Teachers play a pivotal role in student learning and development. From being vulnerable and naive, children grow up to become confident and pragmatic adults. They look up to their teachers as role models for developing soft skills like communication, leadership, teamwork, responsibility, and problem-solving. They learn by observing, experimenting, listening, and asking questions. Above all, what connects with them is how a teacher shows up. It sets the mood, tone, and attitude for the classroom. I still remember my math teacher being humorous and energetic yet strict. I would always look forward to his classes. On the other hand, I remember my chemistry teacher being angry and grumpy. I used to become very anxious in his class for no apparent reason.
No matter how much we mask our emotions, our tone and body language will eventually depict how we feel inside. Studies have shown that infants as old as 1-month can sense when a parent is angry, moody, or depressed. Children pick up on adult stress which can increase their level of stress and anxiety.
When a teacher carries her emotional baggage(filled with stressors, unmet needs, and unresolved emotional issues) to the classroom, it can create a toxic environment. It stirs up negative emotions in the classroom, which sets the stage for behavior issues, bullying, temper tantrums, and manipulations. Students with learning disabilities or developmental disorders can feel more insecure and anxious. Teachers and students begin to feed off of emotions. This affects the teacher’s ability to plan curriculum, be creative and have better relationships with students. Soon we will find the classroom to be in chaos. A teacher gets tagged for a bad reputation, students get tagged for bad behavior, and the cycle continues.
The emotional baggage
Here is an analogy. In computing, caching is a way of temporarily storing data on a device for quick retrieval and loading. It makes a browser or app run faster with more efficiency. But too much caching can eat into the device’s memory, thus slowing it down. It is helpful to clear the cache to improve performance. Likewise, our mind processes tons of data every day. Both positive and negative emotions have a purpose, and we feel them to varying degrees. But over time, when left unchecked, there is enough accumulation of thoughts and unsettled emotions to make us feel stressed or overwhelmed. We may not realize this, but our emotional baggage is starting to get heavier at this point, decreasing our productivity, attention span, focus, and efficiency both in our personal and professional life. When further left unchecked, it can affect our mental health, physical health, and overall well-being.
Clearing your "mind" cache
Teachers who can prioritize their mental health are likely to be more effective in their roles and better able to support student learning. Here are some ways to clear your mind cache so you can enter the classroom with more focus, presence, and positivity.
Feeling good about yourself: Simple things like self-reflection, exercise, and meditation can help clear unwanted thoughts and negative emotions. There is power in prioritizing these self-care routines and doing just a little bit every day. A 5-minute yoga, 1 min meditation, or a 10 min cardio is much better than not doing anything. Here is a fun fact! Spending a few minutes on a self-care routine every day can make you feel good about yourself, and that feeling can power you through the day. Other ways to feel good about yourself are learning a new skill, doing charity work, calling a friend, going on a hike, or spending time on a hobby.
Acknowledging your emotions and challenges: This is easier said than done! The truth is the more you resist, the more you suffer. So it might be simpler to embrace your situation to face it and move through it. Journaling is a great way to do this by yourself. Talking to a friend, family member, manager or specialist can help you with this process. We all have our unique problems. Our emotional baggage is truly ours! But seeking help can give us the support, motivation, energy, and tools to get through and move forward.
Practicing mindfulness: There is no failure in this. We are constantly practicing being distracted and overwhelmed. So any step we take towards mindfulness is a big win for us. Mindfulness can help a teacher look beyond bad behavior. It opens up the possibility of creativity and problem-solving. One of the biggest classroom challenges is managing challenging behaviors, another stressor added to the emotional baggage. When a teacher is more aware, grounded, and focused:
- There is a sense of control and balance in the classroom.
- The teacher can mindfully approach a challenging situation as opposed to reacting with her emotions at the moment.
- The teacher is more likely to be patient, compassionate, and understanding with their students.
- The teacher can create a positive and supportive environment, which can improve student learning and engagement.
- The teacher can support students in managing their emotions and developing their emotional intelligence, which can eventually bring down behavior issues in the classroom.
If this article got you thinking, here are some questions to ponder!
- How can you incorporate some of the self-care routines at work? Think about what you can do in the classroom for a win-win situation.
- How aware are you of your emotional baggage? Think about stressors, unmet needs, and unchecked emotions.
- How do you want to clear your mind cache? Think about ways, frequency, and support.
What action steps can you take?
If you are a teacher looking for ways to care for your emotional health and manage challenging behaviors more effectively, join this workshop on Teacher toolkit - Transformational approach to managing challenging classroom behaviors. This workshop focuses on helping you understand Emotional Intelligence, your emotional baggage, and your limiting beliefs around challenging behaviors to simplify your approach to better behavior management in the classroom through practical tools. To learn more click here
Until next time, be mindful!