1. Zen Teachers know there is no corporate ladder in education; our movement ripples out, not up. We don’t get the collosal paycheck, the corner office with a view, or the Lamborghini. Many of us eat spaghetti and drive old Buicks. On the other hand, we often minister to suffering students, increase their overall knowledge, and profoundly influence the positivity of their future. Am I okay with that? Please pass the Ragu.
2. Zen Teachers smile at the hoops, jump, and then return to the classroom and teach what they know is right. The system is broken—a Standardized Testing Machine that has run amok, Politicians and business people who have never stepped foot in a classroom think they know what is best and dictate our curriculum, and a lack of funds have made our classrooms look like festival seating at a Who Concert. But if you’ve been teaching for over 5 years, I promise that you know what works. Attend the meetings, sign the papers, give the tests, but then go back to your classroom and teach what you know your students need (because no one knows what your students need better than you. No one).
3. Zen Teachers lead the class as a single unit, but know there are as many stories as there are students. Especially with 35-40 students per class, we need each class to function as a cohesive entity. But Zen Teachers remember that there are details behind each child who has no food, who has broken up with his boyfriend/girlfriend, who had a fight with mom in the car that morning, and who slept at a friend’s house the night before because the screaming drove them out of the house and into the night.
4. Zen Teachers teach this child, but they never lose sight of the teaching continuum of the students who are yet to come. A wise Zen teacher focuses on the students of this year, but spends time learning and growing so that he or she can be the best teacher possible for the students of the future.
5. Zen Teachers teach from their heart & soul, but balance it with intense & radical self-care. Having a healthy heart, mind, and spirit can only increase your success as a Zen Teacher. And then you can use the great place you’re in to teach from your heart and soul and share that passion, energy, and enthusiasm with your students.
6. Zen Teachers realize that THEY are the ones who will most likely learn the MOST in their classrooms. The great irony is that if you are a wise Zen Teacher you are constantly learning. Mathematically, then, you are the one who has grown, learned, and experienced the most in your classroom by the end of your three decades of teaching.
7. Zen Teachers use data-driven instruction, but they HONE and TRUST and RELY on intuition and instinct. Data is important. But wise Zen Teachers learn to refine and trust their intuition, too. Got a sense that something in the classroom isn’t working? Bail out. Does something in your gut tell you what your students need? Full steam ahead. Generate your own statistics and research. Bar graphs be damned. Teaching is an art as well as a craft.
8. Zen Teachers see compassion and gratitude as a potent education cocktail. Drink up! You will reach more students if you approach them with the one-two (figurative) punch of gratitude and compassion. Be grateful that you are there. Be grateful that they are there. And then show them kindness and sensitivity. Docking them points for a late paper may teach them character, but giving them extra time on their essay because their family was moving and the computer is packed teaches them to be human.
9. Zen Teachers know how to eliminate the excess and simplify to the essence to maximize the learning. When you create space, you give yourself breathing room and improve the sense of freedom in the environment. Ask yourself “What is excess? What is unnecessary?” Then get rid of it.
10. Zen Teachers take care of themselves and think about the well-being of other teachers, too. No one is talking about the well-being of teachers. So let me start the conversation. This profession has gone a little loco and, in the absence of anyone else doing it, we need to take care of ourselves and we need to take care of each other. Embrace self-care. Take care of yourself. And then, when you are in a better place, reach out to another struggling teacher and make this profession just a little more bearable for him or her. We will all benefit if you do. TZT