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  • Writer's pictureTonic Dominant

Remaining Calm While Teaching

Updated: Sep 20, 2018


Teaching, especially in a classroom with 20 or more children, can be very stressful. Sometimes, even when I've practiced the lesson plan and I know the techniques to get the students' attention without screaming, I still find myself panicking and thinking detrimental thoughts like: "I'm just not interesting enough." "I'm a lousy teacher." "I'm a failure." I have walked out of classrooms at the end of the day feeling completely defeated, like every other teacher in the world must be more qualified and capable than I am.


What's funny though, is that I've never spoken to a fellow teacher who hasn't experienced at least one day like this. Knowing that it's such a common feeling for other teachers makes my assumption that I'm the worst teacher in the world pretty illogical. Yet even this realization doesn't always help me stay calm, cool, and in control of the classroom.


What works well for me is meditation. When I first read "Peace is Every Step," by Thich Nhat Hanh, I was immediately interested in Hanh's gathas. A gatha is a short, usually 4 line poem that you recite in your mind while breathing in and out. I have written many gathas for my own use, which address specific thought patterns I would like to change.


For me, personally, I tend to define my self worth mostly by how well I do my job. Because my job involves singing, playing, writing, and teaching, I connect how good I am at these skills to how good of a person I am, which, once you write it down and examine it, seems like a pretty dumb way to define your self worth. I can't always be perfect; I'm going to miss notes, create un-inspiring music, and teach poorly. Do I really believe that every time that happens, it means I'm a terrible human being? No. Intellectually, I don't believe that.


But, in moments of panic, my mind comes up with all sorts of fun, demeaning phrases to throw at me (see "failure" above). So I feel like I need to change my mental thought pattern, so that in moments of panic, I'm reminded that this stressful moment does not define my life. Enter the gatha.


Breathing in, I am more than my voice.

Breathing out, I am more than my teaching.

Breathing in, I am more than my fear.

Breathing out, I am Antonio.

Am I doing it? Am I calm??

When I regularly spend 15 minutes a day silently breathing in and out, and reciting these lines in my mind, I find a transformation takes place when I'm in front of students. Instead of being paralyzed by panic when something doesn't go according to plan, my head is lighter, clearer, and more able to find an actual solution. When I panic, I shout. When I am calm, I change what we are doing in class, and re-engage the students.


It's such a privilege to be in front of young people and to teach them the joys of the musical language. I continue to marvel at what they teach me, the power of our minds, and the power I have to change the way I think.

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