Thursday, November 5, 2015

Know Thyself

 "To him who in the love of Nature holds   
   Communion with her visible forms, she speaks   

A various language; for his gayer hours   
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile   
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides   
Into his darker musings, with a mild   
And healing sympathy, that steals away   
Their sharpness, ere he is aware."
--"Thanatopsis" William Cullen Bryant

    William Cullen Bryant had it right. Nature does speak to us, and sometimes it's a message I don't want to hear. With the onset of the time change, the change in attitude has been noticeable. Not so much in students as in staff. Myself included. How much do bright, sun shiny days influence our moods, outlook and attitude?
       According to a 2009 NBC report, it's a known fact in the science community that moods are altered by the shortened winter days. In fact, there seems to be growing evidence that the weather does, indeed, impact how we think and respond.
      Dawn Staudt-Vanek interviewed in this report believes sunshine essential to her productivity.“I’m not depressed, exactly,” says the 51-year-old nurse from San Jose, Calif. “But I have no energy and I can’t focus. It’s hard to get up in the morning and my brain seems to have slowed down. It’s hard to even get myself to the gym.”
       I was thinking about all of  this recently as I drove home from school in twilight. The streaked sky, at the beginning of my drive, turned dark by the time I reached home. One thing I realized about myself on that drive is that I love sunlight. Lots of it. Maybe I'm living in the wrong state, but dark skies and gloomy weather definitely impact my outlook. And I'm sure I'm not the only one.
       Why is it so important to note things like daylight and weather? Because as a teacher, how I feel can impact more than just me. If I'm having a bad day, chances are my students know it. They may be less likely to approach me and ask for help if they sense a mood change. These are teens who may be hyper-sensitive to mood swings depending upon the environment they grew up in. I don't need to add to their apprehension and anxiety.
        "Know thyself," states an Ancient Greek aphorism. And it's true. Know your limits and need for sunlight. If you are a person who can function well in an enclosed classroom, more power to you.
 I have a friend who teaches in the basement of a school with no access to sunlight at all. It's incredible to me he can endure the darkness and lack of sunshine. Given those teaching conditions, I'm confident my students would find me unbearable to be around. "Give me sunlight, or give me death!" That may not be Patrick Henry's exact quote, but it's one I would say given my friend's teaching environment.
         Is this topic even relevant to teaching? I think it is. As teachers we need to care not just for the students but for ourselves. By being self-aware, you can do more to attend to your needs. Not only for your sake but for the sake of your students. No one likes to be around grumps. Take care of yourself to avoid this state.
        Maybe you need to expose yourself to a sunlight lamp. Or lighten your load during the dark days of winter. Few like to return home night after night in darkness after a long day in the classroom. Take advantage of sunny days. At my school, we have two fifteen minute breaks. On sunny days, despite the cold weather, I need to be outside.
         The onset of winter brings more than just cold weather. Watch yourself and gauge your moods. If you notice more irritability on days with less sunshine, take note and take care. Expose yourself to sunshine. And take heart. December 23, one of my favorite days of the year, is almost here and daylight starts increasing. Just like my attitude.
       "Know thyself." It could make all the difference, to you and to your students!

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