Embracing Empathy- a teacher’s heart

It has been a while since my last post, just over a year in fact and it sure does feel good to be writing again. The reason for my silence you may ask? Well…LIFE I guess.

I am now one of those cliche’s who unashamedly has to confess that she managed to get pulled in… swept back by the rip-tide of the busyness, pressure and utter chaos that was 2018! With every wave, I found myself paddling harder and harder, yet always feeling as though I just could not catch a break. However, perseverance prevailed and here I am…

A firm believer in “everything happens for a reason”, I choose to walk away from one of the most personally trying seasons in my teaching career with grace and appreciation. Appreciation for the challenging times, the rewarding times, the opportunities for growth and introspection, and also just for the lessons learnt. The saying that teachers are “lifelong learners” rings so true – for every challenge that we face, there is always a greater reward. We may not always find ourselves in comfortable situations; that emotionally charged parent meeting, the difficult colleague, the tough but right decisions that have to be made…but the gift of hindsight always affords us a greater perspective on things. Personally, I have come to realize what in theory I suppose I have always known – as an empath right down to the core, I care. I worry. I panic and break out in all sorts of ailments. I have restless nights. I obsess, and I just want to make things better. Managing these traits so that I am able to protect my sensitivities is a work in progress, but embracing these traits is a gift that I am only now allowing myself to embrace.

Empaths are highly sensitive, finely tuned instruments when it comes to emotions. They feel everything, sometimes to an extreme, and are less apt to intellectualize feelings. Intuition is the filter through which they experience the world. Empaths are naturally giving, spiritually attuned, and good listeners. If you want heart, empaths have got it. Through thick and thin, they’re there for you, world-class nurturers.” — Judith Orloff,MD

As teachers, we are wives and husbands, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, parents, friends and colleagues… we are many things to many people. We are family; mentors, educators, listeners, caregivers, providers, secret keepers, peacemakers… and let’s be honest, it can be overwhelming at times, ok, all of the time! But I believe that in order to be a teacher, we all have empath qualities here and there…we wouldn’t be in our profession if we didn’t. Yes, some may argue that we are too sensitive, that we take on too much, but the counter argument it that at least we do CARE, we NURTURE and are fiercely COMMITTED to our cause. And while we may have to work a little harder than others to keep our head above water so that we don’t physically and emotionally drown…being an empath is a gift in my life; although, I am only now learning to value the need to take care of myself. Self care is crucial – taking time out to fill your own cup is a necessity as we pour so much of ourselves into the lives of others. You can’t pour from an empty cup so familiarize yourself with your own needs. It is important to honour these needs and communicate them to your loved ones. Acts of self-care are the ultimate act of self-love. Be kind to yourself, because you matter too!

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Lessons from down the rabbit hole…

For Annie

“Your’e entirely bonkers, but I’ll tell you a secret – all the best people are.” – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Growing up, one of my all time favourite books to read was Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland. As a little girl, I can recall being completely and utterly captivated as page by page the world of Wonderland and all it’s characters vividly came to life. As an adult, not much has changed. The imaginary adventures of Alice as she ventures down the rabbit hole into a world of unknown marvels never fails to captivate my heart and mind. Only now, having garnered a few years of life experience, do I find myself introspectively reflecting on the many pearls of wisdom nestled amongst its pages.

As a teacher with a love for literature and creative writing, the Adventures of Alice in Wonderland serves as far more than just a story to spark imagination – it takes the phrase “reading between the lines” to new heights and inspires many an important life lesson. I would like to share with you some of these lessons as I have chosen to place them in the context of teaching and learning.

Lesson 1: Be Bonkers

Having had the blessing of being mentored over the last few years by one particularly “bonkers” type teacher, I have come to realize the power of these very words. To so many of her fellow colleagues and her beloved children whom she taught, she

alice image 1was seen to be entirely bonkers but it was for this very reason that she grew to be completely and utterly loved and respected. The sheer courage to teach with creativity and passion, to push the boundaries and to challenge the thinking of her learners has left an ever lasting impression on me as a young teacher. Sometimes as teachers, we find ourselves so constrained by the demands of day to day admin, curriculum pressures and deadlines as well as the emotional ups and downs that come with the territory, that we are often afraid to take risks in our teaching. To ditch the textbook and to take learning outside. To stand on our tables and burst into song if it means captivating the hearts and minds of our learners in such a way that they hang on to your every word. To ditch the pen for clay and finger paint regardless of how old or young the kids you are teaching may be – that was this very “bonkers” teacher alright! Never afraid to speak her mind and stand up for what she felt was in the best interests of her kids, even if it meant ruffling a few feathers. Teaching out of the box became a way of life and a passion of hers which in the end, only served to strengthen the legacy she left behind in the lives of so many who were privileged enough to cross her path. She has taught me the value of embracing yourself as an educator , to teach with conviction, passion and confidence, and for that, I am all the better and all the wiser!

Lesson 2: We are not all the same

The movement of Inclusive Education serves to promote social justice and the full inclusalice image 3ion of all children, regardless of who they are, where they come from and how they may differ from the next. To many, this may seem like an ideal but the reality is that whether you are teaching within the realm of special education or mainstream education, no two children are alike. One of the most damaging and demeaning things we can ever to do our learners is to paint them all with the same brush – to fail to acknowledge their uniqueness and individuality. All too often, we are quick to label the “deviant”, “the slow “, “the have not” and the “hopeless” child rather than taking the time to enter that child’s reality and get to know them on an intimate level. I consider myself extremely blessed to be in a position where so many of my learners are living in a world of unique challenge which means that their reality is vastly different from mine. I say this because each and every day I am granted an opportunity to see them achieve, to rise above their reality and overcome challenges – some small and some big but challenges none the less. And as I come to learn about and understand their realities, I have slowly come to learn more about my own.

Lesson 3: Believe in the impossiblealice image 2.jpg

“What difference are you really able to make?” “We can’t fix our schools until we fix our society”, “It is impossible to reach every learner in your class”… Admittedly, as teachers we have all too often been on the receiving end of comments like these – sometimes we have even been the ones to make them. It is no secret that being a teacher in today’s day and age is no easy feat and the reality is that there are many challenges we find ourselves having to overcome on a daily basis – but what good is there is complaining about it all? The way I see it, the more time spent on complaining about all that we can’t do is time wasted on putting to practice all that we can and have the potential to do. It is a state of mind and ultimately, a personal choice – to let negativity cloud your judgement or to turn lemons into lemonade and inspire a generation of positive thinkers and leaders. I choose to believe in the impossible one child and one day at time.

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Happy New Year, Happy New You!

So many people have said to me that 2016 was by far one of the most challenging years to date, myself included. As the end of 2016 drew near, I naturally found myself reflecting on all that I had endured and accomplished. Having completed my honours degree, coming to terms with the loss of my beloved grandmother and ending the year off happily engaged to the man of my dreams…2016 definitely had it’s fair share of ups and downs.

Professionally, I have climbed a mountain and can honestly say that this year has been the most enlightening, challenging yet joyous one of my teaching career. Knowing that I am fulfilling my vocation and am safely where God has placed me has sparked a fire and passion within my soul that I can feel has propelled me to be better, to strive for better and to better the learning experience of every child in my class. I have found happiness within the four walls of my classroom and have chosen to remain happy by continuing to put into practice some healthy habits I have picked up along the way, many of which have I come to learn over time and others of which I hope to become better at. As with any experience in life, reflection is key because unless you know where and how to improve, you are destined to keep experiencing the same frustrations year after year. Been there, done that, and it is exhausting and passion deflating. I may not be a perfect teacher, but at this point in my life, I am definitely a HAPPY one.

balance1. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF – FIND A BALANCE

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou

Over time, I have come to realize that the happier I made myself outside of the classroom, the happier I became inside of the classroom. Instead of spending every waking moment of my life marking, prepping, doing admin etc (much like every day of my first, second, third and even fourth year of teaching) I began making time for myself in the smallest and simplest of ways – going to gym classes, meeting friends, cooking myself supper and making sure I have enough for lunch the next day, quiet times and reading the word, not skipping Sunday evening church services with my friends, visiting my parents during the week etc. My life became wholesome and I started to feed my soul. In doing so, I  found that I didn’t mind doing all the marking and prepping as much and simply became smarter with my time. In order to make time for other aspects of my life, I needed to learn to utilize my time better and complete tasks in manageable chunks as opposed to obsessing over long periods of time. Along with this, I had to also come to accept that because I was no longer pouring all my time and energy into my teaching I wasn’t and still am not any less dedicated to my job. In fact, the happier and healthier outside of school I became, the more calm, focused and present I became in the classroom.

2. LEARN TO SAY NO

This is one habit I have yet to master as I am very much a people pleaseXk32hbc.jpgr and it is not in my nature to easily say no but I know that there are times in my life, both personally and professionally when you just need to. As teachers, we tend to put our hand in far too many cookie jars because we feel it is what our job requires us to do. The danger in doing that is that you can very quickly go from enthusiastic and passionate to exhausted and deflated. Rather than spreading yourself too thin, try do do less things and focus on doing those well. In the end, teaching shouldn’t be about the quantity of things you do but rather the quality of the things you do.

3. DON’T STOP LEARNING

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As with any profession, you can never know enough. You can always do more, be better, do better. Teaching is one such profession, the minute you feel you are not growing and not feeling fulfilled, take the plunge and move on to another challenge.Personally, 2017 will see me starting a whole new challenge as I begin my journey towards my Masters in Education, and I owe it all to the drastic move I made over a year ago. The decision to leave mainstream education and enter into remedial left me both challenged and amazed. There are so many different ways of doing things, methodologies, technologies to enhance and support ability, ideas for classroom management…be dynamic in your approach to teaching. Remain interested and keep it interesting for your yourself and your learners. I have come to learn that one of the greatest resources available to us as teachers is each other. Share ideas, share knowledge, collaborate and initiate.

Positivity-300x224.png4. NO TO NEGATIVITY

There are bound to be days where you just need to off load and let off some steam…we’ve all been there but be weary of becoming that grumpy, whinny and negative teacher, the one most tend to avoid when walking into the staff room. At the same time, avoid engaging in negative banter and energy within the school environment. You have control of how you choose to invest your energy, why do it negatively? Surround yourself with positivity and you will exude positivity…it’s infectious.

5. DON’T TAKE YOURSELF TOO SERIOUSLY

images (2).jpgYou are only one person and you are not perfect. You have a role to play and a purpose to fulfill, do so with confidence and vigour. Embrace every moment in your classroom, the good and the bad. Learn from your mistakes and laugh along with your learners. You are human, don’t be afraid to let your guard down and allow your children to witness that you are not in fact an all together, emotionless robot. Delight in their joy, laugh together, build relationships and engage. The more you work with other human beings, the more human you should allow yourself to be.

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Make a JOYFUL noise

b0a72c0de8112cec62b8a7de13c7eeda  “Give me joy in my heart keep me serving. Give me joy in my heart I pray. Give me joy in my heart keep me serving. Keep me serving till the end of day.”

Yet again, God’s voice spoke directly into my life as I found myself on the receiving end of a powerful sermon on what it means live a life of joy. The Bible never promises a life of happiness but it does promise us joy. Before Jesus went to Calvary He said “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11)

Joy is something entirely different from happiness…happiness is an emotion and temporary; whilst joy is an attitude of the heart. Happiness is fleeting and dependent on circumstance, joy is not. Joy comes from a solid factor: your faith in the Lord. True joy burns within you and is not dependent on external circumstances. In amidst the most thunderous storms, a joyful heart remains, rooted in gratitude, faith and complete trust in its maker. Just as we choose a life in Christ, so should we choose to live a life of joy. Each morning we wake up we are faced with a choice…to allow our fears and anxieties to overwhelm and consume us or to, despite our fears and worries, be grateful for what we do have, focus on the good and surrender it all into the hands of God. As teachers, parents and caregivers, it is often so hard for us mask our own saddened hearts riddled with worry and fear, and be that positive and cheerful role model our children expect us to be. This is where a JOYFUL heart makes all the difference. As you choose joy, those mountains you thought were too high to climb suddenly start to seem like possibilities and acts of kindness become genuine outpourings from the heart as opposed to obligatory duties.

Along with the joyful heart of a teacher comes the overflow of joy into the lives of the children we are granted the privilege of influencing. Ask any person to recall that one teacher who left a positive imprint on their life and they will most probably speak of the one who because of her own joyful nature filled the classroom with joy and made learning a pleasure. That teacher whose classroom was always the brightest, whose lessons were always delivered with the most passion and whose smile was always the widest. That teacher whose level of influence reached further than she was even aware of it reaching. The impact of a joyful teacher should never be underestimated.

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MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE IN YOUR CLASSROOM:

In the book Educational Leadership- The positive classroom , Steven Wolk offers a few suggestions on how to transform our classrooms into places of joy.

  • FIND THE PLEASURE IN LEARNING : If we want our learners to find pleasure in learning then we need to rethink how and what we teach. Rethink how we are making connections and sparking interest. “No longer can schooling be primarily about creating workers and test takers, but rather about nurturing human beings (Wolk, 2007). By helping students find the pleasure in learning, we can make that learning infinitely more successful.”
  • GIVE LEARNERS A CHOICE: If we are to rethink our teaching then it would make sense to ask our learners what it is that interests them.What reading book would they like to read? What topic would they like to choose? Encourage and embrace their individual voice.
  • ALLOW LEARNERS TO CREATE: Encourage creativity. There is such power in being able to transform something from an idea to an actual product created with one’s own hands. The list of what students can create across the curriculum is virtually limitless: newspapers and magazines, brochures, stories, picture books, posters, murals, Web sites, podcasts, PowerPoint presentations, interviews, oral histories, models, diagrams, blueprints and floor plans, plays and role-plays, mock trials, photographs, paintings, songs, surveys, graphs, documentary videos—the list goes on and on.
  • SHOW OFF LEARNER WORK: The walls of a classroom should be able to tell an honest story of what has taken place throughout the day. Encourage your learners to pursue greatness and believe that they are worthy of being praised. It is not simply your classroom but also their classroom and so create an opportunity for their talents to shine.
  • CREATE AN INVITING SPACE: Whilst the overuse of colour can be too distracting, adding colour and inspiration to the walls of your classroom does wonders for improving the desire to be in the classroom in the first place. The possibilities are endless…create a comfortable reading corner with cushions and bean bags, a wall of inspirational quotes, a wall of achievements, class post box etc. Your classroom is meant to be a space of learning but also of inspiration and self discovery.
  • GET OUTSIDE: Don’t be afraid to take your lessons outside every now and then. It is important for learners to embrace learning wherever they are and to not confine their love for learning within the four walls of the classroom only.
  • HAVE FUN TOGETHER!!!! Learn from one another. Share with each other and laugh together. If you truly love what you do then this should not be a difficult task!

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GLOW IN THE DARK

Jesus to the city

And the streets of Jozi (Johannesburg) speak right into your soul

His name is Karabo and he is sixteen years old. The cold and dirty streets are his home and the shadows of the city his hiding place. Upon receiving a blanket and a cup of soup, he looked into my eyes and the pain in his heart could not be ignored. He had a story to tell and I was the one sent to listen…

He attended school before and after poor life choices, has only been living on the streets for a year…one year too long. His story is not an unfamiliar one and is shared by many others roaming the streets, but it was his eyes that looked into my soul and reminded me of what as both a Christian and a teacher I am called to do… There on a cold and windy street corner of the inner city, my inner city, I came face to face with what it means to be a light in the darkest of places.

When asked if he could be anything in the world what he would want to be, his answer was clear and direct; “An Electrical Engineer Ma’am.” Despite the challenges he now faces, despite all the pain in his heart and harbored regret, he still had a dream for his future. I told him that at sixteen years old he is still able to make that dream a reality. That a life on the streets was not the life that God had chosen for him and that he has the potential to rise above his circumstances. It may mean doing things we may not want to do, in his case it was putting his pride aside and returning home to the loving grandmother and siblings he had left behind. As the tears rolled down his face, I knew that all he needed was someone to believe in him, to remind him of his worth and lovingly steer him in the right direction. Before he left I made him promise me that he would never allow himself to give up on his dreams for God has a greater purpose and plan for his life. His promise was all he could cling to but it was a promise that I pray will sustain and offer hope.

Throughout the world there are so many stories of teachers serving as true beacons of light in their communities, rising above their adversities and giving hope and a sense of purpose to the younger generation entrusted to them. No one said that being a teacher would be easy, and let’s face it, no one enters the profession for the promising paycheck either. There has to be a deeper sense of vocation and dedication to the “bigger picture”. It is so easy to loose sight of this bigger picture when we are constantly chasing the next deadline and grading mountains of tests and assignments but it is so important for us to never loose sight of the “bigger picture”…that sometimes education extends beyond a simple grade. It is the creator of dreams, the ability to believe that all things are possible and that the sky is truly is the limit. As teachers, parents and leaders, we are the light in many a darkened place… now let your light shine 🙂

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”Matthew 5:14-16

The greatest of these is LOVE

1 Corinthians 13

Possibly the greatest and most powerful definition of what it means to love, of what God intended love to be about. As teachers in our little corner of the world, we have a profound responsibility to influence and as I woke up this morning, this entire chapter was laid on my heart, which got me thinking….

We can have all the book knowledge in the world, but if it is not taught and passed on in a loving way, it is just that, knowledge.

We can have all the degrees, accolades and honorary titles to our names but if we remain boastful and self-seeking, striving for a worldly definition of success rather than to teach with a humble heart, then we fail to love.

We can have all the best resources at our disposal but if we are not inspired and motivated by love, lessons will simply be lessons, and the opportunity to really move and transport our children into a realm of the impossible made possible will be missed.

We can have deadlines to meet and schedules to follow, but if we do not slow down and demonstrate true patience we may never open ourselves up to the life lessons presented to us through the eyes of  struggling yet persevering young heart.

Within the confines of our four walls, and when we find ourselves stressed and under pressure, how often are we slow to anger and quick to love? As both teachers and lifelong students, the key is to remain humble in all things. Easier said than done right?

Kaylen Yoder says this;

When you live love out loud, you tell people they matter. When your life tells people they matter, you’re bound to make a much greater impact than you could ever imagine.

Love doesn’t care wh6014763afda967e06eed66b203d2405dether you are the top dog or the low man on the totem pole.

Love doesn’t care whether you failed the test or passed it with flying colors.

Love doesn’t care if you colour outside the lines or paint a masterpiece for all the ages.

The bottom line is this:

People don’t care how much you know. They just know how much you care.”

 

1 Corinthians 13 for Teachers

If I teach with the best educational techniques, and provide stimulating and motivational lessons,

but have not love,

I am but a time-wasting information processor.

If I spend hours preparing my lesson plans with the clearest instructional objectives,

but have not love,

I am just an over-organized ideologue.

If I utilize the most eye-catching visual aids and the latest classroom technology,

but have not love,

I am just a high-tech visionary.

 

A loving teacher is kind and patient with every student,

regards each student as an important individual,

and treats their personal problems with confidence.

A loving teacher does not merely talk at, but relates to, the students,

and provides a exemplary model of life to those in the classroom.

 

A teacher’s love is not condescending,

does not play favorites,

does not gossip,

does not publicly humiliate,

is not easily agitated or discouraged,

and does not blow-up or give-up on misbehaving students.

 

A teacher’s love bears the responsibility of instruction,

Believes that student’s minds should not be wasted,

Hopes that every student will achieve their potential,

and endures all disturbances in the process.

 

The latest text-books will soon be out-of-date.4131e37a526689b901c1eb48f5e804d8

Contemporary teaching methods will become outmoded.

Educational technology is obsolete before we know it,

but a loving teacher can affect a student’s life forever.

 

Now abideth preparation, instruction, and love,

But the greatest of these is a teacher’s love

that seeks the highest good of the students.

~ Jim Fowler

 

Aside

Breaking the mould

To many, the role of a teacher is simply – to teach. My personal response to that question is to teach what exactly? The world of knowledge is so incredibly vast, where do I even begin?

We all have had that one teacher who throughout our teaching career stands out as the one who left a huge imprint on your heart. That teacher who made you feel like you were special and that absolutely anything was possible.That teacher who came up with creative and exciting ways to bring learning to life and whose rhymes and songs for teaching maths made it seem effortless. That teacher whose kindness and gentleness shone through with every smile and made you understand what it means to have passion. That teacher who challenged you to stretch yourself beyond your limits and to think for yourself. That teacher who helped you find your voice and empowered you to be bold in your actions. The role of a teacher should never be underestimated.

It is sometimes very difficult to sum up exactly what it is that we as teachers do to those who are not teachers, especially when the preconceived notion is that teachers simply teach, mark and have the benefit of long holidays. Teacherhub.com provides some interesting metaphors for describing the various different roles of a teacher which I found very relative to my own personal views on teaching.

WE as teachers are:

  • A coach and personal trainercoachAs many of us who have ever played sport or made use of a personal trainer to help reach our fitness goals can relate, a coach has the ability to drive an athlete to absolute exhaustion. To push them to be their very best and to motivate them to reach deep within themselves and believe that they are capable of achieving anything they set their mind to. A coach expresses disappointment when an athlete fails and utter joy when they succeed.

 

  • A 911 dispatcher – The very first person you hear when you dial for help is the dispatcher, who from the other end of the line assesses your needs, encourages a belief that all will be OK, coaches you through the first steps of response and then sends the necessary resources needed to rescue you. With this analogy in mind, I like to view my classroom as my own private ER wherein the emergency rescue lshutterstock_2773830771ies not only in the assisting to learn but also in the equipping of life skills and advise needed to overcome whatever personal challenge a child may be facing.

 

  • A tinder and flint – What is one without the other? On their own they don’t do much. Strike them together and under the right conditions they ignite a flame, one large enough to spread a wildfire of knowledge and influence. Personally, I love this image because it rings so true to what I have always believed about teaching and that is that we as teachers have as much to gain and learn from our students as they have from us. Just as I like to think that I try encourage, challenge and motivate the children in my class, they challenge and motivate me on a daily basis and the spark we ignite together should never be something that is contained within four walls. Instead, our influence on the children we teach should be our influence on the rest of the world. ignite-770x380
  • Juggler – Ever wonder how they do it? How jugglers are able to effortlessly fling 3,4,5 objects into the air without letting them fall? The answer – practice and co-ordination, both of which come with experience. We as teachers don’t always get it right, trust me I knsuspended in emptinessow! Managing meeting the needs of our students with Department criteria and number crunching, as well as touching base with colleagues and communicating with parents, marking and prepping for lessons all while somehow trying to have a personal life is a fine balancing act. The keyword being “balance” which for me, is a work in progress.

 

 

Artist – As the caption to to this site states, “teaching is a work of heart” and along artist-53-02

with that comes passion, emotion and great attention to detail. We as teachers should view the children we teach as masterpieces capable of going on to make their own mark in the world and leave lasting impressions on the hearts and minds of those who view them. You see, we don’t just mould minds, we mould hearts too.

Should you think of any creative metaphor to describe the role of a teacher, please comment and share:)