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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 2, October 2005

On being well: In the midst of all this

by Julia Johnson

Teachers are united in their desire to negotiate a contract that will restore working and learning conditions. The media message from the teachers’ perspective is that effective learning requires limits in class size, support for students with special needs, more curriculum resources in classrooms and libraries, and respect for teachers. The encapsulating campaign motto is Kids Matter, Teachers Care.

It is because kids—our students—become future leaders that they matter, and it is because teachers are instrumental in shaping those future leaders that they care. It is because the degree of success in the teaching and learning relationship directly depends on classroom learning conditions that a strong collective stand is paramount.

Another factor that greatly affects the degree of teaching and learning success in a classroom, is the well-being of teachers and their students.

With the many demands and expectations of the school year start-up and the frustrations that come with eroded working and learning conditions, personal well-being is often dismissed with, "I will exercise, get in touch with a friend, read my book, etc., when I finish this." However, at the day’s end, one discovers that the desire to engage in personal pursuits that would ensure a modicum of wellness has not been realized. Why is that? Why do teachers put their personal wellness needs at the bottom of their priority list? Why is self-sacrifice a common characteristic of teachers?

There seems to be a perception in our Canadian work-ethic culture that putting one’s personal needs first is selfish. In these uncertain times, when the only constant is change, dispelling the myth that teachers’ professional lives must come before their personal lives requires a paradigm shift in how teachers view the work they do.

Matthew Fox postulates in his book The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood for Our Time that the work-ethic model of the industrial revolution is no longer appropriate for the 21st century, that "we must dismantle the war industry and redirect our economy toward sound and life-sustaining enterprises" and that "work on the human being itself" will be the key "to reinventing work for the human species."

The society that endures an overly busy lifestyle has produced a plethora of self-help books supporting the need for us to shift the way we think about work and how we do it. An example is the book written by Andrea Molley, Stop Living Your Job, Start Living Your Life: 85 Simple Strategies to Achieve Work/Life Balance. Teachers, as mentors, role models, and leaders have the opportunity to nurture the move toward work/life balance and facilitate the shift in thought about the work of teaching and the way it is done by making personal wellness a priority in daily life.

The problems of a dysfunctional society that are manifested in classrooms can be rooted out only when teachers, by example, teach future generations that optimal health is achieved when the mind and body are in harmony. Bringing harmony to mind and body begins simply with setting boundaries and establishing goals.

On the Terry Fox Run weekend we witnessed the overwhelming effect one person had on a nation and the world when a goal was expressed and boundaries were established to achieve that goal. Let this be the year you give your personal wellbeing the attention it deserves. Make wellness a priority in your life, and in so doing, you will make a difference in the lives of those you touch as you teach.

Julia Johnson, a learning resource teacher at Red Bluff School, in Quesnel, is a BCTF PD wellness associate and a member of the Teacher Newsmagazine Advisory Board. johnsonj@abccom.bc.ca

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