A special commentary by Maddy Wyman
As a teacher feeling stressed or overworked can become an everyday feeling. We all feel the pressure to fit in every little workshop and have our own agenda. I am currently finishing up my third year teaching and can admit that I have felt burnt out well over a dozen times. As a Kindergarten teacher in the modern day DOE it is an expectation that students have three workshops a day in each academic subject. When I was in Kindergarten I was taught how to transition into activities, treat others with respect, and work with others in a shared space. All very important skills that can be difficult to manage on their own. Now Kindergarteners have to do it all. So how do the best multi-taskers do it? They prioritize and find “me time.”
Currently in graduate school I have found the two and half hour classes to be a blessing and a curse. They are a blessing because they help me refocus my teaching and grow as a professional. They are a curse because after working all day and being exhausted, you have to listen to someone else tell you how to teach. This semester I found a course that taught me the original lesson that I had learned as a Kindergartener “do on to others as you would have done to you.”
In Donia’s class she would give us movement breaks. We would dance or stretch in class and I, a tired and burnt out teacher, would feel refreshed and ready to take on the world. From this first lesson I upped my sing and dance breaks to twice a forty minute period. I added positive chants to end each independent time and found my students stamina during independent workshop time increase significantly.
However, what was most touching occurred a couple weeks ago. All children do not release their energy through movement. For some it makes them more wild like a student of mine who accidentally kicked a little girl in the throat jumping in his spot on a crowded rug. A couple weeks ago during a very rainy day (a teacher’s favorite day with her students) I was trying to tame their wild behavior and thought to try one of Donia’s relaxation exercises with my students. I had all of my student lie down on the rug and played Bon Iver’s song Woods softly. I told them to make each part of their body heavy one by one and took them on an adventure into the woods to find a calm and relaxing place. After my first session many students had calmed down and for others I had learned that they needed to lie down head to toe and not head to head. I then filed my mental teaching notes away for the next rainy day.
A week later on a very sunny and warm day one of my students came up to me during a transition and asked if we could do that “relaxing thing” again. Slightly stunned that a five year old was literally asking me to self regulate, I announced instantly that there was a slight change in plan due to a friend’s request. After announcing that we were going to relax multiple students announced how much they loved it! The second time I played the same song and took them on an adventure to the beach. One of my particularly wiggly students began to giggle. Before getting frustrated (an easy go to for us teachers) I told him to move to a table and lie his head down. I then asked his best friend in the room to do the same (so my wiggler wouldn’t see it as a punishment). Given the support and structure of a chair he instantly relaxed an was able to calm down with the rest of the class. Meditation is now part of our routine for the students like my wiggler who need more than a dance session or stretching. The variety of movement and relaxation gave me better insight into my student’s as learners and individuals. I learned as being a teacher and a professional multi-tasker I needed to prioritize myself. Which would I prefer getting all my workshops done with little to no focus or give them five to ten minutes and get my workshops done in half the time with a little more sanity. One of my little girls who is easily able to focus has told me that she relaxes sometimes at home when she feels overwhelmed. I couldn’t help, but think of her in middle school doing the same after a tough day. It’s a happy thought that keeps movement and relaxation breaks a priority in my classroom.