By Cindy Schwartz, Co-Founder and Director of Secondary Education
This blog post is an adaptation of “Teaching Quietly an episode of the Attentive Teaching Podcast. Our podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and other major podcast platforms.
According to a January 2021 poll conducted on behalf of the American Psychological Association, 84% of adults reported feeling at least one emotion associated with prolonged stress, largely related to current events in American, such as the pandemic. The most notable emotions felt were anxiety, sadness, and anger.
Teachers are not immune to these feelings, especially while teaching remotely, which can result in higher levels of anxiety, stress, and anger than most educators would say they are comfortable with.
Turn Off the Noise
It’s important for teachers to try to turn off the noise and help ourselves teach quietly. Now, this doesn’t mean that you won’t be talking – talking is, after all, necessary in the classroom. Instead, “teaching quietly” is about trying to help ourselves become more aware so we’re not teaching frenetically.
It might not seem like it right now, but really, teaching is very simple. It should never be complicated. You love children and always want to help them feel capable and good about themselves.
You want to make a difference.
But how can you do that when we’re seeing higher and higher levels of stress? What can be done to help make teaching less stressful and frenetic?
Here are some suggestions to help you approach teaching in a more Zen-like fashion and to make your day quieter:
Before the School Day Starts
Teaching quietly begins before you even get to school. Here are some things you can do before class starts to ensure you are ready for a day of teaching:
- Make sure that you have eaten and slept well the night before. Teaching is emotional and physical, so you should be well-rested.
- Drive as calmly to work as you can. Maybe consider not talking on the phone during your commute.
- Listen to music that you love and soothes you, whether in your car on the way to work or at home teaching remotely. Consider not listening to anything at all if you find that more calming.
- Leave time to settle in at school before you begin teaching for the day. Try to avoid rushing in. Try to avoid engaging in negative dialogue and/or negative thoughts before the day begins. Visualize waves in the ocean – go below the surface to a quieter, more subtle place.
- Say hi to your colleagues, whether in school physically or teaching remotely. They’ll appreciate the connection.
When Class Is In Session
Once your students begin to arrive, it’s important to do things that foster a stress-free environment for both you and them. Here are some things you can do during the school day:
- Always greet your students with a smile, say hi and ask them how they are. Never start class until you do that.
- Consider a meditation bell to center everyone before you begin class. This can be done remotely or in-person.
- Be clear about the one single concept you will teach for your class. If you teach elementary school, and have the children for the whole day, still be clear: teach one social studies concept, one math, one science and so on. Spend time at the end of the day synthesizing the separate concepts you taught throughout the day. Make connections. Ask your students if they think the lessons are relevant to their daily lives.
- Speak slowly. Don’t be in a hurry.
- Use an experiential, creative way to introduce each lesson. It should be simple. This could be a poem, quote, picture, song…it doesn’t have to be elaborate.
- Be kind to your students. Insist they be kind to one another – model love, patience and respect, but have parameters.
- Keep a mindful eye on the student who seems distant, angry, behavioral, or unengaged. Think of a simple plan to address that. Maybe start with a quiet talk with the child. Do not pontificate, just listen.
- Make a connection with your students. Find out what their hobbies are. Ask a struggling student to stay with you briefly before or after lunch to ask how they’re doing. Connecting, no matter how small, works.
- Always be consistent and keep your word. If the assignment is due tomorrow, then it is due tomorrow. Bend like the trees when it is necessary and compassionate to do so. Bend and make adjustments for illness and family strife that can interfere with a student’s ability to meet deadlines, but overall teach and model responsibility and keeping one’s word.
- Hand back work in a timely fashion.
- Laugh in class at whatever seems or is funny. Students will laugh with you. The day will lighten.
- Don’t forget to eat lunch. You can do this alone or with colleagues. Just make sure you eat. Do not work through lunch if you can help it.
- Give students time during the lesson or day to physically move around in some way, even if it is brief. Whether you are remotely teaching or in school physically – they need time to move around.
- Sometimes, read a story to students, no matter how old they are. They will welcome the quietness of your voice and the simplicity of a lesson like that.
- Teach love and compassion by being patient as students answer your questions or the questions of other students. Wait. Wait seconds. Give them time to reflect, process, and garner up the courage to respond, and try to not interrupt them.
- Never forget what it was like to be a student yourself.
- Gently encourage students to challenge themselves and move beyond their comfort zones. Maybe suggest outside readings and/or projects that pair your curriculum with their personal interests and hobbies.
- Compassionately understand that by 1 pm, younger students are tired and older students are just waking up.
- End school days by wishing your students a nice afternoon and a pleasant evening. Hope that your students have a nice dinner with their loved ones, but know that many will not. Be empathetic.
When School Is Over
Even when class is officially over, there are still things you can do that will benefit you as a teacher. Here are some tips:
- At the end of the work day, stay for meetings you have to and engage at the level that feels comfortable for you. You are a professional, but try not to push yourself to do more than you can do. It was a busy day.
- Do an errand or two after work if you must, but be mindful of trying to go home or to a quiet place soon after school that helps you re-group.
- Be mindful of your evening routines. Enjoy your dinner at night. Enjoy any television shows or movies that make you smile.
- Prepare for the next day of school. Do it simply. Think of something creative the students would love. If you must mark papers, mark just one class, then stop. Use a free prep period the next day to do the rest. Make things easier on yourself by packing your backpack for the next day.
- Remind yourself that you have done the very best you could today and that you teach because you love children and want to make a difference. And, each day, in your own quiet way, remember that you are making a difference in a child’s life. Never forget that.
Have another suggestion to make your class calmer? Want to share how you turn off the noise? Let us know in the comments!
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