Teachers, What is Right with this Picture?

I was recently searching online for photos to include in my new ebook for the chapter titled “Prioritize Your Wellbeing.” I entered “Happy Teacher” into the search field. While I scanned the page of thumbnails, a couple of photos jumped out at me. One is the featured image of this post (on your screen above); the second was this one:

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The first I laughed and thought to myself, “The photographer who tagged this photo was definitely not a teacher!” Most teachers I know dread the start of school, or are at best ambivalent. I moved on to other photos, searching for something that would strike the tone I was looking for.

Soon after this, I was at my local library and noticed a special section that had been set up for ‘Back to School’, which prominently displayed some support materials for teachers. This is what it looked like:

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Creating our Realities

All of a sudden I had second thoughts about those first stock photos: what was wrong with the idea that a teacher would be so excited about returning to the classroom? Surely this was a better view to carry around than that I needed to arm myself with the tools needed to “survive” the year.

Modern psychology along with many wisdom traditions have taught and demonstrated that our attitudes towards the world create the realities that we experience. If this is the case, why not choose the ideal that we wish to be, rather than put our focus on anticipating the negative?

An often-quoted passage (popularly attributed to a variety of people, from the historical Buddha to Ralph Waldo Emerson) comes to mind, paraphrased here:

Watch your thoughts for they become your actions.
Watch your actions for they become your habits.
Watch your habits for they become your character.
Watch your character for it becomes your destiny.

If our thoughts become our destiny, what thoughts are we nurturing about our experience in school? What destiny are we plating the seeds for?

Realism over Pessimism

This is not to advocate the ignoring of the challenges and systemic failings that will put most of us in some sort of difficult or unfair situation at some point between now and next June. Rather this is to say that we address those situations to the best of our abilities – including proactively anticipating them – while refusing to resign ourselves to the mindset that we are under siege.

Relinquishing the right to have the year you want, to be the teacher you want to be, even before starting can only have one outcome. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. By claiming agency over your own frame of mind you gain the power to say, “I am in this challenging situation but not of it. I will deal with it and then return to the process of building the reality that I wish to experience.”

A Shift in View

I am amending my first response to these photos. While over-the-top – they are stock photography, after all – they still paint a picture of educators that are energized and enlivened by their jobs.

I invite you to join me in asking “What is right with this picture?”

Your Thoughts

What views are you trying to establish or shift? What inspiration have you found to support this work? What areas are you finding success and what are you finding most challenging?

About the Author

Christopher Lawley

Christopher empowers teachers to live healthier, more balanced and fulfilling lives. His teaching experience includes Grades 2 to 6 in Toronto's inner-city and Grades 7 to 12 at a private school in Tokyo, Japan. He loves yoga, meditation, movies, comic books and spending time with friends. He can be reached at chris@staffroomwellness.com.

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