The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong in the broken places. -Ernest Hemingway
As we near the end of this workshop, in the service of cultivating and tending the gardens of our own well-being, let's take a few moments to reflect on our profession. Teaching is anything but easy. We've chosen a career that requires us to keep current with our disciplines, so accordingly, we need to be lifelong learners. That's the content mastery aspect of teaching. But, a teaching career is also a service profession. By nature, service professionals work with other people, which by nature requires strength, humility, focus, balance...and great flexibility as we navigate and lead our classroom communities. That's the "presence" or, interpersonal process aspect of mastery. Every classroom community is unique. Being present in some communities may lead us to having joyful experiences of "flow" and deep engagement with our students - and with ourselves. Others communities may pose significant challenges and even hardship, and lead us to question ourselves. Let's face it...we're all human. No one of us is immune to adversity, loss, grief, and change, whether welcome or not, is a constant. The question isn't whether our classrooms (and lives) will involve experiences of adversity, but rather, the question is how we will address and cope with it when it occurs. Preventive endeavors include knowing ourselves - our strengths, thresholds, "pet peeves" and tolerance levels, constructing a planful syllabus that balances faculty and student rights, and reflects college policies. Prevention is also having the strength to reach out and consult whenever support would be helpful.
But, prevention is also individual. Since teaching by nature is a dynamic process that requires adaptation and the address of challenge, self-care is especially important. The concept of resilience fits well here. What does it mean to be a resilient faculty member? As we're all unique individuals, it's not possible to fit us all within a single description. But, there are some unified themes amongst us. Consider that psychological resilience involves the ability to recover and transform adversity into strength. What does that look like for you? How have you successfully transformed hardships in your life? From a psychological lens, resilience isn't just about these challenges, but also about how we perceive, address, and make meaning of these kinds of circumstances. Everyone experiences stress. But, stress in and of itself is a neutral concept. Stress can be connected with positive events. It can also act to motivate us. Take some time to identify your personal stressors, and consider your style of coping with psychological stress. Is it working for you? Are there additional measures you could take to improve the quality of your life? If so...keep reading. A few recommendations are listed here, and it can be helpful to consult with or invite other trusted individuals in your life who may possess expertise in stress management. This can include your primary care physician, a psychologist or other mental health care professional, or a spiritual or religious leader, just to name a few.
Some elements of the landscape of stress, challenge and adversity that may come along with the job described by some faculty colleagues include:
- Managing the unique pressures and stresses of the job itself (e.g. such as organizing multiple preps or dealing with departmental conflicts).
- Finding a healthy work/life balance.
- Weathering the contemporary sociopolitical trend of "targeting" of educators/ state workers/union members.
- Coping with the internal politics of academia (within departments, divisions, and the campus at-large).
- Being concerned about campus violence and safety measures.
- Working with a highly complex and at times, demanding, student body.
- Dealing with the taxing nature of a profession that can, if unaddressed, easily progress into "burnout".
- Finding our way amidst the rapidly evolving and changing expectations of teachers, and of the college experience - a national as well as local (i.e. Harper) trend.
- Keeping up with new initiatives locally, at Harper as well as nationally.
Faculty members have also cited that the following are helpful "antidotes" that can serve to promote resilience and bolster well-being:
- Physical exercise is not only good for our bodies. Exercise is good medicine. It uplifts mood, boosts energy, and can serve as a protective factor for common mental health issues, such as depression.
- Learning about and practicing self-compassion
- Developing a routine of stress-reduction, such as a mindfulness practice like meditation or relaxation training.
- Engaging in yogic practices posses numerous holistic benefits for mind and body.
- Trying to set aside some time for yourself. I know...easier said than done. But, in the hectic rush of life, it's important to renew ourselves by engaging in activities that are personally fulfilling. What helps you recharge?
- Building networks of interpersonal support on and off campus. The perception of having trusted social supports is a protective factor that mitigates against dis-stress.
- Addressing basic health care needs, such as adequate sleep. This is important to strive for, especially during those inevitably hectic times in our lives.
- Trying out what are often referred to as "complementary" forms of healing: art, music, literature, poetry, dance, and animal assisted therapy These can be powerful remedies for de-stressing.
- Intentionally inculcating a "big picture" perspective during trying times. This can be done in many ways, including through humor, dialogue with valued friends and colleagues, as well as through religious and spiritual practices.
- Last, but by no means, least, acquainting yourself with campus resources. Remember, whether you are dealing with a challenging situation involving classroom management or simply trying to enhance and expand your instructional repertoire, you are not alone.