Archives for the month of: September, 2016


Do you know this sweet old song?

Button up your overcoat. . .

“Button up your overcoat when the wind blows free. Take good care of yourself: you belong to me.” I would like to sing that song and do my best Betty Boop impersonation for all new teachers. You should be taking extra good care of yourself: go to bed early, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, get some exercise every day, eat a good breakfast, and all the rest of the homey ways you can think to boost your health and spirits.

But there is a fly in the ointment. Now that you are so busy and stressed to do what can’t actually be done, you may find you can’t sleep, can’t eat, can’t move.

Let’s look at sleep first. I have a relative who is a sleep tech. He’s the guy who hooks insomniacs up to the monitors and tucks them in to bed, watches over them during the night, and unhooks them in the morning. He told me that it’s not rare that when he goes in in the morning, a patient will say, “Well, that was a waste.” They perceived the number of hours they slept as zero. He replies, “You were asleep 90% of the time.” I’ve experienced this myself. I’ll be lying there, waiting patiently for sleep to come, thinking about my crazy 4th period class, and my husband will give me a nudge and ask me to please stop snoring. How can you be snoring when you’re wide awake?! You can’t. But you can be asleep when you don’t know you are. (so in my opinion, you should ignore the advice that says if you can’t sleep, get up and do something else until you can)

My relative also tells me that it’s normal for humans to experience diphasic sleep. They go to sleep, get about 4 hours, then wake up and ponder for an hour or so, then back to sleep for 4 more. That’s normal. Not weird. It doesn’t mean you’re coming apart at the seams.

Honestly, the worst thing about not sleeping isn’t even being tired, it’s the fear of being tired. You lie there, wishing you were asleep, pining for sleep, yearning for sleep, telling yourself that if you don’t go to sleep all is lost and you’ll be useless in the morning. Yeah, way to de-escalate the consequences. Much better just to take what comes.

Try this article about the second dart.

Sometimes the universe likes to play tricks on us. It’s like a game. “You think you’re stressed out now? I’m going to show you that you’re actually just fine by stressing you out more and you’ll survive that, too. You’re better than you think you are, kiddo!” We meet a whole new normal.

It’s like being a new parent. You’re overjoyed, panicked, anxious, desperate to do a good job if only you knew how, overwhelmed, confused, gob-smacked by love, deeply suspicious that you should have been given this responsibility, and sleep-deprived. Now, go! Do a great job!

Or maybe your issue is that you sleep all the time and you can’t get any exercise and you’re just a giant slug on the couch. Or maybe you can’t eat and food disgusts you and you’re hungrier and hungrier but you and food are not getting along. It’s all okay. Not pleasant, but okay. Most young teachers are far stronger than they can know. Just try to stay calm and accept what comes with good grace and, if possible, humor. Do the best you can. As Thurgood Marshall’s mother used to say to him, “Do the best you can and then be satisfied with that.”


He got good advice from his mom.  He went far with it.

Button up your overcoat when you can. Have faith in your own survival when you can’t.


Baby, it’s cold outside.




Some time ago, but well after age 50, I determined to learn to play the guitar. I can’t say why I did, but all of a sudden it mattered to me. Since I last learned anything really hard, I’ve developed quite a lot of discipline and stamina—surprise!—and I worked hard at it. Then I lost my teacher and found a new teacher and to my sorrow, discovered that I’d learned some bad habits that were going to hold me back if I didn’t reform my ways. This felt like going back to the beginning. Discouraging. Very.

Yesterday at my lesson, my new teacher, Dan C., cautioned me against overthinking and trying to get too far too fast. He said if he were going to try to learn gymnastics, he wouldn’t start on the parallel bars. First he’d have to lose some weight and get stronger—before he even approached any of the equipment. He said just as you don’t start teaching babies the Latin name for fruit trees before they’ve learnt “apple,” so you can’t get ahead of yourself in any other enterprise.

But I don’t want to be where I am! I want to be farther ahead. Now.

And that driving, striving attitude will defeat the most disciplined learner. You can’t be where you aren’t. You have to be where you are, fully, deeply, without judgment. You have to live rich and open in the place you are. Only in that way can you move forward.

It’s a little like walking along with a stack of books piled high on your arms.



This guy is content to be where he is.

As you learn, the books go inside you and your arms are freed up for more. This takes time. The only way is bit by bit. You can’t just pile more books on top and run ahead, grabbing more books. It just won’t work.


This guy is trying to get where he isn’t.



This guy is going to have to put some of those books down.

To learn stuff best, whether it’s guitar or how to teach or what were the causes of the Civil War, you have to be where you are with it, possessed of curiosity, tolerance, patience, courage, and faith. Trying to motivate yourself (or others) with chiding and yelling merely communicates that where you are is no good. How can it be no good? It’s where you are! You have to start there.


It helps a lot if love and respect flow freely between teacher and student.

It turns out that the fastest way to go anywhere is to be fully where you are. You have to pay attention, on purpose and without judgment, to what is happening now.

So mindfulness and learning, it turns out, go hand in hand.



This from Dave Barry:  “The Young and the Restroom”

IF YOU DON’T HAVE ENOUGH DRAMA in your life, you need to chaperone a party for a group of seventh-graders. (“Chaperone” comes from the French words “chape,” meaning “person,” and “rone,” meaning “who is aging very rapidly.”)

We recently had a party for our son’s 13th birthday. We rented a Holiday Inn function room, on the theory that it was roomier and less flammable than our house. We hired two nice young deejays to play ugly music really loud so that the youngsters would enjoy it. We ordered a large quantity of cold cuts for the youngsters to ignore, as well as a nice fresh vegetable platter for them to actively avoid.

You can find the whole piece here:

The Young and the Restroom by Dave Barry

Chaperoning is part of the job– not the best part.  But you do see a side of the kids you might otherwise not.  Maybe not their best side.  And maybe you’d rather be home with a glass of wine.  But there it is.  You might come home with a story?


Sam ends up in tears in the hallway.  Who would go back?  Not me.  Ever.  For any consideration.

We all go through phases.  Middle school dances are part of life, like appendicitis and tooth decay.  A trial of sorts, I suppose.  I’m just glad, when I chaperone that

a. I teach high school and

b. I can just stand there and not have to take part in any of it.

(although there was that memorable moment, some years ago, when I unwisely chaperoned prom– the longest night of the year– and wandered onto the dance floor late in the night and they were playing the Black Eyed Peas song “Boom Boom Pow” and the kids were into it and the music throbbed and the boys’ shirts were off and the funk of teenaged sweat and hormones hung heavy on the air.  Whew!  Not even sure what to say about that.  Still having the vapors.)


Okay, so you’ve got yourself all set up to start a mindfulness mediation practice. You have your bench or cushion in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed, you’ve got a time of day where you’ve built it in, and you’ve got a timer so you don’t have to watch a clock.

So exactly what is mindfulness? Paying attention, on purpose and without judgment, to what is happening now.

 There is an awful lot in that sentence and it will become richer and richer the more you experience it, but you can start by committing that to memory.

Okay, so, let’s get started. Take your place in your spot, set your timer, and then breathe. Watching the breath as it enters the body, watching the breath as it leaves the body. You need not try to control your thoughts and feelings. They will arise on their own. You’re just allowing them to arise and float on past, like clouds in a blue sky. Relaxing, not tensing, and resting attention on the breath. Over and over and over. Before too long you’ll notice that you aren’t seeing the breath anymore: you’re thinking, planning, ruminating, going to the past or the future. Not to worry. Just gently and without judging, escort the attention back to the breath. Think of your attention like a curious puppy. It keeps wandering, but you are teaching it to stay. “Puppy, stay,” you say gently, every time it scoots off. You don’t keep score, you don’t get angry, and you don’t give up. Coming back to the breath.



Just let them come and blow on through.  Don’t try to get on them and ride them around.

That’s it. When the timer dings and you’re done, you can say a little prayer, if that’s your thing, or you can do a little metta—metta is a practice of wishing well to ourselves and others. It goes like this:

May I be safe and protected.

May I be healthy and strong.

May I be peaceful and happy.

May I know ease of well-being and accept all the conditions of this world.

You say it first about yourself. Then you say it about your loved ones. Then you say it about people you feel neutral about. Then you say it about your enemies and those who make you crazy or fearful. Then you say it about all sentient beings.

Those are the basics and there is an awful lot more to say. My favorite book on this subject is:



Brilliant.  Invaluable.

I found several PDF’s of it online!  Here is the table of contents:

1 Meditation: Why Bother?
2 What Meditation Isn’t
3 What Meditation Is
4 Attitude
5 The Practice
6 What to Do with Your Body
7 What to Do with Your Mind
8 Structuring Your Meditation
9 Set-up Exercises
10 Dealing with Problems
11 Dealing with Distractions I
12 Dealing with Distractions II
13 Mindfulness (Sati)
14 Mindfulness versus Concentration
15 Meditation in Everyday Life
16 What’s in It for You
Afterword: The Power of Loving Friendliness
Appendix: The Context of the Tradition
I love this book and go back to it over and over again.

Super advice for teachers.

Life is a little like floating on the face of the ocean. There can be beautiful, peaceful swells and you can keep your face out of the water and enjoy the sun and stars, or the storms can toss you around and try to drown you. At all times, the breakers or swells play only on the surface. Most of it is down underneath you, and it’s all connected anyway. It’s not as if you could go to the part of the ocean where the water is always calm. No, you’re always going to be treading water and sometimes that’s going to challenge you.


It’s so great when the conditions are right.


The first year(s) of teaching feel(s) a lot like trying to tread water in a tempest. You want so much to be out there splashing around with abandon and freedom, but instead you’re swallowing a lot of salt water and it’s making you sad, mad, and rarely ever glad.




Meditation can help. With meditation, we watch the waves instead of being out there struggling with them. We allow ourselves a little rest from the treading and swimming and striving to get somewhere and just observe the waves and get in touch with the reality of all the water underneath us, all the creatures living in that water, all the connectedness of all the everything, including us. We’re just part of a whole big connected thing.

We can do almost any daily ritual with a meditative spirit: eating, washing up, walking, making the bed. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Washing dishes, I know that I am washing dishes.” He washes the dishes to wash them, not to get them done so he can get on to the cup of tea he’s promised himself when they are finished.


Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Happy teachers will change the world.”

But in order to bring this level of presence to our daily activities, including teaching, it helps a lot to do some formal practice. I’ll talk more about what that looks like in another post, but first, there is the building it in, not fitting it in. Fitting it in won’t work. You’re already too busy with all the other things you have to do. Meditation is deliberately not doing anything so you can experience and practice being with each moment, not squeezing it for what you can get out of it. It’s a rest from striving. As long as your day is full of striving, meditation won’t look to you like something to do.

So. Find a place in the day. I do mine as a walking meditation on my way to school, where there is a labyrinth. When the cold weather comes and the snow covers the labyrinth, I’ll switch to eating meditation over breakfast or sitting meditation firs thing. I recommend early in the day, before the duties ramp up. Once the day gets going, I never do find a quiet moment.   Fifteen or twenty minutes is a good amount of time to start. Don’t try to do more than a half hour.

Find a place in your house. For sitting meditation, you need a quiet spot where you can sit comfortably and at restful attention. The side of the bathtub works pretty well, or on the stairs, or you can buy a meditation bench or cushion. Where you meditate is important. You have to know you won’t be disturbed and interrupted. You won’t answer the phone or hear it. You don’t want to have to hear music or talking, which will suck your brain off the object of attention. Don’t try to meditate with a pet. They don’t get it.


Your meditation set-up can be flexible and movable.

Most people find that a dedicated meditation spot helps them. It shows respect for your practice and you will start to associate meditation with being in that spot.  But if you don’t have a dedicated spot, that can work, too.

You need a timer. That’s so you won’t be checking the clock all the time and interrupting yourself. There are lots of apps you can download if you would like to hear someone narrate and guide your meditation, or if you would like bells at regular or random intervals to remind you to go back to the breath. Or you can just set a timer and watch the breath in silence.

And that’s all you need: a place in the day, a place in your house, a supported sitting spot, and a timer. When you have all those, you’re ready to start experiencing the ocean of life in all its imponderability.

A small number of my beloved acquaintance is new to teaching this year, and I’ve asked to hear questions they’d like to see discussed. T asked me how can you maintain any kind of life outside the responsibilities of lesson prep, grading, and all the rest. Good question, T!

Simple answer: you can’t, not if you’re going to get it all done.

More nuanced answer: you must, but it won’t be easy. And you’re not going to “get it all done” anyway.

Teaching, as a short period of non-judgmental observation in any classroom will reveal, involves (let’s just say) countless variables. Kids, each with their own infinite considerations; curriculum; school routines and expectations; weather. . . even if the teacher’s mood were entirely stable (robotic?), the whole enterprise taxes the working brain power of the most focused and broadly attentive people. It’s overwhelming. So there’s a lot to think about on the job.

And when you go home, you continue to think about it, which is the natural process of a conscientious person trying to do their best and learn their craft. But if you start out with infinite variables, each of which could provoke limitless pondering, you quickly run into meltdown.

There’s an additional problem: you can’t always find an answer, even if you cogitate and ruminate. Some problems/issues just need time for you to find how to meet them. I remember well sitting down in a quiet room on a Sunday morning, my husband minding the kids for an hour or two, so I would have time to “plan.” After the hour + was up, I’d put the cap back on the pen, sigh, and leave the blank page there on the desk. I had no idea what I wanted to do, no idea how to come up with an idea—all I had a lot of was panic and fear.

Then factor in the insurmountable workload. What you’re supposed to do cannot be done. You would need ten more quiet, unsleepy, inviolate hours in every day to fulfill all the duties.


New teachers need to know that they’ve undertaken something that one day, by degrees, will become doable, but it is not now.   You can’t bring it under control by working harder. You can indeed kill your life and enthusiasm by working harder.

My advice is to set aside time to work and time to quit work. Quitting time should come every day, not merely sometimes on alternate weekends. You need to stay alive. That, in fact, is the goal of the first year of teaching: survival. Cook or order a nutritious dinner and eat it.


Or go for a nature walk.  Or any walk with a friend.

Watch a funny movie (I recall with warmth the immense gratitude I felt for Babe in my first year).


Or just stop for a quiet cup of coffee.

Have a hot soak in the tub.


Here is a wise new teacher enjoying her life a little

Read a magazine or book. P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster novels are good when the chips are this down.


Funny!  No challenge.

What you want and need is to escape your overwrought brain. Make this part of your discipline.

The time will come, and no one can say when, that you’ll resume living your life fully. You’ll feel like a whole person, with maybe a little less sleep than you’d like. But in the meantime, you will learn what you need to learn more effectively and faster if you make a point of having some time to live your life every day, even if it means leaving some work undone.

Note: there is no day on which all my work is done, from late August until mid-June. I have learned to triage and live with dangling loose threads. I make a lot of lists.

100 Day Journey

In which we explore and discover.

Katherine Good

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