The Zen Teacher helps you create focus, achievement, and success through an emphasis on simplicity and tranquility in the classroom. He has been a member of the West Hills High School English Department for over twenty years.
The Zen Teacher Blog is going on a little break--not just because it’s the holidays, but because there are some big changes coming up in the new year that I need to focus on.
Since I am always preaching that sometimes less is better and subtraction sometimes needs to be the order of the day, this blog will be on hiatus until those changes take place.
The good news is I plan to come back bigger and better than ever to help teachers reduce their stress, improve their self-care, and help them better enjoy their lives both inside and outside the classroom.
Thank you for being here, for reading my words and thoughts, and for embracing The Zen Teacher message.
I appreciate it.
All happiness, kindness, and fulfillment is wished to you this holiday season and into 2019.
October and November can be an especially long haul during the school year. Stress mounts, schedules are impacted, and energy is sapped.
And I’m no different.
Somewhere around mid-October, I began to feel the mental and emotional strain in that stretch between the beginning of the school year and Thanksgiving break, so I recently decided it was time to take a mental health day. As I’ve written about before, I am a huge advocate of mental health days. If they are used wisely (and infrequently), they can be an effective self-care strategy.
For my recent day, I had a choice to make. I could go somewhere, like spending time at Balboa Park--one of my favorite places in San Diego--or I could just make it a jammie, napping, do-nothing day. Another time I might have ventured out of the house, but I didn’t want to spend a huge chunk of this day driving, so for this particular mental health day, the P.J.’s won out.
Allow me to share my mental health day with you.
PLEASE NOTE: I share this not to brag, but to model.
5:45: alarm goes off: Up at the same time as going to work because it’s my turn to take my daughter to school and some responsibilities still have to happen. Sleeping in will have to wait for the next mental health day.
7:15: drop daughter off at school.
7:45-8:15: Breakfast at Franco’s Flapjacks (see above). As many of you know, breakfast in a diner is one of my favorite things, so how could that not be on the agenda? I got the usual: three egg breakfast with extra crispy hashbrowns, corned beef hash, sourdough toast, and hot decaf coffee. I like this place for many reasons, but one big reason is because of their mugs. I've had mugs that say, "meditate," "create," "relax," and "Calm." How could a Zen Teacher not love that action?
8:25-9:25: Hot chocolate and reading at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf down the road from the diner. Just sitting still time wondering how second period is going and smiling a half smile because I had no idea whatsoever.
9:30-10:30: Go home, put on pajamas, and take a nap. A glorious, deep sleep, hour-long, pleasant dreaming nap.
10:35-10:56: Snoozing to the Classic Rock Station on Accuradio on my phone.
11:00-11:15: Taking the dogs out because some responsibilities still have to happen.
11:18-11:50: This part gets a little fuzzy. I puttered around the house a bit. Looked out the window to the roses in the backyard. I may or may not have talked to myself and sang and danced a little. I plead the fifth on that one.
11:54-12:31: I went to the office upstairs, sat in the overstuffed chair, and I listened to Let It Be by The Beatles. Not the song, The Entire. Album. And not while I was doing something else. I just listened to the album from start to finish. I closed my eyes, listened to the lyrics, surfed the gorgeous melodies, swam in the harmonies, and got lost in the artistry of it all. Highlights included the driving introduction to “Get Back,” Paul’s vocals on “The Long and Winding Road,” and John’s guitar solo on “Let it Be.” This was one of the highlights of my day.
12:32-12:45: I had two left over tacos for lunch, made with my mother’s famous recipe. Childhood memories always make good food taste better.
12:50-1:50: Read for pleasure in a book my daughter has been wanting me to read for a couple years. Finally had (and by had, I mean “took”) the time to get deep into it.
2:00: Left to get my daughter from school because some responsibilities still must happen.
All things considered, my mental health day was an unequivocal success. I returned to my classroom and my students refreshed, rested, and calm. All of my responsibilities were still around, of course, and all the stuff still needed to be done, but taking a single day didn’t cause a log jam in a way that they couldn’t all be met and accomplished.
And as a bonus, I was able to complete them in a peaceful and relaxed manner.
Of course, your mental health day may look wildly different than mine. And it’s not always doing about doing nothing. Sometimes a mental health day can be used to catch up on grading, home projects, car repairs, or family responsibilities. That can reduce your stress and relieve tension, for sure. Sometimes it can be about getting away for the weekend. Sometimes it can be about being a tourist in your own neighborhood.
The bottom line is that mental health days are all about reclaiming some of your life for the stuff you never seem to get to, but that would improve the quality of your life.
And you know what? You’re worth that.
If you live to be 85 years old, that’s 31,025 days.
You’re allowed to steal a handful of them just to do what you want with them.
Or sometimes, like the day I just described, you can choose to do nothing at all. TZT
IS SELF-CARE PART OF YOUR 2019 NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION?
Part of The Zen Teacher approach is subtraction, focus, and simplicity, so I am constantly looking for ways to streamline what I do here.
To that end, I want to make you aware of a pretty substantial change that will be taking place in regard to the self-care courses I offer at The Zen Teacher Online Academy.
And I want you to benefit from these changes.
Among my self-care courses, I offer two called The Self-Care Starter Kit and Self-Care 101: Finding Time, Creating Space, and Embracing Renewal.
Effective within the next few weeks, I am going to retire Self-Care 101, add some of those videos to The Self-Care Starter Kit, add a few more goodies to the whole she-bang, and then double the price of the Self-Care Starter Kit.
But Self-Care 101 will probably never be offered again.
So how can you benefit?
Currently The Self-Care Start Kit is $27. If you purchase it now, before I take it off the platform for its extreme makeover, you will be grandfathered into all of the other goodies.
*I CAN'T SAY WHEN THE $27 PRICE TAG WILL GO AWAY, BUT THIS IS A 2019 PLAN, SO IF YOU'RE INTERESTED, I WOULD ENROLL BEFORE THE END OF DECEMBER, PLEASE AND THANK YOU*
My goal is to give the most value I can in the easiest, most convenient form I can manage. But that means if you don’t buy now, when it comes back, the price will be much higher.
*The 10 Keys to Self-Care *Little Rituals *A Mini-Mantra Meditation *A Self-Care Checklist *The connection between Mind, Body, and Spirit
It also has a 1,000 word workbook, a power point presentation called “How to be a Zen Teacher,” and an over 70 page eBook called “2-Minute Zen: Creating a more Mindful Self-Care Practice, that consists of a number of collected posts from my blog, including 5 posts never before seen on my site, and inspiration photos.
I'm very excited about combining these two courses into one and thrilled with how robust the offering will be. So if you are looking for an immediate entry into the world of self-care--either because the holidays can be extraordinarily stressful or because taking better care of yourself in 2019 might be a resolution you’re toying with--The Self-Care Starter Kit might be a good place to start.
But remember: after the first of the year, it won’t be $27 anymore.
And we don’t want that to cause you any stress, now, do we? ;) TZT
I put some Christmas lights up this week on my front yard fence this week. Pretty lights and a pretty moon, but a candy cane with a blown fuse and a broken reindeer. Holiday life is an imperfect dance. Breathe.
Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, we’re like a runaway train heading straight through the holiday season.
So now is the time to be smart about how you want things to go.
NOW is the time to decide, to make a plan, to be intentional about how you will handle the chaos of broken decorations, late nights, long lines, testy or inconsiderate relatives, low bank account balances, and all of the other stressors that may plague you between now and the beginning of February.
Don’t wait until it happens.
Decide now what to focus on.
Decide now that you won’t let it get to you.
Decide now what strategies and techniques you will use to navigate the stress. . .
Will it include self-care?
Will it include an attitude of gratitude?
Will it include serving, giving, loving, or a sense of wonder and play?
(By the way, if you don’t have a toolbox of strategies, I highly recommend this or this. . .)
Decide NOW what your plan will be.
Decide NOW that you will take care of YOU.
Because you’re worth it.
But most of all, as the holiday stress piles up, keep breathing.
(No, I’m serious. Breathe. Really.)
And when you find yourself getting a little crazy during the next few months, decide who you will reach out to for help, for solace, for your own personal sanctuary*.
And don’t be afraid to do it.
And of course, you always know where to find me if you need some tips to deal with the craziness. Maybe I can offer some suggestions.
(Now of course we all know that there will be plenty of GOOD stuff during the holidays, too. But when the stress rises, at least now you know what to do. . .).
Feel free to make it real and get some accountability by commenting on this blog, emailing me, or sending me a tweet with a response to this question:
When things get nutty this holiday season, what’s your plan?
Happy holidays from The Zen Teacher.
Talk soon. TZT *What a great name for a book! More on that later!
When I hear of the latest mass shooting tragedies (this week's in Thousand Oaks, California, last count, 12 dead, and the second most recent only days before at The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 11 dead), I think of my classroom rules.
I've been teaching for 26 years and, all that time, I’ve had a rule that there is no eating in my classroom.
And you know what?
People still eat in the classroom.
Because you can’t stop everyone from breaking the rules.
They’re going to do it, anyway.
And they still make a mess.
A huge mess that sometimes is not fixable.
Even though I have a rule that they can’t eat in the classroom, there is gum under every single desk.
It’s disgusting. I hate it.
Of course I want them to be able to chew gum — I mean, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with gum, right? — even though some people who can’t abide by the rule still cause damage.
So it’s not that I’m interested in taking that privilege away from them.
Because I’m not.
But as it turns out, when I have let the rule lapse, it’s worse.
There’s more mess and more damage.
Potato Chips are crushed and ground into the carpet.
Soda is spilled on the furniture and it’s sticky and gross and it ultimately ruins all of our stuff.
Gum is wedged in between the threads of the carpet and it gets stuck on shoes and we carry it with us long after we leave that room.
Sometimes the remnants NEVER go away.
It’s unbearable and it hurts EVERYONE.
But the thing is: I’m not trying to take away their food.
I still want them to be able to eat.
In fact, sometimes I even like to eat myself.
So I’m not saying don’t have food.
If you want food, have your food.
Just don’t eat it in my classroom.
Because I hate the damage it causes.
But of course, there are always going to be people who eat in the classroom, anyway, and they are going to ruin it for everyone.
But even though making a “don’t eat in the classroom rule” may not keep them from breaking the rule, it will help.
It will not infringe on their ability to eat.
It will just set appropriate and reasonable boundaries for them doing so.
And the funny thing is: It’s indisputable that when I have the “No eating in the classroom” rule, it’s MUCH EASIER to spot the people who will abuse it and to do something about it.
They stand out more.
They are more exposed.
Their missteps and mistakes are MUCH MORE noticeable and I can take care of the transgressions more swiftly and expediently and provide the proper consequence for the infraction.
When I have the “No Eating in the Classroom” rule, not only does it increase the chances of the transgressors getting caught, but once we reduce the number of rule breakers, maybe someday everyone CAN eat in class without the same amount of damage.
I mean, a man can dream, right? (see video above).
So in the end, I’m just saying that if I make rules about when and where you can eat your food, it’s more respectful to everyone else.
In fact, since I’m the leader and the one in charge, making the rule is the RESPONSIBLE thing to do.
Continuing to allow the mess and the damage would be UNETHICAL and NEGLIGENT of me.
And maybe some people can live with that.
But I can't.
Because when I don’t make the rule, then EVERYONE SUFFERS.
And let’s face it, even with some reasonable boundaries. . .
Everyone. will. still. get. to. eat. their. food.
But when we have rules about when and where you can eat, everyone else has a better opportunity for learning and eating and living in peace.
You may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one. TZT
The nagging sensation that you’ll never get it all done?
What does overwhelm look like to you?
And what do you do about it? How do you cope?
In a recent podcast with Tim Ferriss, author, marketer, and speaker Seth Godin talked about how he copes with overwhelm, saying that overwhelm was a “systems problem. Drinking from a firehose is a really bad way to get hydrated. . .So what I chose to do to get out of it is to not let the world erect boundaries for me, but decide to erect my own.”
In other words--ready for some tough love?—overwhelm is a choice.
Don't like overwhelm?
Change your systems.
It may seem as if everything that is required of us in a day is a non-negotiable obligation or responsibility, a "have to." But the truth is, somewhere along the line, we made a decision. A marriage, kids, a mortgage, working on your Master’s Degree? All of these are good things and they have their benefits, but once they are in place, they can make it seem like we are drinking from the firehose. And who needs--wait for it--the pressure?
So what’s the solution?
As Godin suggests later in the podcast, one possible approach is to remove the things you can (he uses the analogy of a zero-based financial budget as an example) and then add back the things that fulfill you, make you happy, or that you feel you need.
But let’s be clear: He’s not saying it’s time to jettison your spouse, leave your children on the hospital doorstep, or to sell your house and live under that giant oak tree in the park.
But here’s what we CAN do. . .
We can keep track of how much time we spend on Facebook. Instagram. Pinterest.
Count how many hours we spend watching Game of Thrones on HBO, Riverdale on the tube, or Miranda Sings on YouTube.
Police ourself as we play those endless games on our phone.
If you’re like me, this is where you go, “but wait! That’s my ENTERTAINMENT. That's the only time I DON'T have to think about all the other stuff."
And I get that.
But isn’t it also possible—work with me here—that those things are simply habits? And in some case, like maybe mine, actual addictions? I had breakfast with a friend today, for example, and about an hour in to our meeting, I told him that not going for my phone since we both showed up at the restaurant was perhaps a recent personal best for me.
And if, even for awhile, you MADE THE CHOICE to reduce or eliminate some or all of those activities, how much time would you open up for yourself so that you could tackle the other "have tos"?
And then when the "have tos" were done, how much time would you free up to give back to yourself as a gift?
And how quickly would the sense of overwhelm abate?
It’s really a very simple process.
Look at your calendar.
Track how you spend your time.
Look for the habits, the mindless activities, the “addictions” (literal or figurative).
Cut some (or all) of them out.
Free up time.
Make the choice to spend your finite time on this planet on something that makes you profoundly happy, rather than sharing another political meme or cat video on social media.
Your time is yours. No one else can decide for you.
As Seth Godin told Tim Ferriss, “It’s up to us. How we make these choices informs our days.”
And if I know you, and I think I do, you can make choices that better honor who you are and what you want* TZT
*Like most of my blog posts, I’m mostly talking to myself here. If it resonates with you as well, then all the better.
In his book, Clockwork: Design Your Business to Run Itself, entrepreneur and business guru Michael Michalowicz tells business people who are not spending enough time in the “vision” part of their business to keep things manageable by just carving out one per cent of their time to work on their overall vision.
He recommends doing this when they sense an imbalance and are spending too much time in the areas of doing, deciding and delegating, and not enough time designing; in other words, they aren't spending enough time planning how they want to work ON their businesses because they're too busy working FOR their businesses.
And it got me thinking. . .
Isn’t that like teachers who spend too much time planning, teaching, and assessing, and not enough time working on their “vision” for self-care?
So what if teachers did the same thing?
What if you committed to keeping self-care manageable by taking one percent of your time and devoting it to developing your own customized self-care system?
Surely everyone can spare one percent.
It sounds like such a small number.
Let’s do the math and see if that’s true.
The average workweek is (supposedly) 40 hours. But we all know that teachers work a lot more than that.
Let’s assume, then, that you work 60 hours a week.
That means that you would need to devote thirty-six minutes--less than one measly hour--each week to your self-care activities. But much as Michalowicz says in Clockwork, you're worth rounding up to a full hour!
A full 60 minutes? Are you crazy?
Do you know how much I have to do?
Nope! Totally do-able.
Yes, even with all those ungraded papers.
Yes, even with kids.
Yes, even with Netflix.
Yes, even with a husband (Ladies, I totally feel you on that one, by the way . . .).
Okay, so now it’s time for me to lay a little guilt trip on you:
Not taking that time to work on you or your self-care plan is the same as looking at yourself in the mirror and saying, “That’s okay. I’ll skip it. I’m not worth one percent of my work time.”
I hope you cannot do that.
In fact, I hope it’s impossible.
Because you are TOTALLY WORTH spending one percent of your work time on developing a customized self-care plan.
And once you decide you’re worth it, the next step is to plan it.
Look at the calendar and decide when it will take place. Sure, it doesn’t have to be the same time, all the time; It can be random and serendipitous, as long as you’re good about getting to it.
On the other hand, it might be wiser to set a standard time—say, Friday nights from 7-8 p.m.?
And the next question you need to ask is, what will I do with that hour?
There are a flippity-bajillion options:
A yoga class
A 60 minute Meditation
Reading for pleasure or learning
A long walk or hike
Calling an old friend
A hot bubble bath or visit to the jacuzzi
A session in the gym
The truth is: You are only limited by your imagination.
One percent is a rational, reasonable amount of time to give yourself each week.
In fact, after you’ve mastered the 5/10/15 break model, it’s where you should start.
Look at it this way:
My bank only gives me two percent on my savings account.
My little book is turning three years old this month.
But even though it’s The Zen Teacher’s birthday, I want to give YOU a gift.
(I have some exciting news coming up in the next few months about a new way for teachers to reduce their stress and improve their self-care, but for now, I want to celebrate the one that started it all).
Here’s how it works:
Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org showing me proof of purchase* of my book, The Zen Teacher, that is dated anytime during the month of October 2018, and you get to choose one of the following gifts as a thank you for buying the book:
A FREE 30-minute Skype session where I coach you on an individualized self-care plan (value: $75).
When you email me with your proof-of-purchase, simply tell me which gift you would like and I will make it happen.
I have been humbled by the numerous messages I have received from all over the nation and the world, really, from teachers who were not prioritizing their own self-care and learned, through reading The Zen Teacher, how to create a practical and customized plan to take care of themselves and avoid burnout.
Knowing that I have helped so many students throughout my teaching career has always been fulfilling.
Knowing that I am now also helping teachers who help those students has been transcendent.
And I plan to keep doing it as long as you'll let me.
(And I can't wait to share the news of the latest way I can help! Stay tuned. . .).
But the truth is: You deserve to take care of yourself.
*Proof of purchase can be a screenshot of an Amazon receipt or scan of a bookstore receipt, or anything else as long as it's timestamped with a date during the month of October 2018. Thanks for all your support.