Monday, September 12, 2016

Day 3- The first Monday, the first full week and the first METTA meditation

In the life of a middle school teacher uneventful days are cherished, especially early in the year, and definitely on a Monday, pretty much any time of year. Even though it is only September 12th, and the day began with a short, grade level Welcome Back assembly to begin of our first full week together, it already feels like we have been working together for a lot longer.

As we started the day, and had some time to chat before we were called down to the gym, this was one of the examples of a paradox that I gave my students this morning, as the continuation of an ongoing discussion of the concept, as we forge our identities and face life's challenges to be successful as students in school, and happy and healthy individuals in the world. It was a fascinating 10 minutes as we waited to be called down, sharing some big conversation and small chit chat, apropos to the concept of paradox.

After the assembly, we reverted to our regular schedule, which today meant I started with my switch class. As this class came in and we quickly got into our meditation, which has already become routine and yet is still so new and strange, it was clearly Monday morning. As I turned out the lights, just about every kid in the class put their head down. One boy straightened up in his chair, and all of the others were happy to rest their heads in their hands and close their eyes. The only reference I made to this choice was when prompting the positioning, I included cues as to how they could still straighten their backs and pay attention to their breath with their heads down.

Then the meditation went on as it did last week and will until the end of the month...Inhale, 2, 3, 4, hold, 2, exhale, 2, 3, 4 for the 4 minutes and 38 seconds of the track. Uneventful.

It was quiet throughout. I imagine it was relaxing for most. Likely refreshing for many. I can't be certain, because though again I asked, no one had anything to say. But immediately after, they got to work. We are easing in, creating a graphic name representation- the classic easing in piece, a little art, a little presentation, a get to know you and see how you work, speak and listen all in one shot. Nothing new to teachers. I am not reinventing the wheel. As soon as the meditation ended, everyone got to work. I needed to redirect a few once or twice, but as a group, we are off to a great start and the periods were uneventful.

After break my homeroom class came back. As we began our meditation, student A was tired and put his head down. Student B and another student sat up straight and put their hands in the "meditation pose." I mentioned again that no one had to make any special postures, and that they needed to ask themselves why they were choosing to sit that way, stating if it was comfortable for them I was okay with it, but if they thought they needed it, they didn't and if they should be sure they weren't just doing it for attention. Another reminder for everyone that we should always ask ourselves why they are doing the things they do. That we need to pay attention to our intentions and our actions.

They both then chose put their hands down as we began the meditation. This class is different than the other. Perhaps they have bought in more, feel closer to me as a homeroom teacher, or perhaps they are just more obedient, but as I prompted this class just about everybody sat up straight. Student A and one or two others were the only ones with their heads down.

Student B, who had let go of the arm positioning, decided to try breathing with the breath count in a clear and obvious way, as did the student beside him, another character in his own right, though much stronger academically. I couldn't fault their efforts as they seemed sincere, though they were a bit louder in their breathing than I wanted them to be, which of course was very entertaining to them. To their credit, they held it together suppressing their giggles.It helped that I stood beside them, but that and a gentle Ssh and some breathing prompts were all it took for them to stay with the breathing and try to take it seriously.

I assumed their intentions were sincere and when we were finished, I talked about how much noise is appropriate when breathing, along with a reminder about inhaling through the nose and feeling one's belly expand and slow, steady, controlled exhales through the nose when possible. I encouraged them to maintain their efforts, remember we just begun and there is a reason it is called a practice. And then we got one with our Name Representation and once again just about everyone got to work, with Student A and Student B going back and forth requiring support, along with all the rest of the needs of kids in a classroom.

Another paradox that this is what a classroom teacher calls uneventful.

That would have been enough, but that was just the morning. In the afternoon for the last two periods of the day we had Social Studies. My teaching partner and I team teach Social Studies bringing both classes together. We had done this twice already last week as it will be part of our regular practice and learning, but today was our first real class together. And today was September 12th and so Social Studies began with some learning about September 11th, which connects to many of the topics in Grade 7 SS. It is also a good time to introduce a METTA meditations.

METTA meditations are Mindfulness meditations designed to foster caring and compassion. I wrote about my experiences with them at length in my chapter ( I like to introduce them early in the year so that students are familiar with them in case of events that require we need one. I also like to see if my students are up to the challenge and capable of a longer meditation early in the year.

They rarely disappoint and this year was no different. Our students came through the class and the meditation in ways I never expected. And staying true with the theme of the day, our first METTA meditation was a paradox. It was as perfect as it was imperfect.

It was perfect in how it came at the end of the day, on a Monday, after intense discussions on the difference between war and terrorism, the events of 9/11, and its impact on the world with a group of about 45 grade 7 students, who were engaged and inquisitive, surpassing my expectations in their knowledge, interest and behaviour. It was perfect that the discussion went even longer than I imagined, and we didn't get to finish before we stopped and shifted into a METTA meditation to extend our caring and compassion to those affected by 9/11 as we ended our day. It was perfect as my students were willing and open and respectful. Whatever they were thinking for themselves, they displayed compassion and respect for one another just by not bothering anyone else.

For the most part. While there were no outright disruptions the end of the day remains as imperfect as it is perfect. The end of a Monday is the end of a long day, especially the first week back, with some intense discussion of a disturbing topic that required a lot of focus and listening. It is exhausting and everyone was tired. And the METTA meditation is weird, longer that we had done, with a visualization. To experience for the first time in a room with 45 kids, not the circle of the classroom was not ideal. It was imperfect.

There was silence but not stillness. Some kids were more visibly restless, shifting in their seats a lot more. The windows into the classroom from the hallway, and the end of the day traffic presented its own set of challenges. It was also a little rushed. That was my fault. The discussion had gone longer, guidance had stopped by, the process took more time than I remembered, our time in gratitude was a little shorter, there was no time to debrief today.

But there was a calmness as we ended at 3:27 and quickly stacked chairs and cleaned up. The day was done. For a moment I wished it could have been perfect, that I would have started earlier, done it better. But I was also very grateful. It had gone very well. We set a standard for practice academically, as well as making a place to consciously grow and share our caring and compassion in the world, while building a foundation of trust and respect between us. We are just beginning to learn how to do this, as we begin all of our other learning together, I really can't ask for more than that for an uneventful Monday. Especially because tomorrow is only Tuesday.

May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe.

1 comment:

  1. I am Cari's mom so my comments come from a place of love & pride. I am so grateful that Cari is a caring teacher. Her students are so fortunate.
    I have meditated with Cari leading a group of teachers and have felt the compassion and caring. Thank you Cari for sharing each day with us. Love you!