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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is a Ph.D student at the University of South Florida, where he also works as a teaching assistant, supervising and teaching pre-service teachers. Steve holds a master's degree in...
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“Inner Calm” for the Classroom and Preparing Educators for the “Battlefield of Teaching”

Teaching is a very stressful profession. I have personally experienced the demands of being a teacher and observed colleagues also deal with the stressors of the job, ranging from high-stakes testing, demanding parents, increased paperwork, disrespectful students, increased diversity and differentiated learning needs, and lack of creativity and autonomy.

As a teacher educator, who works with student teachers, I believe that serving in a practicum setting where student teachers gain first-hand experience is a powerful way to help prepare them for the realities of teaching. But it’s not enough.

What I think is missing in teacher preparation is helping candidates develop a philosophy and practical strategies to harness the inner strength and resiliency to survive-and eventually thrive—under difficult conditions. Teacher educators should be focused on mindset, if not more, than actual pedagogy. I believe overtime, a teacher with the proper attitude and mindset will gain the necessary skills and techniques to effectively serve students. But what good is it if you provide a student teacher with the proper technique only to have them crumble to the pressures of the profession?

In ancient times, the samurai of feudal Japan understood the need for adopting the proper mindset. Faced with the constant threat of death, they knew it was not enough to simply master sword techniques. These warriors sought methods to develop inner calm, particularly when on the battlefield. Thus, they turned to Zen Buddhism and other philosophies to help master their powers of concentration so they could better weather the storms and stress of the times.

While not faced with sharp swords and combat, would teachers not also benefit from developing inner calm and peacefulness? Would they not gain from learning to remain focused and present despite what happens during the school day?

Teacher education programs have made strides in seeking out ways to better prepare teachers mentally.  For instance, Korthagen and Vasalos (2008) developed the Quality from Within (QFW) model to help teachers become more aware of their inner qualities and potential. Teacher educators have also proposed strength-based approaches or discovering what strengths or qualities teachers already bring to the classroom and building upon those traits. In regards to stress-management, practices such as mindfulness, or intentionally being in the present moment, and meditation, have been suggested and tested in some cases.

While I think all of these approaches have merit, I believe we need to explore holistic approaches, ones that arm aspiring teachers with new philosophies and mindsets and tools that help them forge their inner qualities and allow them to more gracefully and successfully handle the inevitable stress and pressure that succumbs those who work in today’s schools.

This philosophy might include:

Expanded awareness that allows teachers to see the differences (e.g. cultural, racial, learning ability, etc.) among students and how those differences complement each other and strengthen the classroom.

  • The ability to see the humor and the light-heartedness in every situation.
  • The ability to remain psychologically centered amidst the many storms of education.
  • The skill of de-stressing and recharging through techniques such as breathing meditation, mantra meditation, and yoga.
  • The ability to “set aside” other concerns and problems temporarily and remain totally present and apply one-hundred percent concentration when teaching.
  • Tools to assist teachers in deeply and meaningfully connecting and collaborating with colleagues and ways where all members benefit.

While these are merely ideas and suggestions at this point (I have yet to research them in the field), I think this list raises questions and hopefully stimulates discussion.

As we study and consider teacher programs in light of the challenges in the classroom, perhaps we could expand our perspective and focus on what might help new teachers remain emotionally and mentally strong for their students.

 

References

Korthagen, F. and Vasalos, A. (2008). Quality from within as the key to professional development. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York, March.