The Morning Ritual

Everybody has a morning ritual.

For some people, it’s elaborate. Drinking a pressed-kale smoothie, then Yoga, then seeing what’s new on the Hobbit thread on Reddit.

For others, it’s more bare-bones: get up, fall out of bed, drag comb across head, find way downstairs and drink a cup, look up, notice it’s late. Then, grab coat and hat, make the bus in seconds flat, find way upstairs and have a smoke, etc.

Like that.

The question is not whether you have a ritual, it’s whether the ritual is a good idea for you as someone with one of the hardest jobs on earth.

On mornings where I adhere to my sacred ritual, I set myself up for a great day.

Does it mean I will have a great day? No. But if the day sucks, it’s not because I didn’t do my best to get it off to the right start.

My ritual starts the night before:

  • Review tomorrow’s calendar. This will help you mentally step into the flow of the day. When will you rush around? When will you sit at your desk and space out? When are your meetings? Additionally, this will help you catch mistakes: “I thought that meeting was next week” is an excellent thought to have the night before. It’s a very bad thought to have when you realize you’re half an hour late.
  • Put out your outfit. Make sure you love what you wear and you wear what you love. Your outfit should match the intention of the day. For me, I like to wear a black or grey suit on Monday with a fan-freakin-tastic tie. Why? Well, do you remember how fun it was to go to school when your mom had just taken you shopping and you had new British Knights and a new pair of Girbauds and couldn’t wait to show them off? Me neither! I shopped at Target. But you get the idea. (For more about the interplay of style and how you feel, visit StyleForDorks.Com)
  • Talk over any worries you have with your spouse, significant other, friend, roommate, or parrot. Tell him or her what’s on your mind. Feel free to share things you’re looking forward to, as well. And if you feel like your significant other is just parroting back to you whatever you’re saying, you might actually be married to a parrot. That’s cool.

In the morning:

  • Bath or shower. Make sure you have yummy soap. You should love the way it smells. If you don’t love it, find one you do. I like this oddly shaped sandalwood soap I got from chinatown for 2 bucks.
  • If you drink tea or coffee or yerba mate, do it slowly. Carve out 10 minutes.
  • Listen to music. At least 2 songs.
  • If you can budget the time for a stop at a cafe for coffee and journaling and music, you’re really off to a great start. You need to feel like you have a life outside of your otherwise all-consuming job and your family. I do this little “morning-spa” twice a week.

After Work:

  • Don’t take your stress home with you. See if you can build in a trip to the gym, a cafe, or a pint at the pub. ONE pint.
  • If you’re an introvert, arrange some “hamster-ball time” – even five minutes – with important people waiting for you at home. A five minute buffer to change into comfortable clothes, to sip a cup of tea, to journal about something in your day will make you a better roommate, partner, spouse, or parent.

The Therapist and the Confidant

For teachers, therapy isn’t a terrible idea.

Let me back up. Many psychoanalysis programs require new practitioners-in-training to undergo a course of analysis of their own.

The rationale makes sense: journeying with the patient through the muck and mire, the fear and anger and pain, can cause memories to bubble up, complicated feelings, in the analyst. The analyst’s needs and emotions, however, are not relevant in the therapeutic encounter  –  they can undermine the therapeutic relationship.

The analyst needs to learn how to keep memory and emotion in check – to deal with them appropriately.

True, also, for parents.

A friend recently confided that when he sees his young children struggle, it brings up memories and feelings from some long-forgotten places.

“Some of the feelings,” he admitted, “are ugly. I need to keep them in check. Process them elsewhere. Shield my children from them.”

So there we are, teachers, in front of a class, day after day. No one can see our flaws better than a room full of adolescents. They see, inevitably, setback, frustration and failure – even in the best of us. They see us wince when someone says that one thing we can’t stand. (Commedian John Mulaney has a hilarious sketch on the uncanny ability of middle school students to zero in on the one thing that we don’t like about us. Check it out).

When the students complete a project and demonstrate that they’ve learned something valuable, we fly.

When the computer network shuts down and erases an entire period worth of work, we fall. We can fall, hard.

And that’s just in the classroom. There are deadlines. Budgets. Parents. Testing. That one colleague we can’t stand. Performance reviews.

There is wiping up glue and glitter and cottage cheese from a desk.

Like many high-stress professions, burn-out is an issue. Compared to doctors’ attrition rate which has hovered around 6.5%, around 50% of teachers quit in their first five years, bringing the overall attrition rate to 17% (and as high as 20% in some areas).

Some research shows that improved induction programs can mitigate some of this attrition rate (mentoring, reduced course loads, etc), but there isn’t much we, the teachers, can do about that. good times

What we can do, however, is powerful.

Optional:

  • Consider therapy. Consider starting a few weeks before you begin teaching. Consider staying in therapy for the year. Work through the baggage, the emotions, the setback. If you feel any sort of stigma about it, take comfort in this: according to a Harris poll in 2004, 27 percent of Americans were in therapy within the last two years of the poll.
  • Consider meditation.
  • Consider listening to a guided imagery tape like one, by Dr. Belleruth Naparstek, at least once a day for the first several weeks of teaching (Her voice is sort of weird, but it works).

Required:

Find a Confidant

You need to find someone who is unequivocally on your side. Someone who you can complain to without fear of judgment. Someone who will learn the names of the thorns in your side, and reflect your best self back to you when you’re done venting. Someone you can IM in the middle of the day: “Guess what (insert name) just did/said/threw at me.”

The effective confidant will help you to find your sense of humor and prop you up a little when you need it – and is ready to assess solutions and interventions. If your rapport is strong, s/he will know when you need a little “tough love,” and when it’s time for that, will offer it like a cool drink from a garden hose. Not a firehose.

The confidant can be a colleague, but does not have to be.

And honestly, the confidant is not optional.

Works Cited:

https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&es_th=1&ie=UTF-8#q=teacher%20attrition%20rate%20vs

http://www.nea.org/home/12630.htm

http://psychcentral.com/lib/9-myths-and-facts-about-therapy/0009331