The Importance of a Smile – Marisa Pavan Talks about Self-compassion

I felt joyously compelled to ask Marisa Pavan to write for the Teachers Talking About Self-Compassion series. Her ability to connect and make you feel welcome in the sometimes unfriendly online world is something everyone should experience. Marisa is a strong supporter of the Self-Compassion for Teachers Facebook page, and I wanted #RedThumbForLove readers to experience this support as well. When you learn about her and about how online savvy she is with her teaching/learning community (scroll down to read more), you’ll understand why I’m grateful she agreed to share her experience with us.

Marisa

In what country or countries do you currently teach or in what countries have you taught?  What subject or skills do you teach or have you taught? 
First of all, I’d like to thank Josette for having invited me to share my post in her blog. She’s always a source of inspiration for me and I enjoy reading her posts.

I’m a teacher of English as a Second Language, a translator and an interpreter. I have always taught English as a second language in Argentina. I have taught speaking, listening, writing and reading skills to students at different levels for 25 years now.

At present, I teach several groups of teenagers at intermediate and upper intermediate levels and I’ve noticed that even when they are almost the same age, their attitude towards their learning process varies. These classes are a source of inspiration to me not only when I plan their lessons but also during the teaching-learning process. I do my best to be flexible enough so as to adapt what I have planned for them to their attitude, likes and dislikes.

What strategies do you use to practice self-compassion/self-care? 

To practise self-compassion and take care of myself, I do yoga and meditation. I attend a yoga class once a week and I do yoga every day at home as soon as I get up before having breakfast. I feel my day starts in a different way. I’ve read a definition of yoga that I’ve found meaningful: “Yoga is a way of reinventing oneself; it is a way of finding out who you are; it is a way of being self-compassionate so as to be able to feel compassion towards others.”

I’ve practised guided meditation many times and if I need to balance my chakras, I take a Tibetan bowl session with a therapist.

In addition, I’ve read books on Mindfulness and I read blogs on spiritual topics. Some of the latest books I’ve read and recommend are:

Why is self-compassion/self-care important to you in terms of the work you do as a teacher?

As far as I’m concerned, I’m convinced that if one is kind to oneself, then one is able to be kind with others, in my case with my students and colleagues.

I live in a challenging society in my country, in which in general values and respect towards oneself and the others are being lost and I do my best to live according to my values. The most common social issues that affect personal development in my country are high levels of urban crime generally perpetrated due to the urge to obtain drugs, poor housing and other social concerns such as poverty are widespread. Added to this, members of the national government are accused of being corrupt and supporting illegal deals.

Given this situation, I feel blessed to be in contact with people with whom I share views on life.

Once I read “the one who never smiles is the person who needs a smile the most.” I’ve always felt respected by my students as a human being and I think that it is because I respect them, even when they sometimes don’t study enough or don’t do their homework. And it is through kindness and smiling that I try to create a rapport with my students in a relaxing atmosphere and they always seem to feel comfortable in my classes. It’s not that they do what they want to but I negotiate with them, offering a rationale for what they need to do in order to improve their skills.

Many psychologists believe that the crisis teenagers are facing at present are mainly connected to the lack of adult models most of us had in our teenage years. So in our capacity as teachers we should show them the importance of responsibility, respect to oneself and others and kindness.

More about Marisa

Marisa Pavan

For quite a while, I’ve started using modern technology in an attempt to help my students become independent learners. I share a Google+ community with each different group, where I upload material for students to practise, videos, songs and I also invite my students to participate, join challenges and share their views.

As sources of communication, I’m on Facebook, Twitter @Mtranslator, Linkedin, Google (chat, hangout) and I’ve got a blog: Linguistic consultancy.

I use social networks to interact with educators from all over the world and I’m honoured to be a mentor in iTDi
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Be sure to catch her at any of these forums. I first met her through iTDi, and I am very grateful for this encounter. Thank you Marisa!

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Is self-care taboo for teachers in the UK? – Natalie Cotterill

Four in 10 new teachers quit within a year

If there ever was a reason to look into the necessity of self-care for teachers, the numbers in that article make a pretty damn good case. I was aware it was rough for teachers in the United Kingdom, but I didn’t realize it went this far.

I first learned about the stressful conditions from my dear friend, Natalie Cotterill, when she thanked me on a few occasions for adding links and blog posts to the Self-Compassion for Teachers Facebook page. In need of support, she even added the inspiring picture you see below to the Red Thumbs Around the World collection. After reading the above linked article, I wondered how Natalie was still teaching!

I knew we had a lot to learn from her, and I am thankful she graciously offered to answer the Teachers Talking About Self-Compassion series’ questions about her teaching history, her strategies for self-care, and why self-care is important to her as a teacher.

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I have taught in South Korea and the UK. I’ve taught English language as a foreign language and English literature and language in the UK. This is my sixth year of teaching in the UK, I’ve moved this year from Secondary School (11-18) to a Sixth Form College (16-19).

When I was training to be a teacher, I had one lecture in which we were given the advice to, ‘hold on to your own professionalism.’ This, to me, meant determining for myself what successful teaching and learning looked like. It meant finding my own way to work and holding true to that, whilst taking advice and honing my skills. This is impossible almost everywhere in state education in the UK at the moment. New initiatives (which are often, in fact, regressive) and course changes are now the norm and many teachers, myself included, have only ever known life under a Conservative government. Teachers are encouraged to compete to mark the books more than others, to work longer and longer hours and to relish more pointless administrative work such as data entry, all of which takes us away from our own and our students’ learning. The competitive environment leads to teachers and students punishing themselves and feeling that whatever they do is not enough. I know that feeling only too well. I’ve witnessed colleagues and friends become ill with stress as the pressure mounts to meet the ever-changing standards.

Natalie grading papers

Natalie grading papers

Earlier in the year, I started attending a Yoga group locally. We practice Yoga Nidra, which involves group meditation for around two hours at a time. There is no physical exercise involved as the focus is on connecting will, mind and body. I stopped attending when my workload became ‘too great’ in the summer term. Looking back, it was then that I needed Tuesday nights to myself the most. The busier I am, the more important I think it is to find time to meditate, even for one minute. This is my way of being self-compassionate, but I often forget to look after myself in this way.

As a teacher in a very large London school,  with constant government-led changes to policy and a culture of fear (with initiatives like Performance Related Pay, which means teachers’ salaries are now linked to examination results), it’s so easy to lose sight of why you got into teaching, and to lose sight of who you are as an individual. A frantic, fear-driven environment is not conducive to learning or, most importantly, happiness. Your health can become bottom of the To Do list. I would go from coffee to keep me awake all day to wine to help me sleep at night. This is a cycle that becomes self-perpetuating.

It’s no wonder that the average length of career for teachers in the UK has dropped to ten years and is dropping every year. Self-care has almost become a taboo in UK schools, with teachers feeling that they have to agree to do anything of Ofsted or Senior Management tell them to, lest they be accused of not putting the children first. We need to change this and recognise that a work-life balance is not a luxury, that looking after yourself is not an indulgence.  You have to put your own oxygen mask on first, or you can’t help anyone.

I’m about to start teaching in a new environment, at a Sixth Form College in West London. I’m feeling anxious about getting everything ready for the term ahead and also excited. I’m hoping I’ve found an environment where self-compassion can not only be possible for me, but central to my life. Fingers crossed.

I NEED movement: Theodora Papapanagiotou

A few years ago, I learned about a teaching community started by Shelly Sanchez Terrell called, The 30 Goals Challenge, where teachers shared their plans, hopes, fears, and dreams. This is where I met Theodora Papapanagiotou. This summer she will be a keynote speaker for the 30 Goals E-conference which starts July 16 and ends July 19. The title of her talk is: Be Someone’s Hero.

Today, because of the important work she does as a teacher, and because she shares her story of self-care for the Teachers Talking About Self-compassion series, Theodora is my hero.

Theodora Yoga

In what country or countries do you currently teach or in what countries have you taught?  What subject or skills do you teach or have you taught? 

My hometown is Thessaloniki, Greece. Although I have been many times abroad or to other places in Greece, I have never thought about living or teaching in another country.  It is a peculiar situation in Greece when it comes to teaching. If you are in the public sector, you have a day job as if for example you worked at an office (as far as salary is concerned). It is also considered a secure job but it is very difficult to pass the exam to actually get hired. It is also a big problem due to the fact that you have to relocate. On the other hand, if you work in the private sector, the pay is terrible and there is always the native English speaking teacher (NEST) /non-native English speaking teacher (NNEST) discrimination*. Although I have kept most of my private students, I currently work as an educational consultant at a big educational company here in Greece, mostly performing office work and curriculum design, but also teaching and teacher training.  I love my job, although it can be really demanding sometimes. If you consider that I teach privately as well, it can be 13-14 hours of work!

What strategies do you use to practice self-compassion/self-care? 

For me it is very important to keep balance. This is really hard lately. Long hours at work, no time to eat properly, no time to go to the gym, which is really crucial to me since I am a very kinesthetic person. I NEED movement in my life in order to function properly.

What I am trying to do is go to the gym at least 3 times a week (what makes me let off steam is spinning and cross training, but also yoga, if I want to relax).

Another very important issue is nutrition… something I have not managed to achieve, yet, but fighting my way to it.

Why is self-compassion/self-care important to you in terms of the work you do as a teacher?

Self Care and Self-compassion are both really important especially because if you want to work with people, mostly children, you need your sanity. You need to be ok with yourself first so that you can transmit the positivity to others. How can you pass on your enthusiasm to your subject, if you are not happy with what you do and with your own self? How can you be there for your kids if you cannot handle things in your own life?

All these years I thought that we should put the needs of others first…. but you know what? To be able to do this, we have to feel confident with ourselves! Be well first before you take care of others!

Hoping to continue this on my own blog sometime soon – My country lives very hard times at the moment and people are really pessimistic on what it is about to happen. Writing helps me a lot to keep my balance and my focus. When your work has to do with people, keeping your calm is the best thing you can do.

You can find me over here at my blog, Keep On Teaching.

No matter what, I just keep on teaching!

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*I recommend visiting the TEFL Equity Advocates website to learn more about the discrimination Theodora refers to, and to also learn about the inspiring work they are doing bring awareness to this issue.