Time to Breathe

Have you ever used this expression: “I barely have time to breathe!”   stressed?

Well, try being a Middle School Student these days — especially one who wants to get good grades, play sports or an instrument (or both) and get along with friends, family, and teachers.  They are shoved from one important activity to another and the most common message they hear throughout the day is “Hurry Up!”  Hurry and get to class.  Hurry and sit down.  Hurry and open your books.  Hurry and copy your homework assignment in your agenda.  Hurry and solve this algebra problem.  Hurry and write a creative short story with a protagonist who faces an internal conflict concerning his family and use symbolism to demonstrate the resolution to his angst.  In 40 minutes.  Go.

Hurry and get to your next class, because guess what?  You’re late!

I know this because I am a Middle School Teacher, and with the pressure of MORE rigor, MORE testing, MORE reading, MORE assessing, I am constantly trying to shove a disproportionate amount of academic “stuff” into the same block of time I’ve always been given to teach my students.  I’ve played the game the best I can for the past few years, and have watched the anxiety of 12 year olds skyrocket as my own physical and emotional health deteriorated.  And despite all of this, nothing much changed for kids’ academic progress.  Certainly nothing positive.  Oh, sure, the scores on the tests they’ve been made to take do get better, and some people may use this “data” to pretend it all means something significant to the kids’ overall learning.  Well, guess what?  It DOESN’T!  Ha!  Who would’ve guessed?

What is true is this:  Kids who pay attention and do their homework tend to do well.  Kids who stay home often, goof around in class, and neglect their homework tend to do poorly.  Kids who work hard and need more help, get it.  Kids who are sick, poor, hungry, or worried, have bigger priorities than filling in bubbles on test day.  Always have.  Always will.

So this year, we are doing something different.  Against all reason, amidst all the test hoopla and data analysis and common assessments, I am giving my students the one thing they need most of all.  Time to breathe.

calmOn day ONE of the 2013-2014 school year my students came into class, sat down, and stared at me as I smiled and breathed.  Then I showed them how to breathe — deeply, slowly, calmly.  Some kids needed to practice a few times before they could feel their belly fill with air — they were so used to the shallow nervous breathing of the “hurry up” message they’ve gotten their whole school-aged lives.  We felt our bellies grow full, our ribs expand, our eyes and face relax.  It took about 15 minutes total.  I asked them, “How do you feel?”   “Calm,” they replied.

When was the last time you felt calm?  Do you even remember what that feels like? 

After the kids were calm and their breath relaxed, we talked about their syllabus, the plan for the year, their expectations for learning.  All good, academic planning stuff.  And with 1 minute to the end of class, I let them sit, breathe, and be calm one more time before they left for class.

Every day this year, on the whiteboard at the front of my class,  I will write the agenda for each day.  First thing on the list for each class is a simple reminder to BREATHE.

And for less than 60 seconds, at the beginning and end of each class, that is exactly what each of us will do.  And the impact of THAT is very significant.

Stay tuned, and you will find out how, directly from the kids themselves!

Namaste, my friends!