Classes start again in less than two weeks. (Primary, secondary and university teachers who are already back at work, I know what you’re thinking: “Shut up.” Believe me, I know how good I’ve got it.)
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. However, one theme that presents itself frequently in my Buddhist meditation practice and my yoga classes is that of “setting an intention.” Why am I doing this? What do I want from it? Where will I place my effort?
So before the kicks to the head begin, I thought I’d “set some intentions” for the semester. What am I going to focus on when the going gets rough?
1. I will work hard.
Teachers will look at #1 and say, “Like you’ll have a choice.” Fair enough. However, one of my greatest struggles is that I resist work and resent it. What will happen if I decide that I want to work hard? What if I look at every stack of papers and every test that needs to be prepared and I think, “Here’s another chance to work hard, just like I wanted”?
2. I will not count the days until the end of the semester.
I need to stop wishing my life away. I need to see my work life for what it is: the place where I learn and grow more than I do anywhere else.
3. I will approach my students as people, not problems.
Registration is in progress, and today I checked my student lists, which are about half complete. So far, two familiar names caused my heart to sink a little.
Am I going to walk in anticipating difficulties? Or am I going to walk in with the attitude that these students are complex, evolving beings who are bound to surprise me in one way or another? If I can truly be present with my students, I can help them more and they, in turn, can teach me something.
4. I will meditate. Every morning, if possible.
Meditation keeps me grounded and sane. It gives me perspective and helps me to stop working myself into a lather. I have an early schedule this semester – my classes often begin at 8 a.m. – and I prefer to meditate in the mornings, so it will be tricky. But even 10 minutes a day makes a big difference, so I need to work it in somehow.
5. I will take care of my body.
Exercise is the first thing to go when I get busy. I love my yoga classes, but I often skip them when there are too many other things on my plate. I also love to ski and to jog, and doing these things makes me feel better about everything. Besides, I’m getting married in September, and I’d like shopping for a dress to be something other than a continuous pounding of my self-esteem. So I need to exercise, if not every day (that might be asking too much), then at least as regularly as I can manage.
6. I will not forget about my friends.
I find it very difficult, during the semester, to maintain a social life outside of work. I’m too stressed to enjoy parties, and even scheduling coffee or dinner feels like a chore rather than a break. I need to change my perspective on this. My obligations to my work community are important, but so are my connections to my larger community. Spending time with friends gives me distance from whatever’s going on at work.
7. I will find enjoyment in even difficult or tedious tasks.
There are things about teaching that I hate. It is possible to hate them less by taking joy in small or big things.
I hate grading essays, but I do like playing with different coloured pens, Post-Its, rubber stamps and other stationery bits. I also enjoy methodical tasks like grading MLA formatting, where I don’t need to think, but can just turn on some fun music and check things off a checklist.
I hate dealing with conflict. However, a conflict with a student is an opportunity to examine myself more closely and learn something. If I’m stressed about dealing with a difficult person, I often reconnect with my meditation practice, do more exercise, write more blog posts, and generally invest in activities that help me work through the problem. Difficult people can be seen as “enemies” or as “gurus.” If I can stop fighting the problem and instead sink into it fully and be curious about it, I can actually take some pleasure in the process.
8. I will take care of my environment.
My offices, both at work and at home, need to be cleaned and reorganized. My apartment also needs to be thoroughly scrubbed – I’m actually considering hiring someone to do this. I detest cleaning, but I also detest living in grubby conditions. I need to set the world around me in order. It helps me feel better.
9. I will be grateful.
I have a great job and a great life. I need to actively remind myself of that, again and again.
I recently made a half-hearted attempt at a “gratitude journal.” Every evening, I made a list of ten things (or more) that had happened that day that I was grateful for. It was never difficult to come up with ten things; my list often extended to twenty items and beyond, and doing it made me feel great.
Last night, The Fiancé and I watched a segment of Dan Gilbert’s “This Emotional Life” in which he presents some of the techniques of “positive psychology.” Taking time each day to note down things that went well is one practice that positive psychology teaches. So it’s not just me – there’s some scientific backing for this. One way or another, it improves my outlook.
10. I will set an intention every morning.
There are going to be problems. Teaching is hard, and teaching well is especially hard, because it involves real engagement with real people, and real people are challenging. There will be days when my stomach will be knotted with dread from the moment I wake up. Setting an intention for the day – What do I want to learn? How will I set that learning in motion? – can untie that knot and allow it to blossom into useful energy.
In the evening I can then examine my intention and how it shaped my day. If I carried it out in some way, I can feel glad; if I avoided it altogether, I can feel glad that I have the insight to recognize that. Buddhists call this daily activity of setting and examining intentions “one at the beginning, one at the end.”
I need to post this list up somewhere, and add to it. A fifteen-week semester equals seventy-five school days. If I can engage in each day with mindfulness, curiosity and effort, instead of just allowing the days to happen to me, I may be able to love what I do all the time.
Even when I feel like punching someone. Which is bound to happen.
Image by Chutiporn Chaitachawong
9 thoughts on “The New Semester: 10 Resolutions”
Your registration is about half complete? I only have seventeen students so far, and am starting to get paranoid! Best of luck with the resolutions. I relate well to many of them, especially Nos. 2 and 6. With respect to 2 (counting the days to the end) I like to think that I am only trying to pace myself and make sure that I have the necessary energy to see me through to the end. For 6, I sympathize but have no advice. I have long entertained the idea of balance as a noble and healthy ideal, but am facing the uncomfortable reality — just came with tenture? — that although I am NOT a ‘workaholic’, at least while term is in progress the job is more important to me than friends or family. It looks cold to see it in print, but so it goes. I’ll be sure to check in with you much later in term to see how Intention 6 works out.
All my courses this winter are special program courses where a certain number of students are pre-registered; that’s why one of my classes is full and the other two are half-full already. Thanks for the good wishes, and good luck to you too! And for sure, we’ll check in with each other later and see how we’re doing.
By publishing this post, you have already made a strong intention to follow through.
Good luck – and we’ll be keeping an eye on you 😉
Yep, that’s the problem with blogging…you feel an obligation to live up to the crap you’ve said you’ll do…
This is a great list! I would like to learn to meditate better too. When I make a conscious effort, which is not often, I feel like it really helps. I would like to do it regularly though. I also try to tell myself that it will be a good day before I ever get out of bed. That puts me in a positive frame of mine to start the day.
This is a good strategy. One thing they teach in meditation training is that it’s important to say helpful things to yourself, even if it feels like you’re just mouthing the words – the words themselves have power, and will have an effect!
Great post Siobhan! I love the intentions you’ve set.
I’m also setting my own intentions, one of which is to complete a “10-10” list every day. I write down 10 things I’m grateful for, and 10 things I’d like to attract into my life.
So, the list might contain small things like “I’m grateful that the sun is shining on my keyboard as I type this” or it might contain big things like “I’m grateful that I have incredible teachers with Classroom Canada, working their butts off teaching in London every day.”
But also, it reminds me of what I want in life – the list of 10 things to focus on, like learning to drive (yes, that’s still on the list! woops…), spending more time with new friends, networking, doing yoga…etc.
The idea is to just do it every day for 30 days and watch what happens. Easy right? And actually, really fun.
I’m hoping to meditate regularly as well. Any tips on how to get started? I’ve been doing some reading online, but have found quite a few of the free meditation sites focus too much on the religious side for my liking. Any sites you’d recommend?
Thanks Siobhan! Happy sunday!
Victoria: Your 10-10 list sounds like a great idea.
When I started meditating, I learned the most from books and audiofiles – you might want to do a search on Amazon for Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are, which is a great primer on secular meditation techniques. It’s where I got started, and it sets all the religious trappings aside and focuses on meditation for physical and mental well-being.
Thanks for coming by again! I always love reading your comments.
Awesome, thanks Siobhan! I’ll search for it now. 🙂