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Sep 7, 2007

Playing the “you”

I often tell future teachers that their bodies and selves are the most important instruments of our profession. Just like a violin player must know what her violin can and cannot do, and how to tune it, and how to care for it; the same way teachers should learn about themselves. What keeps you going? How do you rest an recharge? What can you do, and you cannot do? Can you manage your emotions? Can you tweak your thinking processes? In other words, can you play the “you” well?

Not that I am myself a great player: I do get stuck, get anxious, and sometimes cannot generate energy, etc. However, a few tricks I have learned over the years; and these are just a couple.

Yesterday, I walked over to the library. Not that I needed to go; I am sure one of our helpful work studies could have done it for me. But a five minute walk in early September does wonders. The light is just so slightly changed. It is not autumn yet, but there is a little promise of an autumn in the air. Our magnificent dark-haired pine trees outside of McKee stoically ignore the hints of the changing season, as they will stubbornly try to ignore the coming winter. The deciduous trees are not like that; they are still green but somehow more fragile, a yellow leaf prematurely shows now and then. I see all this, inhale the cool air, squirm at the sun; the emotional engine in my brain hums and spins, and voila, my mind is clear.

Then the library itself: the trick is to find one code, and then just browse through the entire shelf, look for the unexpected. I was thinking about writing a piece on learning motivation, and found just two books that somehow strike me as interesting. So, I will ignore the books I must read, but will read these two, simply because it is a torture to read boring stuff, and one should always read in the path of the least resistance. But most importantly, I had an idea. There is nothing more pleasurable than to experience what appears to be a new thought. I know that most of them in the end turn out to be duds, and that’s OK. Yet the very moments when something pops into your mind, something that should not really have been there, something unexpected – these are difficult to describe and wonderful to live through. It is does not have to be big, or earth shuttering, but you know when you just might have had an idea. And it works like this: reading random stuff, making connections, talking to colleagues, having an idea – feeling great. I don’t really do scholarship to improve the world, nor do I do it primarily to achieve recognition. It is more of a drug; I just need my fix now and then. It’s the endorphin balance I am after.

What I am telling here is quite trivial. All of us professional educators have found our own ways of playing the main instrument, ourselves. The tricks are all different, the result is the same: we learn how to manipulate our emotions and intellectual work so we can stay and shape and enjoy ourselves. How do we teach young teachers to do that? My unscientific guess is that the inability to control and enjoy oneself is the main cause for teacher burnout. We teach our students to model good practices, and to exhibit certain behaviors. Who is going to teach them to learn about themselves, to regulate their own minds and bodies?

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