First Things First: Your Teacher Mantra

efficient happy Jan 02, 2016


I vividly remember the first time I flew with my daughters. They were just three and six years old, and I was still in what I like to quaintly call my perfectionistic stage of mothering, while some family members might affectionately refer to it as certifiable.  I had packed enough snacks that we could have endured the two hour flight five times over and they would not go hungry. Each had a carefully chosen lovey to comfort them during any sign of turbulence. Two small blankets were folded and placed carefully in the seatbacks, ready to ward off the air conditioned chill. Behind these I tucked their zip-locked activity bags, filled with crayons, books, puzzles and games.  


After careful consultation with the pediatrician, I had forgone the playground mom advice to dose them each with a Benadryl to protect their eardrums, but had packed enough chewing gum to supply the New York Yankees through a season. I gave one the window and one the aisle, so I could be in the middle holding hands with each of them, obviously, during take-off and landing. Finally. A quick swipe of lip balm for each and one more seat belt check. And now. I shushed them quiet and modeled Very Good Listening as the flight attendant explained the safety procedures.


These people have clearly never had children.


My. Mask. First. I had flown enough times to know the drill. We all have. This time, though, was different. This time, the safety of this flight was very, very important. These tiny people were very, very important. And while I was still mostly intellectually on board with the whole  you can’t be any good to anyone else until you take care of yourself business, envisioning the actual act of doing so was just impossible.


Sitting in that seat, with those two little hands, I can tell you, in no way did I feel up to the challenge. Lucky for me, I have never been put to the test, more than a dozen family flights later. I have grown and changed a lot since then, as have my little girls. These days, my two young women pack for themselves. (I still try to hold their hands.)   

How many Very Important Things fly through your head, each morning?


Sammy is going on vacation again, make a packet…The Elmo is still on the blink, fill out a request… Mary’s mom emailed about her broken glasses, needs a reply… The assembly got moved, now math is back on… Gradebook updates due again, today… Union meeting after school… Observation tomorrow… Classroom library still a mess… Online training for testing next week… That new standards update in my email… Integrate tech into dang reading lesson, somehow… Room mom left a phone message, wants a "good” time for another party… Sub plan for IEP meeting on Thursday… 


UGH. I left my coffee in the CAR!


And all that, before you even get to your classroom. So. Start with the coffee. No. Really. You will never, ever, ever get to the point of getting everything done for everyone. I don’t care how much you love your students. Or how many of your parents are on the school board. Or how many formative observations you have left this Quarter. Or how much cuter the teacher’s bulletin boards next door are. The list just rolls on and on and on.


No matter how devoted you are. No matter how hard you work. No matter how many bags of grading you take home. No matter what. You will never ever, ever, ever meet all the expectations of all the people who “need” things from you in this job. So. Take a deep breath. Get the coffee. Start with taking care of yourself. You know what you need to do.


 Breathe some air for yourself, first. 


Just try this: As you leave your car tomorrow. Pick. One. The most important thing for YOU to do. Simply ask yourself: “What is the ONE thing I could do before ten, that would make ME feel better?” You actually know what it is, as you read this. Don’t look at your lists. Or your calendar. You just know. The task that gets pushed down the line, because your day happens to you.


Let’s face it, this is your one chance. Before you hit the door and everyone else around you is gasping for air, DECIDE. Then actually do it. At your very first opportunity. Don’t open the email. Don’t make copies. Don’t stop by the office. Do what is important. For you. And when it is done, choose another. One. Before lunch. The next biggest priority, that will help your day, your week, or your month be more manageable. A deadline you can meet. A phone call you can make. The prep for your observation. A test you can revise.


You will know. Get it off your plate. Take a breath. And another. Feels pretty good, yes? If you are up for it, choose one more task. Not from a request. From your skull.  Make this the before dismissal item. Knock it out. Now, I ask you. When was the last time you walked back to your car in the school parking lot, knowing you did three things for YOURSELF? Make the next time TOMORROW.


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