We’d like to thank Jaime for sharing this story ahead of her session at EdmodoCon. If you’re interested in more from Jaime, register for EdmodoCon today to see her speak live about mindfulness in the classroom.
I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Somehow I was hired as a sixth-grade Language Arts teacher after years of teaching only third grade. It didn’t occur to me just how significant that was as a developmental jump until the first week of school—when I planned some incredibly underwhelming lessons.
I found myself frantically reaching into my bag of tricks to level the playing field for these busy-minded middle schoolers. It was a challenge to find that balance between engaging the pre-pubescent brain with something relatively entertaining and keeping their attention long enough to learn.
In those first few weeks, my students looked at me like I was an outsider, testing me daily to see if I would break, quit, throw my hands up in the air and swear at no one in particular. Luckily, none of that actually happened. However, during the first couple of months, I often questioned if it was the right move for me to have made that jump. They could see through me—I was the outsider.
I was new to a school that had a reputation as a close-knit community, where families watched their children grow from ages 5 to 13, where teachers spent their entire careers guiding those families. This school was a place where generations came and went with ever-evolving knowledge, skills, and endless talent. It wasn’t often that a new face appeared at the front of the class. I was one of very few new teachers that year to enter this thriving community.
With constant scrutiny from the kids and challenges of my own where I had to adjust all of my lessons toward more rigorous learning objectives and activities that were sixth-grade appropriate, it took a while to feel like I belonged there. In some ways, I felt like I was back in middle school myself, re-learning how to handle my body and mind at the same time! We were all in a space of significant developmental growth.
During those challenging times, I turned to my meditative and yogic practices often to center and ground myself since I felt like I was in survival mode during my day-to-day! Engaging in a mindfulness practice helped me create space within my body and mind to become a better and more attuned educator. Many times when my students tested my patience, I’d pause, close my eyes for a moment, and remember to breathe. I was careful not to react, because that’s what they wanted, and once in a while it worked, but for the most part, my years of experience looking within helped me to not act rashly.
Not long into the school year, some of my students expressed frustration with another teacher they had. They often came to my class feeling defeated and angry. I noticed that it was taking a reasonable amount of time to get them settled and in a frame of mind where they could focus and actively participate in class. I didn’t want this to become a pattern or set the tone for our class time, so after a few days of this, I decided to test the waters with a little meditation.
“Many times when my students tested my patience, I’d pause, close my eyes for a moment, and remember to breathe.”
The first time I suggested it, the kids were skeptical, but I told them we were going to try a couple of minutes of sitting quietly where I would guide them through the process. Luckily, most willingly agreed to at least give it a shot.
We all closed our eyes and took three deep breaths together. I could tell almost immediately the energy in the room had shifted from intense to something much calmer. As I walked them through a visualization and breathing practice, I slowly made my way around the room, gauging the effects of this mindfulness practice. Some students had completely surrendered to the breathing, flopping over in their seats, while others simply sat quietly breathing and taking a few moments to clear their minds of their earlier emotional struggles.
It was working!
After a couple of minutes, I guided them mentally back to the room. There was a gentleness in their eyes, their shoulders were relaxed, their bodies were calm, and they were following the natural flow of their breath. I asked if anyone wanted to share their experiences during that first session, but none were yet willing. This was all still very new to them, so I allowed the meditation to wash over them as we began our class.
Over the next few weeks, I made this a daily practice, and eventually my students willingly shared their meditative experiences with one another! The opened up about feelings, visions, and sensations in their bodies. They listened to one another without judgement. They were calm and ready to learn.
We continued our meditative practice throughout the year. Over time, we grew into a small community of our own, each one of us belonging to a sacred space that we created together. There was a major shift in my students’ desire to learn and to connect to one another on a deeper level. They thrived that year, and many of them continue to thrive today. I’ve heard messages from so many of those students that when faced with the challenges in life, they go back to what they learned in our community—they pause, close their eyes, and remember to breathe.
Thanks again to Jaime for sharing this story. Remember, if you want to learn more, register for EdmodoCon today to see her speak live about mindfulness in the classroom.