Almost every teacher I know, myself included, encounters the same challenges at times: misbehaving students, not enough time to do everything, and far too many papers to grade. What’s more, we may get bogged down with meetings, disgruntled parents, evaluations, and new curriculum.
Sometimes that bogged down feeling feels like being stuck in quicksand. I’ve never actually been in quicksand, but I bet you know what I mean. And the worst thing about quicksand is that the more you struggle, the faster you sink. And many teacher friends are mightily struggling and sinking fast.
We won’t survive by struggling. Or quitting. I know we won’t because research demonstrates that all people, including teachers, are grippers—we like to grip onto objects, thoughts, and situations. We hold tightly to our beliefs, narrowly focusing on any given thought. It doesn’t matter if the thought or idea is a positive one or a negative one.
But that’s really the good news—that positive thoughts can be held onto just as easily as negative ones. Epictetus, a first century Greek philosopher, said, “It is not what happens to you, but how you relate to what happens that matters.” How we pay attention to our lives and what we place our attention on matters to our well being. What we focus upon is what we make our reality.
Scientifically speaking, through consciously loosening our grip on our negative, habitual thoughts and thought patterns, we move our brain into an alpha state associated with a more peaceful and calm existence.
Being able to loosen our own hold onto negative thought patterns requires a toolbox of skills and practiced attention.
Getting Out of Quicksand
You’re teaching alone in the wilderness, lost in your lessons, when suddenly you find yourself trapped in quicksand and sinking fast. Quicksand isn’t nearly as dangerous as it looks in the movies, but it is a real phenomenon when teachers suffer from their own thoughts.
Just about any situation can temporarily become quicksand if it is sufficiently saturated with negative thought patterns. Here’s what to do if you find yourself with that sinking feeling.
Move Without Struggle
A key survival tool for quicksand is to move, but not struggle. If you can create space around your legs through back and forth movement, the grip is released. By focusing on the space—the space around objects and the space inside your body—you can shift perspective, and your focus, from struggle to acceptance.
Your brain can move into an alpha state, creating a calmer and more relaxed feeling. Find some space.
Lying horizontal on quicksand allows you to float on the surface by distributing your weight. It’s a key survival tool if you’re desperate. Lying horizontal will interrupt your stuck pattern, forcing you to become present and let go of the struggle. If you find yourself stressed or overwhelmed during your plan time or lunch, lie down on your classroom floor and let go of the struggle. It may sound strange, but it works.
Take Your Time
Take enough time to remove yourself from the quagmire of negative thoughts. Shifting your focus won’t happen without effort and it will take time to develop your survival techniques, but trust the process and know that you’re moving in the right direction.
In time, you’ll become adept in quicksand survival and escape. Soon you’ll be teaching others how to thrive in the challenging climate teachers face today. Focus on the positive and avoid getting stuck. You’ll make your life in the classroom beautiful.