In accordance with Stoic Week, each day I will be discussing how a different aspect of Stoicism relates to the practice of teaching. For Thursday, the theme outlined in this years Stoic Handbook focuses on Mindfulness.
The theme of Stoic mindfulness seems to best suit the practice of teaching, in my opinion, when it comes to serving the needs and interests of students who are at risk. Often times these students have difficulty in adapting positive mindsets that would allow them to not only perform academically, but also socially as well.
I think that many teachers often have trouble dealing with students who lack the ability to cope with adversity or challenge, simply because most teachers possess these faculties in large quantities. The process of becoming a teacher is difficult and challenging and in order to succeed one must adapt positive states of mind and learn how to balance many complex tasks at once while mitigating stress.
Many of us have been doing this so long that we assume it is natural and when we are faced with students who struggle at what in our minds is simple and straightforward, we don’t know how to proceed. We may assume that a student is just lazy or inept; perhaps the student is just a bad child and enjoys making our lives difficult. We take for granted that over the many years of study we have developed the ability to cope with whatever is in front of us.
By the time that we have become teachers we have learned from experience that if we don’t know the answer to a questions or how to complete a complex task, we certainly know where to out. We almost unconsciously block out the negative thoughts and worries that come with not understanding or not knowing what comes next and adopt a positive mindset that allows us to begin to plan a framework for how we will overcome our problems.
Some of our students however have not yet developed these mental coping mechanisms and may not understand their value. Although I am still within my first few years of teaching, I cannot count the number of times I’ve had students tell me they “don’t know the answer” to a question which they haven’t even properly considered.
From my experience, the question itself may not even be the problem. The student may be overwhelmed by the amount of questions or the size of the project required. It doesn’t take much for negativity to take hold and I believe that once it has, poor performance and behavior are usually in tow.
Sharing with our students a little Stoic mindfulness can help alleviate their difficulties in coping with difficult tasks. By making them aware of their own thought processes we can help them identify those negative thoughts that can creep in while they are in a lesson or doing an assignment and guard against them. Allowing students time to step away from larger tasks and take five or breaking bigger tasks into smaller more manageable bits may also help reduce the occurrence of negativity.
Having frameworks in place to assist students who are having trouble such as the four B system (in case of trouble consult Brain, Book, Buddy, then Boss) can help students begin to tackle more difficult tasks.
I’m a firm believer that the role of a teacher is not simply to covey knowledge and information to their students, but also, to help form individuals who have the skills to adapt to the varieties of life and have the opportunity to thrive. Passing on tools like Stoic mindfulness will ultimately aid in this task. The benefits of mindfulness are not limited to the classroom but I think that the classroom offers a great arena to begin to develop these skills that students can take forward into the personal lives.
Today we finish simply with the words of Marcus Aurelius “Choose not to be harmed-and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed-and you haven’t been.”