From VOA Learning English, this is the Education Report.
Teaching can be one of the most satisfying jobs in the United States. Yet many American teachers say they feel overworked, undervalued, and underpaid.
This has led to what education experts call ‘teacher burnout,’ a feeling of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion.
In all, nearly 50 percent of American teachers leave the profession before their fifth year. That information comes from a 2010 study by the advisory service McKinsey & Company.
And, a 2016 study from Penn State University found that 46 percent of teachers report high daily stress. Teachers say the stress affects their sleep, health, teaching performance, and quality of life.
The study identified mindfulness training as one promising solution for improving teacher well-being.
A path toward calm
The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California – Berkeley studies the science and practice of well-being. It defines mindfulness as keeping “a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.”
A person can reach this emotional state by spending time in quiet thought, without judging these thoughts and feelings. A number of people also meditate – they take slow, deep breaths to become calm.
Many organizations around the country have designed mindfulness training programs for schools. Some of them are designed for teachers. The programs seek to reduce teacher stress while helping them be more effective in the classroom.
Two examples are the New York-based CARE for Teachers program and a program by Mindful Schools, a non-profit organization based in California. Both programs give trainings on-site at schools as well.
About 100 kilometers north of New York City, the Garrison Institute offers the CARE for Teachers program. CARE is short for the term Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education.
In the CARE program, teachers are shown how to recognize and regulate emotions in themselves and others: how to be ’reflective instead of being ‘reactive.’ They also learn mindful techniques for resolving difficult situations at work.
Maureen Naughton is a seventh grade science teacher at a public middle school in the Bronx section of New York City.
As a highly active teacher, Naughton would sometimes forget to take time to herself. She told VOA that CARE taught her methods such as mindful walking and mindful eating – ways of enjoying those activities fully instead of being distracted by worries or responsibilities.
“I know myself, as a teacher, even on my lunch, I’m eating standing up or I’m eating running down the hall to do something. They [CARE] taught us how to take 15 minutes to enjoy your lunch and enjoy every part of it.”
Naughton also says the deep breathing methods she learned help her to maintain calm when faced with the stress of trying to “meet everyone’s needs.” And, even before she closes her classroom door and starts a lesson, she’ll practice breathing – often with her students.
Adrienne Lopez teaches eighth grade English at Valley View Middle School in Concord, California.
Like Naughton, Lopez told VOA that being aware of and regulating one’s breathing is vital.
“Just having a practice of noticing my breath is huge, so a lot of times if I’m being -- feeling overwhelmed -- or there’s a lot of demands being made at me at one time, just being able to train my nervous system, like ‘oh, you’re not fully breathing. You need to be taking deep breaths’.”
A few years ago, Lopez took the Mindful Schools certification program. The concepts in the program are not new to her – she’s been practicing meditation for 16 years. However, the certificate enables her to practice these methods with her students.
She says that middle school students are “highly active creatures, very social creatures,” which can be challenging at times.
Jose Rodriguez, too, understands the challenges of teaching this age group. Rodriguez teaches middle school students in the Spanish-English dual-language program at the Ambassador School of Global Education in Los Angeles.
Rodriguez’ students can get frustrated with using laptops for their lessons. Sometimes, they all ask him for help at once, and say things like, “I can’t do this!”
When this happens, he uses the strategy learned from his training with Mindful Schools. He stops what they are doing until they can remain calm. This, he explains, helps everyone, including himself.
“And when we wait, we’re able to deal with whatever is happening in that moment. And, so that’s one of the strategies that I learned.”
Like many teachers, Rodriguez also experiences time urgency -- an anxious feeling that there is never enough time to complete duties.
To combat time urgency, he uses a three-minute guided breathing exercise that he plays from YouTube – another technique learned in from Mindful Schools.
While all of the teachers are strong believers in the mindful practices, they recognize that it’s not a “fix-all.”
Rodriguez believes mindfulness can be a useful tool when combined with other tools, such as adapting academic learning to the real life needs and instructional needs of students.
I’m Alice Bryant.
And I’m Phil Dierking.
Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor. We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.
Words in This Story
stress - n. a physical or emotional influence that causes bodily or mention tension; pressure
burnout - n. the condition of someone who has become very physically and emotionally tired after doing a difficult job for a long time
cultivate - v. to improve or develop (something) by careful attention, training, or study
resilience - n. the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens
vital – adj. extremely important
certification - n. the act of making something official; the act of certifying something
reflection - n. careful thought about something
regulate - v. to set or adjust the amount, degree, or rate of something
challenge - n. a difficult task or problem : something that is hard to do
anxious - adj. afraid or nervous especially about what may happen : feeling anxiety
adapt - v. to change your behavior so that it is easier to live in a particular place or situation