Dukkhaboy

Have felt worse


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Pressure – What pressure?

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I don’t want to be but I am worried about tomorrow. My stomach feels full and empty at the same time. But I have a strategy to deal with it.

My pupils’ exam results are published. It’s a big day for them. Two years work reduced to a few grades on a slip of paper in a small brown envelope. It’s hard for them. At 16 it is their first pointer as to how they might do as an adult in the outside world, where they might fit in. Of course at 16 they don’t know properly know the outside adult world of jobs, careers, finances and although they have a vague idea of the big picture, most 16 year olds wouldn’t see the results in that way. It’s much simpler for them. “What grade did I get? What grades did I want? What did my best friend get? Let’s hug.”

But I know the outside world significance of their grades for me. I’ve been through this before. As a teacher you are only as good as your last set of grades. Five years ago my pupils’ grades nosedived. Like an inexperienced man on the top board at the local swimming pool they made an ugly loud splash that made everyone cringe. For 15 years before I had been seen as a good teacher and then overnight I was a bad one.

Interviewed and reinterviewed by SLT, analysed, poked and questioned like a guilty criminal. “Support” was put in a place. Clipboards and nosey faces appeared in my classroom. Scrutinies happened. It was like having the KGB in my lessons. They wanted to know WHAT I WAS DOING WRONG. The latest educational ideas were given as strategies I should employ for every class; conversational feedback, differentiated starter activities, more mini plenaries, learning objectives visible everywhere and at all times. I ran faster and faster around my classroom, my evenings were a swirling gust of marking and planning. My pupils did more and more assessments so I could show to anyone who looked (and lots of people did) how they were progressing and how all those shiny new ideas were working to make me better at my job and results improve. Work became a slog, meetings a frightening strain. Every one of my judgements in the classroom was under the microscope. There was always more I could have done.

I WAS MADE TO FEEL SHIT.

Since then my pupils results have had 3-4 years of being what they were before – pretty good, thank you. On reflection it turns out I didn’t suddenly become a bad teacher. Equally, since then I haven’t been reinvented as great teacher either. I had one bad year. And all those time consuming ideas were at best an inefficient use of my time and maybe just plain pointless. There are an immeasurable amount of  immeasurables that go into making a pupil’s results. A teacher’s ability is just one of these (one of the larger ones for sure) that is all.

So, if like me you are fearful of tomorrow, take a deep breath and clearly think about how hard you worked in the last two years for your pupils. You have more than played your part. Despite how you may have been made to feel results day is for the pupils, not for you nor for the school.  But whether David or Sarah or whoever got their grade or didn’t isn’t the whole definition of whether you can teach or not and certainly isn’t the description of who you are as a person. If you allow yourself to think like that you shrink the beauty of what you do as a teacher and suck all the joy out of your classroom.

Once you have checked the results tomorrow morning; be happy or sad, miffed of delighted and then move on to all the other things that make life so worth living. There’s still more than a week left of the summer holidays for a start.

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Waking Up

Ven Amy Miller

I heard the Venerable Amy Miller teach this week. She was talking about “Transforming Negative Emotions: Coping with Anxiety and Depression.” I really liked what she had to say about starting your day positively and thought it would be useful to anyone whether they were facing anxiety and/or depression or not.

She suggested four ways to set your mind off well early in the morning. Firstly, think about and be grateful for your life. Look at all the good things that are in it: you have a house, a comfortable bed, when you turn the tap water comes out and it is clean water free of diseases, there is food you can buy and you don’t have to dodge bombs and bullets on the day to the shop or market. Additionally, you have friends who support you, you live in an area with available health care. All these things (and you can probably think of many more) mean you have a fortunate life.

Then look at yourself. Think about your good qualities and abilities. Personally as I am British my culturally engrained modesty kicks in here, but she makes a good point. We all have things we contribute and do that make the world better for others. Maybe it is the skills you bring to your job that help others have an easier and more happy daily life or the care you give members of your family; young or old. These first two points are similar to a line of thinking and meditation in Buddhism called your “precious human rebirth”. Being grateful for all this, or even at first just aware of it, helps make the most of what we have and be happier in our own life and environment.

Thirdly she suggested we consider that we might die today. Now I am sure the first two suggestions make clear logical sense to all, whereas this one may seem at best odd and maybe even nuts to anyone not familiar with Buddhist philosophy. In the West and certainly here in the UK talk of and thoughts about death are avoided, shunned and left ignored. But if you can consider the fragility of your life in the first minutes of the day it lets you see how precious and wonderful it can be. By considering that this could be your final few hours on the planet you can make your day more purposeful and joyful. You can choose to live it with more awareness for how special and  invaluable it is. If you do this then you’ll not only be happier yourself but you will spread some of that joy around the people you connect with. Looking at the impermanence of our lives helps us live them more positively.

Finally she talked about setting a motivation of benefiting all people you meet during the day. This aim gives your time purpose and meaning and helps make yourself and others be happier. And if we were all able to that every day ….

If any of this strikes a chord with you Venerable Amy’s website with more talks, ideas for meditations (and without my misinterpretations) is here http://amymiller.com