Innovation in Teaching

Burning the Candle

As we head into Module Four of our PME 811 course, I continue to focus on my burning question of:

How do we keep our teaching innovative and creative? How do stay relevant and create programming that follows curriculum, teaches students the necessary skills and engages them with the material?

Lately, I have felt like I’ve started burning the candle at both ends. In previous years, I’ve been one of those “A-Type” personalities that try to go, go, go until they collapse. Having a full-time job, full course load, life, health, exercise and more, it all adds up. Which got me thinking back to one of my previous posts…

I still don’t have the answer to: How do we do it all and not get burnt out?

However, I have been having some thoughts about this. First of all, I don’t think it is about “doing it all” necessarily. And I also don’t think it’s about “it is what it is” (addressed in an earlier blog). I think it’s about the balance. The balance of reusing material, collaborating with our peers, doing our research, readapting the older content to be more relatable, and also establishing new material.

And most of all? It’s about taking care of ourselves in the process of it all.

This week I read Teaching as Contemplative Professional Practice by Thomas Falkenberg. It was the concept of “ongoing work on one’s awareness, attention, and noticing of one’s inner life while teaching.” The concept of mindfulness.

If you’ve explored the rest of my blog a bit, you’ll know that I’m a bit of a mindfulness and motivation nut. I enjoy inspiring people and helping them to achieve their best – one of the reasons I want to teach – but it’s also about me and being in check with my emotions and needs. Being aware of my thoughts and actions, and how they are affecting my day to day life.

I think this is another aspect of my burning question – One of the ways that we can keep our students engaged is being engaged ourselves. In order to be in engaged, we need to be present. We need to take the time to teach ourselves to be present and in the moment – and this takes practice! In moments when we feel like we are “burning the candle at both ends” (as I am now), it is the perfect time to sit down, be silent and reflect.

What do you think? Are you a mindful meditator? Are you present each day? If not, how do you think you can be more present? What happens to your classroom when you’re tired or incredibly busy or just feeling “down”?

Works Cited:

Falkenberg, T. (2012). Teaching as contemplative professional practice. Paideusis, 20(2), 25-35.


2 thoughts on “Burning the Candle

  1. Hi, Erica,

    I’ve gotten so used to burning the candle at both ends that sometimes it feels like I don’t know what to do with myself when I have open time. I enjoy meditating but haven’t done it in years. I have found, though, that being attentive to the moment — being mindful — is very helpful when I’m struggling to cope. It’s also important that I remember to access my support systems when I’m having a hard time balancing my responsibilities and activities.

    For example, several years ago while my husband was away studying to be a paramedic, I was so tired that I nearly fell asleep on my feet during an afternoon class while students were giving presentations. Every night, when I went to bed, I had this image in my head of being stuck on a mountain ledge, staring up at the nearly vertical cliffside that I knew I would have to struggle to climb the next day. I didn’t know it, but at the time I was severely anemic as well as in a low period of my chronic depression and anxiety. The administration didn’t say anything to me about what they’d noticed until *after* I was visibly feeling better (post-treatment) — the principal said that I hadn’t looked well when I’d passed his office every morning, yet once I was in my classroom, everything seemed to be fine. A significant part of teaching, for me, is performance in the sense that I’m taking on the role of subject expert and facilitator, as perceived by my students. When I’m on a stage, concentrating on the depiction of character and communication with both the audience and my fellow actors, my energy levels rise in response. I immediately feel the drop as soon as I’m out of sight of that audience again, whether it’s theatre attendees or students or colleagues.

    In the interests of connecting with my students, and helping them to develop their own emotional intelligence, I decided a long time ago to be honest with them on how I was feeling and what I was doing about it, to a certain degree. That is to say, I don’t go into the nitty-gritty or highly personal details, but if I was tired or suffering a headache or struggling with my mental health, I’ll try to make my students aware. Sometimes a classroom group would make an effort to be more considerate by being more quiet. Sometimes we would have a brief discussion on mental health awareness. Sometimes a student would come to me afterward who needed help, themselves, and hadn’t known how to ask. Ultimately, I want them to see me as a human being who isn’t always feeling up to speed and has developed a toolkit of coping mechanisms to draw upon that is still evolving. Occasionally, I’ve been in classrooms where when I’ve mentioned that I was not feeling well, a sufficient number of students would commiserate and it would alter my plans for the day to accommodate our shared feelings of exhaustion, particularly at the end of a semester or an approaching holiday after a stretch of intensive work.

    There was one day, in my second year of teaching, when I had to take a few days off work to recover from a miscarriage. After I returned to the classroom, I was still processing the experience and the loss of the pregnancy, so I let my students know what had happened to clear up any rumours or misinterpretations of my absence. On one level, I was seeking their support when I was feeling fragile, and on other, I wanted them to know that I would be open to them if they were going through a crisis. The short discussion that followed revealed some significant gaps in the grade 10 students’ understanding of biology, which I was able to correct and later pass on to their health and science teachers. But a decade later, one of those students shared her memory of the experience on Facebook (not naming me) and her recognition of that moment as a gesture of trust, building connection and community. She had gone through difficulties in conceiving her own children, and remembering what I’d said was comforting to her.

    Ultimately, if we want our students to be engaged, being engaged ourselves means accepting that we are not going to be the perfect professionals we might want ourselves to be. We’re going to have bad days as well as good days, just like our students will, individually and collectively. But if we model appropriate and healthy ways of coping, such as being mindful, identifying and expressing our emotions, I think we will reach more students who might otherwise think we don’t understand what they’re going through because we appear to have everything together. This doesn’t mean that we share everything — after all, there are boundaries to our professionalism. But it does mean that we acknowledge with our students when something we’re going through skews our responses to them. If my tolerance levels are low and I lose my temper with a student, it’s up to me as the adult and the professional to let them know that it wasn’t their fault. It’s also up to me to recognize the signs of not being able to cope at all, and to ask someone like a colleague or an administrator to take over while I take a breather. Most of us don’t like to admit when we’re in that kind of place, but it’s much healthier than (potentially) losing it in front of a class.

    1. Hi Victoria,

      I always find your responses so incredibly in-depth and thought-provoking, but I absolutely loved this one. It really hit home with me. I find your approach with your students completely empowering. The idea of being honest and communicating experiences, and having them understand that they can have that same level of vulnerability in a classroom is incredibly important.

      In terms of the classroom becoming like a stage, I can relate to this as well (thespians unite!). When I was younger, I used to teach swimming lessons. In the trials and tribulations of being a teenager, I remember on several occasions joking that I was “putting on my happy face” to jump in the pool. However, I remember leaving the pool 100 times happier than when I jumped in. The students’ energy always fuelled me. Their interactions gave me my energy in those much needed moments.

      It truly is an incredible experience to connect with your students on that level! Thank you SO much for sharing your stories and thoughts, Victoria. It’s been a wonderful experience.


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