Given the frequent teacher criticism we see in American society and the media today, one thing is clear: many may not recognize how physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting the teaching profession is. According to research,1,2 an average teacher makes 1500+ educational decisions in a 6-hour day while interacting with students — which equates to four educational decisions per minute. In addition, teachers plan lessons and work in the evenings to complete the seemingly never-ending grading — which involves even more decision-making. But educational decisions are only a part of what is exhausting about teaching.
As an educator, my day begins by thinking about my students’ lives, struggles, emotional health and well-being as I get ready for work.
Occasionally, I find myself awake in the middle of the night thinking about my students’ problems. Although I try not to worry, much of my rumination happens subconsciously.
To ensure I am doing my best to help my students succeed, I spend time reflecting on my teaching practice and making sure I am teaching with integrity. Beyond curriculum and content, my lessons include time to focus on character, work ethic, growth mindsets, and how to ensure my students become productive members of society. There are days when I feel disillusioned because of my students’ lack of receptivity to these important life lessons. When that happens, I remind myself of my limitations and recognize that my sphere of influence is limited to 55 minutes a day.
Thinking about my students’ lives outside of school, I empathize with the life experiences many students are managing — broken families, shared custody, substance abuse, and greater dependency on medications for conditions like ADHD.
“Given such circumstances, what will all my worrying accomplish?” I ask myself gently. “Except increase my stress level?”
When I am struggling professionally to do what is best for students, I find myself seeking spiritual guidance from the Scriptures. Each of these passages is from Lord Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita (2.47) “You have a right to perform your prescribed duties but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions,” and “Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.”
In the words of Shri Parthasarathi Rajagopalachari, my late spiritual teacher (paraphrased), “In our Sahaj Marg (the Natural Path) meditation, we have Ten Maxims. The Maxims are practical suggestions on how to live life. I now add the Eleventh Maxim: “Expect not for thou shalt not be disappointed.’”
Remembering these teachings, I think about my work as an educator, and this spiritual mantra, “All your problems are stemming from desire, the desire to see students succeed. Instead, focus on doing your work to the best of your ability and let go of this root desire to see results.”
As I further reflect the tiny voice of my conscience utters gently, “Rama! Most of your problems will be solved if you focus on the daily positive experiences and learn to approach teaching as a spiritual journey — a journey, which is full of beauty, inspiration, learning, and joy. Where every challenge can become a gift for you and the credit for even the tiniest success can only belong to the Almighty.”
As I begin a new semester, I am determined to approach teaching as a spiritual journey, a purposeful journey that will help me become a better teacher, a better person, and someone who can be of service to her students.
As I continue to teach students to the best of my ability, I learn to remove myself as the doer and allow the Divine to work through me each and every conscious and subconscious moment. I continue to humbly pray to the Almighty for guidance in all that I do, and to help me be the best teacher I can be.
1 TeachThought Staff. (March 28, 2016). “A Teacher Makes 1500 Educational Decisions a Day,” Retrieved from https://www.teachthought.com/pedagogy/teacher-makes-1500-decisions-a-day/ on June 19 2019.
2 @MissBartletRTQ. (October 3, 2017). “It’s Time We Talked…Mental Health.” Retrieved from http://schoolwell.co.uk/time-talked-mental-health/ on June 19, 2019.