The odds of cabin depressurization on an airplane flight are small, we are told by the flight attendant who dutifully instructs fellow passengers in the "just in case" event. Be sure to put on your mask first if you are traveling with small children. Great advice in an emergency. Significant advice in the daily travel as an educator with students in a classroom and under your care.
Be sure and take care of yourself first, as the teacher.
In the hurried rat race of public education, teachers have to take care of so many demands, from administrators, colleagues, curriculum, and parents. Loco parentis on a daily basis exacerbates those demands as students come to school with a variety of needs and neglects showing up in the classroom. This is especially true for students who have experienced trauma and/or neglect. While the estimates range high from 20%-80% in low SES communities, the truth is, the statistics are staggering across the nation regardless of SES status.
That means many students have had one or more adverse childhood experiences that continue as toxic stress impacting their learning, long-term health and well-being as they engage in pre-K through secondary school. Toxic stress diminishes the ability of the brain to learn. In response to this stress students act out or withdraw.
What is in that mask that you need to put on first as a teacher in the classroom?
Essential to being able to teach traumatized and neglected children, is the ability for an educator to practice mindfulness breathing skills in order to stay in the present moment and remain non-reactive against student’s own reactive behavior to trauma and neglect. Mindfulness breathing in a simplified description is exhaling a few seconds longer than inhaling. Inhalation prepares for fight or flight reactions from the sympathetic nervous system. This longer exhalation creates a sense of relaxation through engaging the parasympathetic nervous system that allows the educator to notice their own body sensations. This is important because the educator’s mirror neurons automatically pick up on the toxic stress of trauma and neglect in abused children through the students’ own mirror neurons. Then the educator can best respond to the needs of the students in the classroom.
An easy way to practice mindfulness breathing is to obtain a bottle of children’s soap bubbles. With the same technique as blowing big, long bubbles comes the same pattern for mindfulness breathing. Take the time to try this in the privacy of your own home, or away at a park or wherever you can center and learn this special breathing pattern.
In fact, once you have this part of your educator oxygen mask, you will want to do the same for the students in your charge. Blowing soap bubbles for a few minutes in class allows the same release of toxic stress, you, as the teachers, received from your own gentle, but firm exhalations – and yes, this works for middle and high school students as much as it does for those in elementary! It is fun, and that is healing in itself for students who have been neglected or abused and the susceptible educators who get close enough to them to make a difference in the classroom each school day.
Remember, place your mask on first, and breathe!