Rob Levit | March 2014

The Desiderata of Teaching – Words of Encouragement

It’s been a tough winter filled with obligations, overextended projects, colds and fatigue. As educators and artists where do we find the solace and personal strength to make it to Spring, not crawling, but invigorated and loving life? When seeking the answer to this question I rediscovered The Desiderata written by Max Erhmann in 1927. It’s basically a short and profound guide to life and I wanted to share some of the lines that have affected me deeply. I encourage you to print out a copy here and use your journal to reflect on the lines and questions I ask. In the meantime, Spring is right around the corner and as educators and artists, we have so much to be grateful for.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence – Let’s face it, we are bombarded by noise from so-called smart devices, morning announcements, meetings and deadlines. This doesn’t even include the internal noise that we generate as a result of all this stimulation. Therefore, it becomes essential and not optional to find pockets of silence or at least quiet even during the most intense of days.

  • Can you walk outside at lunch?
  • Can you find something beautiful to look at or listen to?
  • Can you take a short walk when you arrive home?
  • Can you lie on the couch for ten minutes, shut your eyes and play some soothing music?
  • Can you create an atmosphere of calm in your classroom when everyone else is rushing?
  • Is five minutes of quiet and silence a luxury in your life or a necessity? How can you make it a priority?
  • Take 3-5 deep breaths and visualize calm scenes, your favorite vacation spot, your children, a beloved family member.
  • Studies have shown the benefits of silence and mindfulness, Here is a totally FREE app that offers six minute meditations based on your moods and mental state.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly – Along with the vast amount of noise that goes along with our professions go the many clamoring voices that seek to be heard amidst that noise – students, administrators, fellow educators, etc. However, we don’t contribute to that because we speak thoughtfully and clearly. I remember performing with my jazz trio at an elementary school a few years back for several hundred students. When the principal walked up to the podium, all of the students instantly became quiet. She began to speak, just above a whisper, and every child in the gym was rapt with attention.

  • How can you command more attention from students and colleagues without raising your voice or becoming irritated?
  • Do you complain about other teachers, students and administrators within earshot of others?
  • Does that help or hurt your power to communicate?
  • What nonverbal cues do you send others that you are positive, a good listener and an empathetic person?
  • What is your truth?
  • Does it connect and support the truth of others?
  • Be an encourager, not a discourager. It works wonders!

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans

As educators, we are always planning – new lessons, make up lessons, make up tests, seating charts, IEP’s, the new quarter, etc. In the midst of all this, when do you consciously take time to celebrate your victories and that of your team? Taking time to articulate what is good, right and positive is the sign of a balanced and positive educator. Make no mistake, you aren’t a Pollyanna, foolishly rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, but rather a “tough-minded optimist” who knows how to find your own teachable moments and small graces, no matter what’s going on around you.

  • Make a list of all the positive events for today, this week, this month, this year. Dig deep, find them, they are there!
  • How have the little achievements of this day, week, month and year added up to bigger ones?
  • How do you measure your personal success? Money? Acclaim? Test scores? Inner satisfaction? Depth of learning?

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world

With all of the drudgery of everyday life and education, isn’t it still nice to know that we have chosen a most sacred and profound path – that of serving students the gift of knowledge and creativity? Surely, it’s not hard to see the tremendous impact you are having in the classroom. Imagine what the school would be like without you? What a loss for the precious children who need your attention, focus, encouragement and expertise. Be encouraged in your teaching, in your artistry. For those that are reading this and need this, there are many who support you in your work because we are right there with you.

OK, go back and read The Desiderata. What are the lines that inspire you? Leave a comment and let me know. Tweet and repeat!

About the Author

Rob Levit, an acclaimed musician and artist and 2013 Innovator of the Year from the Maryland Daily Record, has created award-winning innovative "Life-Skills Through The Arts" programs for adults with mental illness, the homeless, adults in drug and alcohol recovery, youth in domestic/sexual abuse counseling, foster children, hospital patients, veterans and many more. He is currently Executive Director of Creating Communities and was the first Artist-In-Residence at Hospice of the Chesapeake, where he created and infused healing activities for the well-being of staff, families and patients. Email Rob.