It’s Friday afternoon and the last students have left the building. What story do you tell yourself (or others) about that week? About that day? I know for myself, I often find myself sharing my stories with my husband. He’s an elementary guidance counselor and is a great shoulder to lean on. I often discuss my teaching stories with the district math coach who understands what I do so well and can connect. Many of us have friends and loved ones, or even social media that we share our stories with.
But what stories are we telling and retelling? We know there is no single story to our teaching day. We could tell any one event or moment from a variety of perspectives and with differing tones. Rarely do we tell stories without some emotional backlight. We choose to tell certain stories because they effect us in a visceral way. We may tell our stories with pride, joy, humor, frustration, sadness, anger, etc.
Whether we tell or retell these stories to others, we replay these narratives in our heads and in our hearts. They begin to define those moments and ourselves as though they are the singular truth. They begin to shape our perceptions of our students, our teaching, our lives. They take a foothold in our memories. But neuroscientists have shown that each time we remember something, we are reconstructing the event, reassembling it from traces throughout the brain rendering it less reliable, less ‘accurate’.
I encourage you to reflect on the stories you tell yourself or others about your teaching lives in the coming weeks. Take a moment to look for some patterns of thinking. Ask yourself:
- Which stories am I choosing to tell?
- How am I framing my story?
- How do my stories end?
- How does this frame affect how I feel and what I believe?
- Could this story be told truthfully in another way?
- How would that affect how I feel and what I believe?
We all know teachers who seem joyful and upbeat most days and sadly we know some who seem downbeat and despondent most days. Are some just lucky or unlucky with the students they get and the classrooms they work in each year? What stories do they tell and what effect do you think that has upon their lives? Have they begun to live the narrative they’ve created?
Now I am not saying happiness is achieved by simply ignoring the hard parts of life and pretending everything is ok. It is important that we acknowledge the struggles and challenges and share them with others. But it is in how we choose to frame these stories where the power lies to find hope and courage or repeated frustration and despair.
You have probably heard the saying, “Perception is reality“. It sounds oversimplified, but basically everything you know as reality has to be processed by your brain to be perceived. It is my desire that every teacher experiences a reality filled with love, purpose, and joy. I believe that we have the power to shape that reality and not wait for it to materialize. I acknowledge we have no control over so many events in our lives and I know we cannot wish our way out of depression, grieving, physical or mental illness. I am not referring to debilitating or catastrophic events, but to the everyday life in the classroom.
I am not advocating that we stop telling our stories-just the opposite. I want us to acknowledge that we have more stories than we can possibly tell and reflect on which we choose to share. Tell those stories of challenges, don’t feel guilt for needing to vent. And then for each story that frustrates us, find one (or two) that encourages or delights us. They are there, waiting to be told, too. They are waiting to become part of our reality.
What’s On My Book Radar?
COME WITH ME by Holly McGhee illus by Pascal Lemaitre
What a timely book in an age of bleak headlines. A little girl is overwhelmed by the news reports of anger and hatred and asks her papa what she can do. He responds, “Come with me.” Together they walk hand in hand to ride the train to see and get to know the people. She asks her mama the same and she responds, “Come with me.” Together they walk hand in hand to the market to see and get to know the people. She begins to see that “one person doesn’t represent a family, or a race, or the people of a land.” And “One step at a time they saw what they could do to make the world a better place.” For every child and grown up who has felt the desire to make the world a better place…read and share this book of hope and understanding.