with the idea that it’s not about the destination…it’s about the journey. I will benefit my students more if I am teacher who is relaxed, not over stressed, and able to have fun. Thank you Zen Teacher for your phenomenal book and guidance to a happier, calmer me! Here’s to the journey of creating focus, simplicity, and tranquility in my life!