Frazzled. That’s the way I describe most urban public high school teachers at the end of October.
You’re tired, and you’re behind, and you have so much to do. Plus, your students are insane. Quarter grades just came out, resulting in various manifestations of anxiety. And there’s Halloween and a World Series parade tomorrow. It seems like everything is designed to distract and disrupt.
Last year, I felt the same way (and it wasn’t even a tough year!). In “Can I Get a Little Quiet?” I argued that quiet is so rare in schools that many teachers give up seeking it. But a sense of calm benefits everyone, even extroverts and kinesthetic learners.
That’s why I’m happy this year to see teachers promoting quiet in their classrooms. A few teachers employ an “opening song” at the beginning of class. For one minute, students sit in silence, listen to a song (usually instrumental) of the teacher’s choosing, look at the lesson objective, and think of an intention for the day.
Kevin Brookhouser, a teacher I respect, begins his classes with 60 seconds of silence. Take a look. (I secretly like the bell.)
In fact, meditation and other forms of “mindful breathing” have become popular across the country over the past few years. A good friend and former colleague leads her students in guided breathing exercises. Quiet Time, promoted by the David Lynch Foundation, offers schools in San Francisco training to practice transcendental meditation so that students suffering from trauma, stress, and other behavioral issues like ADHD can find more calm in their lives.
As a teacher, I’m leery of such programs (take a look at the “Room to Breathe” trailer; it gives me the heebie-jeebies), but I do appreciate the efforts to provide young people a safe environment to monitor themselves and their feelings. After all, students cannot learn if they don’t know what to do with the distracting and challenging thoughts that are bombarding them.
What I’d like to see more is quiet during lessons, not just at the beginning or end. There’s nothing wrong, for example, with silent reading and silent writing. Of course, student talk should also pervade the classroom, especially when it adds to the academic discourse. Talking just to talk doesn’t always lead to calm.
Please let me know what you think. Should teachers give time for focused quiet? Is meditation going too far?