A teacher in an article I read recently suggested that if we want to keep more teachers in the classroom, they “should be treated like rock stars.” She’s close, but I think teachers should instead be treated like elite athletes.
I’m not saying we should be paid millions of dollars, although that would be great. What I’m saying is teachers should be treated like elite athletes when it comes to training and support: We should help teachers help ourselves.
This should start with mental-performance training. Sport psychology, a rapidly expanding field, is focused on helping performers better understand who they are are, what they do and how they can do it better.
Over the past year and a half, I have served (unofficially and now officially) as our school’s mental-performance coach, where I work with many of our athletic teams, performing groups and academic classes. This experience has left me thinking about ways to do more and do better, which has made me think a lot about teachers.
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Teachers are high performers. The grind of the school year can be compared to the long professional baseball season. It demands us to be on top of our game for sometimes five or six classes a day. No student, no class, no day is the same. It requires an understanding not only of content but of people as well. The pressure is not the same as playing a game with millions watching, but there is more on the line.
The best performers in the world have a present-day, present-moment focus. Teachers struggle with this. We’re guilty of constantly looking forward. “Only 17 days until winter break,” “I don’t know how I’m going to have those kids ready for AP testing in four months,” “We’ve got to get these ninth graders ready for college!” I wish I were exaggerating about the last one, but I am not.
The result of all this obsession with the future? Undue stress. Lack of enjoyment and appreciation for now. Inconsistent attitudes and approaches to days. Missing out on some really cool moments because we’ve already mailed it in as “one of those days.” Now multiply that sort of mindset by four, five, 20 years, and it’s no wonder why people leave. We set ourselves up to be miserable.
We quickly forget the 201 other parents who didn’t send a nasty email and the 1,900 other students whose behavior was no issue.
Great performers don’t allow distractions to ruin their ability to keep perspective. This is a challenge for teachers. “Let me tell you about this email I got from a parent,” becomes “Parents don’t respect us at all.” “Can you believe what this student said when I asked him to put his head phones up?” turns into “Kids today have no respect for authority.” We quickly forget the 201 other parents who didn’t send a nasty email and the 1,900 other students whose behavior was no issue. We lose perspective, and we let little things bother us more than they should.
Mental performance training is becoming a bigger part of athletic training, and for good reason. Professional, Olympic and college teams are all using it. There’s a high likelihood that the current champions in whatever sport you like are using mental training. Big corporations are as well. Education needs to be next.
Helping teachers to better understand themselves and their performance would help tremendously with the quality of instruction. In addition, it would allow teachers to better enjoy the experience – and help themselves. Maybe that would lead to more of us sticking around. Education needs us.
Mr. Ehrlich teachers at Blythewood High School; contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.