Why Everyone Needs a Long Christmas Break

A Donder reindeer Christmas ornament I have pretty much had a long Christmas break my entire life. I went from elementary school all the way up to graduate school, and immediately went into teaching. I value my Christmas break, as do all teachers that I know.

There is always a push to get rid of long breaks for teachers. Every once in awhile, a state lawmaker or angry parent complains that teachers get too much time off.

My thought is that teachers don’t get too much time off…everybody else gets too little time off. I have another week of break left, but my friends and relatives are heading back to work today. To a person, none is ready. They are all complaining and a little cranky that they have to go back today. For some it even affected their Christmas, as the anxiety of going to work the next day impacted Christmas day activities.

Our society has trouble slowing down and resting. We have trouble putting work in its proper perspective. We cannot slow down. My cynical take is that we overwork so we can buy cheap crap we will never have time to enjoy anyway.

What if everybody had a long Christmas break? What if most factories and businesses were closed an extra day or two? Would the world fall apart? Or would we learn a few values that we desperately need to cultivate?

Think about it.

And Merry Christmas from all of us at The Popular Teacher!

What I Learned From (Nearly) Winning the Lottery

Red and purple Fireworks explodingOne day at work I was checking my email, and I got an email reporting 10/29 lottery results for Freelotto.com. I have won about $30 from Free Lotto over the years, and I have never paid for a ticket, so yes, it really is “free” and legit. Normally, per normal odds, I get about 1 to 3 numbers correct on each game, and occasionally I will win a dollar here and there. It was a normal morning. I was barely awake for my first period class, sipping my warmed-over coffee. As my students were checking their assignments on the computers, I checked my lottery results. I saw “CONGRATULATIONS!! 7/7, $10,000,000.

I was crazy excited. It is hard to describe the feeling. Instead of immediately quitting my job and booking that trip to Disney World, I immediately counter-checked the results by logging into my account and something was fishy, because it didn’t show the win. So, I was a little skeptical, but still thinking it could be possible. I let that feeling linger as I went throughout the day.

What I found was fascinating. Throughout that day:

– Even though it was a chilly day, I immediately ran home and ran 5 miles outside, with no stops for breaks
– I was cool to everybody, and the little things that normally get me frustrated didn’t mean anything
– I was feeling great. I fell asleep quickly and woke up easily
– I got my dad and grandma birthday presents and was more generous than I originally planned

Later the next day, what I secretly expected was true: the company’s computers were down because of Hurricane Sandy, and the emails were a mistake. They didn’t even draw numbers that day, which means I (and everybody else that got the glitch email) didn’t win ten million dollars.

Yet…I still felt great. I felt some disappointment, but overall I was feeling good.

The lesson here is that we can feel good right now. I didn’t really win the lottery, but when I thought I did, I allowed myself to be active, generous, cool, relaxed…i.e. my absolute best. I put the entire day in its proper perspective. That student who talked a little too much…who cares? The traffic jam on the way home? Big deal!

One thing we teach at Theta Hill is that you should do your best now. Don’t wait until you win the lottery, retire, etc. Do what you know to be the best right now.

Today is Friday!

Image of a shoreline of a Lake Erie beach Yes, today is Friday. TGIF.

Remember, a few days ago I posted about taking that Friday “feeling” and applying it to other days.

It’s time to do that! I am guessing, you are:

– excited about the weekend

– in a good mood

– treating people a little better

– working in time to see family and friends

So…take that feeling and go with it. I.e. what are you feeling? What do you “see” in your mind? What do you “hear?” For example, in your mind’s voice, say right now “It’s Friday!!!” and be super excited. What does the voice sound like? Is it confident? Is it you or somebody else? Remember that voice. Use it on the rest of the week.

See, you can be excited every day. You can be in a good mood all of the time. You can treat people better every day. You can be hang out with people on week nights too.

So, have at it! Enjoy your Friday…and every other day!

Getting That Friday Feeling On Monday Through Thursday

A girl with her arms wrapped around a few pumpkins in midst of lots of them

This is cute. Laugh

I think it is funny how everyone on my Facebook feed gets excited about Friday. I knew I was getting older when my friends and I began talking about how great Fridays are. Of course, the other, often unspoken, component of all that Friday love is the strong dislike of Monday through Thursday.

First, I think it is a real issue that most people really do dread Monday through Thursday. “Work” has become less of a “calling” related to improving your life and that of others through meaningful labor, and more about eking out a meager existence by being indentured to a faceless company to be able to afford more cheap plastic crap you won’t have time to enjoy anyway because you work too much and are paralyzed by stress. This is a post in its entirety, which I promise is coming soon. The whole way we view work and its place in our lives need massively re-imagined in the Western world…but like I said, I will tackle that later in a few posts, or maybe a book.

I have mentioned over and over and over and over (did I mention over and over) again that reality is not “out there” but inside your head. Emotionally neutral events happen and your response and/or feelings result. Your reaction depends on what is going on inside your head. A major concert promoter in the center of Manhattan hates rain; a Midwestern farmer living through a drought loves it.

On Fridays, most of us view the world differently. We give ourselves permission to think and act in ways we normally wouldn’t. We are relaxed. We have a good time. We understand that work will wait until Monday. Bosses give employees a break, and the entire atmosphere is more easy-going. People may even be allowed to go home early. For professionals, Friday creates a kind of mass perpetual shift.

But…can you imagine taking the thoughts and actions that make Friday so good and transfer them to Monday through Thursday? Can you approach Monday the same way you do Friday? Can you allow your business or organization do the same?

Sure you can do it. A day of the week doesn’t determine whether you are happy. You can be happy today. It’s doesn’t have to be Friday for you to be relaxed and cool to your co-workers. Do that today. Do it now!

One easy way is to become aware of your feelings on Fridays. What do you feel? When you are feeling these good feelings, set an anchor. Squeeze your index finger and thumb together Every time you feel those good feelings, do this. This is called “setting an anchor” in Neurolinguistic Programming. Then, on Monday-Thursday, whenever you need that “Friday boost” just “fire” that anchor by squeezing your index finger and thumb. The key thing is that you recall those feelings and thoughts that make Friday so great. You don’t even need to anchor the feeling. Just purposefully recall that Friday feeling and act on it.

Or if you need a quick boost of happy feelings, look at the photo above right of my niece!

So, next time you are on Facebook, I hope you’ll be posting TGIM, TGIT, TGIW…and so forth, to impress and baffle your friends. Every day can feel just like Friday!

Five Ways To Experience The Benefits of Gratitude

A view of fall trees through a gate

The autumn – Something I am thankful for

In my last post I focused on the benefits of gratitude: a more positive worldview and a happier life. In this post, I want to explain some ways to get these benefits.

Keep A Gratitude Journal/Record

Studies show that listing a few people and things you are grateful for each day improves mood. One way to do this is to keep some type of gratitude journal, although as you will see below, it doesn’t have to be that fancy.

You can make it fancy by going out and buying a journal (or making one), and writing down everything you are grateful for. However, it doesn’t have to be this involved. I created a Google Doc file that I update with five new things every day. It looks like this:

11/1/2012





F – (I’ll explain this later)

See, it’s very simple. Because I want to update it whenever I want, and I have Google Docs on my phone and laptop. Even what I do may be too involved for some people. Your gratitude “journal” could simply be listing a few things you are grateful for to yourself on the way home from work, or when you get up in the morning.

List Your Gratitude for the Difficult Cases

It is easy to be grateful for people and things that make us immediately happy. However, if we really want to shift our perspective, we have to look at people and things we don’t like very much in a fresh way. One great way to do this is to list something you are thankful for about each and every difficult person, organization, or situation. As a teacher there is no better place to start than listing something you are thankful for about every student. It may be hard at first, but eventually you will find that the disruptive student becomes “energetic” or the non-participator becomes “reflective.” I was at an extra-school event recently, and a table of boys was driving me nuts. I shifted into gratitude mode, because I was getting frustrated. I was grateful that these students were extroverted and even funny, and they were interacting with the speaker in their own way. It definitely put the situation into perspective.

I tried this exercise with students, and they invariably mentioned certain teachers and administrators. Initially they used it as a bitch-fest about them. I reminded them they had to come up with something they were grateful for about these individuals, not just tell me why they were on their “don’t like” list! I saw a shift after a few minutes. Suddenly, the students saw the principal and teachers in a new light. “Umm, yeah they really do care about us” came out of one particularly rebellious, I mean, “independent-minded” student.

Say Your Gratitude When You Get Upset

When something happens that rattles you, one great tip is to say five things you are grateful for right away. Mouthy student? Denied a raise? Your kids driving you nuts? Immediately list five things you are grateful for. This is a great way to immediately change your perspective in a positive way and prevent a spiral into anger, sadness, or depression. If you need a little more positive “boost,” then name five more things.

List Your Future Gratitude

One of my favorite books is Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Joe Dispenza. While he gets into some speculative science that I am not really going to critique or defend here, I will say the book got me thinking about expressing my gratitude for events that haven’t happened yet (or may not happen).

One way to shift our perspective is to express our gratitude for events that haven’t happened yet. While Dispenza argues belief like this shifts realty at the quantum level, you don’t have to believe this to see its benefits. Being grateful for something that you want to happen is a great way to set your brain up to make it happen.

For example, on my Google document, I add an extra line with an “f” on it. You may have wondered why it was there earlier. This is where I list some type of future gratitude. For example, I may list “that the school day goes great” or “for getting a raise.” It is an interesting exercise and it has the effect of “priming” my brain to have a good day and make a little extra effort to get that raise.

Learn How to Express Your Gratitude

Feeling gratitude is the first step, and likely what makes you feel happier. However, expressing gratitude is important. Borrowing from non-violent communication principles, I suggest expressing your gratitude in the following manner. Express that you are grateful (you can use words like “appreciative,” “thankful,” etc) and be sure to add what the person did that you are thankful for. Even if you think the person “knows already,” express it anyway. For example, let’s say you are thanking a sub. Instead of saying “thanks for coming in for me” you could instead say “thanks for covering my class! You always do a great job explaining my lesson plans.” Most substitutes already feel like “less-than-teachers” and pointing out how great they are at teaching will make them feel great.

Gratitude is truly life-changing. Cultivating gratitude can change the way you view reality. Start today, and remember we are grateful that you are reading this article!

The Importance of Gratitude For Teachers

A thanksgiving table settingNovember is apparently the month of gratitude, if status updates on Facebook are an authority. The connection with the American celebration of Thanksgiving is likely the connection. I think it is great, although gratitude can become an important part of every day of your life, as opposed to something you focus on in November. Gratitude has been a big part of changing my life!

There are many good reasons why a teacher – or anybody – should embrace gratitude. In this post, I want to list a few of the reasons why you should explore the concept of gratitude, i.e. the “benefits of gratitude.” In an upcoming post, I intend to list a few ways you can be more grateful and express your gratitude.

Gratitude Makes Your Perspective More Positive

Your perspective is your map of the world, i.e. how you experience reality. Everybody experiences reality differently. Let’s look at two teachers. They both have the same kids (during different periods). One is mean, hates kids, and never wants to get up in the morning. The other is cool, loves kids, and views every day as an exciting opportunity. Same kids. Very different perspective.

Some people believe that the world around us determines our outlook. So, they say, if it rains or the stock market crashes, your day must be bad. However, this is not true. Rain and market crashes are neutral stimuli. Farmers love rain in the middle of a drought, and people pay good money to get wet at water parks. Also, people that sell short love market declines, as do bond holders, because they are typically inversely related. Can you see my point? Our perspective determines our reality.

Gratitude is a major perspective changer. One of my favorite phrases is “you can’t hate what you are grateful for.” When I was at a recent extra-school event I was required to attend, I admit I wasn’t too thrilled. Giving extra time for no extra pay is not something that thrills me (I strongly believe if people do extra work, they deserve extra pay). Plus, some of the students were not being cooperative. A particular group of guys was being extra boisterous. Rather than get mad, I decided to find something to be thankful for in these individuals. I suddenly realized they were being kind of funny, and I wish I had their energy at that late hour of the evening. Suddenly I went from being angry and bothered to relaxed and in a good mood. Gratitude acts as a powerful perspective changer, and it shifts your perspective to the positive side of life.

Gratitude Makes You Happier

At that recent extra-school event, we were at a conference center. There were a few staff members that were extra mean and bitter. Anytime a kid did anything even remotely unexpected (like moving a piece of furniture), I heard about it as a chaperone. And, they didn’t express their concerns nicely. I was amazed how anybody could have such a horrible perspective in life and other people. These staff members saw a bunch of hyper teens that loved breaking the rules. I saw a group of teens giving up their evening time (not many teens would do this) to learn something valuable that were full of energy. My perspective was much, much different, and gratitude shaped that perspective.

Studies have shown that simply listing a few things you are grateful for each day can make you happier. In fact, being grateful can “reset” the happiness point in your life. Many teachers end up cynical, unhappy, and even hating the very students they are supposed to care for. Can you imagine how gratitude can change your perspective on these students and make you happier? The truth is that it can! In my next post, I am going to explain ways you can take advantage of the power of gratitude, so stay tuned!

Meditation and Prayer on the Way To Work

Paved path with barn on rightStudies show that prayer/meditation have many health benefits, including reduction of stress and more focused performance in various tasks (By the way, I am lumping meditation and prayer together for the purposes of discussion here, defining both generically as “gathering one’s thoughts and calming the mind”). As a teacher, dealing with possibly hundreds of equally stressed students, grounding yourself is very very important.

I find that prayer and meditation on the way to work have a profound effect on my day. I have  forty minute drive at the moment, as I look for a new house closer to work. One benefit of a long drive is that I have a chance to collect my thoughts for the day. There are a variety of ways to do this. Obviously, your faith will shape how you approach this, but I will share my approach.

I tend to use prayers from my faith tradition, Catholicism. I say the Our Father and Hail Mary, as well as focusing my personal spontaneous prayers from the Church Year. From a psychological vantage point, this has a calming and centering effect on my mind.

I also know the scientific benefits of mindfulness, a concept practiced primarily in the East, although Christians such as St. Teresa of Avila have discovered mindfulness without really mentioning it by name. Because of this I try to practice some on the way to work. Whether you are Buddhist or not is irrelevant; mindfulness is a practice backed up by modern science, and many of us use it not for religious reasons, but psychological ones.

Mindfulness is simply paying attention to the present moment non-judgmentally. This means simply taking in the moment by stopping any thoughts or judgement about the moment. Mindfulness is a type of meditation and is really simple to accomplish. The easiest way is to take some deep breaths and just be aware of the sensations of breathing. If another thought enters your head, let it pass and focus again on your breath. The point is to firmly plant yourself in the beauty of the present moment, as opposed to being worried about the future or paralyzed by the past.

Being mindful while driving is easy. I just take some deep breaths and enter a mindful state, and the drive suddenly comes alive. The worry of what “needs done” disappears, because I am in the moment, not in the future. This is why  mindfulness meditation is so relaxing. Even after a few seconds, you will find your body relaxing.

Whatever you do, I suggest getting some sort of prayer or meditation routine on your way to work. As I mentioned above, even if you are not religious, you can easily practice a few moments of mindfulness to ground your mind and body for the day.