“You have a student in your class who vomits. A lot.”
“Right... Like, at lunch time?"
"No, no. Just randomly."
I’d spent some time preparing for the first week back. I’d bought some new stickers, read Bill Rogers’ suggestions for the establishment phase and planned some getting to know you activities. I had not, however, planned for a Rogue Vomiter.
Starting a new year can be daunting as a teacher. We’ve enjoyed some downtime (even if it took a while to get into the swing of it!), caught up with family and friends, and on sleep. But we know that we need to hit the ground running. This can bring feelings of excitement for some, and anxiety for others.
So how do you handle what life, work and your students throw at you in the first days and weeks?
1. Plan a little
The old ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail’ adage is a good one, as long as you don’t take it too seriously. We obviously need to do some planning to prepare for the term ahead. If you have a classroom, ensure it is neat, ready and welcoming. Draft your first week. Prepare activities for getting to know your students, including classroom rules and expectations. But hey, do you need to plan out every micro moment of the entire year ahead and every book you need and every minor detail of your program? No! You’ve got the whole term and year to work on things as they come.
2. Name it to tame it
If you’re feeling anxious or even depressed about going back to the classroom, give yourself a moment. Sit down somewhere by yourself and turn any technological distractions to flight mode and check in with yourself. What’s at the core of your feelings? Is it that you’re unsure what you need to do? Is it that you’re worried about classroom management? Is it that you’re afraid you won’t get along with other staff members?
Dr Dan Siegel calls this process ‘name it to tame it’. Acknowledging and pinpointing how we feel can help us to shift out of the panic or anxiety mode, and allow us to address and overcome the real issues.
3. Take a breath
Ever been on a rollercoaster? Or spoken up when you felt nervous? Jack Kornfield points out that “even though you may be anxious, fear is often excitement holding its breath”. When we’re nervous or worried about how something will go, we can recognise how we feel (remember ‘name it to tame it’) and then take a few big breaths to calm the body and let it know that it’s okay. We can then recognise some exciting things about the term. For example, seeing colleagues or former students again. Or if you're a new teacher, being able to put into practice what you've learnt. Try shifting your mindset from anxious to excited about the adventure and growth ahead.
4. Shine the light outwards
I was nervous to start that year. When my Rogue Vomiter (who I loved, by the way) turned up, I realised that there were a lot of other anxious people around too. Directing the light of our attention and focus outwards, to our students or colleagues, can cultivate space within. We’re no longer caught up in our own taco brain, and instead are fully present with those around us.
5. One step at a time
Feeling overwhelmed by going back? Got a challenging class (or three)? Or maybe you’ve got to write your program, choreograph a dance performance, present at a parent info session and get your accreditation approved by week five?
Take a breath. Come back to the present moment, perhaps by finding one sight, sound, smell, taste and texture in your current experience.
Sometimes we get overwhelmed because we can see the size of the mountain ahead. All we can do, however, is take one step at a time to make our way to the peak, and beyond. Keep coming back to this present moment and tackle any challenges one step at a time.
The truth is, we could’ve spent all holidays planning for the year ahead, making plans and programs, labels and posters. But life will still throw you a Rogue Vomiter, or a change of class on the first day or a “sorry that five day a week contract is now a one day a week contract”.
The best we can do is be reasonably prepared without stressing ourselves out. And to be gentle with ourselves as we focus our attention on our students. We can manage any unexpected situations thrown our way by recognising them as a potential learning opportunity and by remaining present. After all, vomit happens.
How are you feeling about heading back to school this term? Do you have any other tips to manage any nerves or feelings of anxiety about the year ahead? What's the most unexpected thing that happened on your first day back?
Share your ideas in the comments box below.
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