Keys to Survival in the Teaching Profession


It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent but the one most responsive to change.

Charles Darwin

If you substitute “teachers” for “species”, Darwin’s wisdom applies seamlessly to current educational circumstances in which our brute strength and intelligence perhaps need to take a back seat. In a climate of unrelenting and at times uncomfortable educational change on a national, state, systemic, school, classroom and personal level it is not easy to survive!

In yoga we are urged to breathe through the discomfort of a pose in order to find an ease – an acceptance of that moment as it is – to become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. I like to think that the teachers who last in this profession have found a way to “rest in the pose”.

But what does being responsive to change mean in a practical sense? How can we “rest” in the variety of poses that we find ourselves in in teaching day to day?

To respond to something is very different to reacting to something. Can you become aware of situations in which you are reacting in an explosive way rather than responding with awareness and compassion? Reacting is closely related to overreacting (which never ends well).

Any change inevitably calls into question our current practice. I know that I find this incredibly unpleasant as I have a tendency to become defensive and self-righteous (a fine example of reacting rather than responding).

Wayne Dyer in his commentary on the Tao Te Ching (81 verses on the nature of our existence written by Lao Tzu in ancient China) asks us to notice an opportunity to defend or explain ourselves and choose not to. He says:

“Just be with what is…don’t get caught up with being right or wrong.”

I have been putting this into practice of late and while it’s difficult, in choosing not to defend I have found a more peaceful approach and am able to consider my response from a place of awareness and calm. If you are finding that certain changes in your workplace are making you uneasy or restless, try to feel the subtlety of this in your body. As in yoga, breathe your way through the initial discomfort and be aware that these signals may be out of proportion to what is actually happening. These changes are not all taking place in this very moment. Remind yourself of the changes that are now a normal part of your practice that you reacted to similarly in their initial stages.

After opening to these sensations, take a stand for yourself and resolve to deal with each change as it arises and makes itself present in your teaching life – you know you can handle it, one step at a time. Don’t think about every change all at once. Stay with what is occurring in the present.

In terms of ways to “rest” in the teaching profession some ideas are:

  • Keep tabs on your internal slave driver as well as perfectionistic tendencies and notice when they are trying to take the wheel. Accept imperfection as a normal occurrence.
  • Literally rest each day but particularly when there is increased stress or pressure.
  • Accept it when you don’t get through what you had planned rather than beating yourself up – there’s always tomorrow.
  • Switch off – your brain over the weekend as well as your phone, computer and TV regularly. Listen to music, read for pleasure, practice Yoga Nidra – to recalibrate and renew energy.

I posit then that responding with a positive and self-nurturing acceptance as well as “resting in the pose”, may just be the key to our survival as educators.

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