California Educator

September 2014

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Perspectives Who can help you avoid burnout? Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu! By Kimberley Gilles, San Ramon Education Association, 2014 NEA Teaching Excellence Award winner T H E S C H O O L Y E A R has begun, and I feel a familiar mixture of appre- hension and anticipation. I lengthen my stride, call on the stamina I have developed over 28 years, and push into the marathon that is the school year. I know I will experience both the endorphins of the "teacher's high" and the pain of hitting the wall. I am not prepared to give up the teacher's high, but I am determined to minimize the dam- age of hitting the wall. I have experienced burnout — with sources both physical and emotional — as a result of trying to be the best teacher I know how to be, every single day. And I know I am not alone. I've read many articles about taking care of myself physically, and those articles make sense. My problem is that they haven't addressed the exhaustion in my heart and soul. Luckily, I have discovered an approach that sustains me. Ubuntu. Ubuntu, pronounced oo-BUUN-too, is a Nguni Bantu word that translates roughly to "human kindness." According to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, "A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threat- ened that others are able and good. … You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality — Ubuntu — you are known for your generosity." His description sounds like most teachers I know. Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela used an example to describe Ubuntu. "A traveler through a country would stop at a village, and he didn't have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food and attend him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. "The question is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?" Mandela surprised me. His description of Ubuntu includes an element I always overlook. It is embedded in Mandela's clar- ification that "Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves." The key word is enrich. Mandela is not talking about bank accounts. In Ubuntu, being "enriched" has artistic, spiritual, emotional and intellectual elements. Mandela understands that teachers cannot be sustained if all we do is give. Dr. Liza Rankow of the OneLife Institute in Oakland said, "If I have a roof and you need a roof, Ubuntu moves me to share it. When I do, we are both lifted up." Here is the epiphany that was a revelation for me: before I can share, I must have. Before I can enrich, I must be enriched. That's the part of Ubuntu I missed and neglected. I don't think I'm alone. Let me be clear. There are wonderful things I do for myself that are just for me. There is a place in my life for good old-fashioned self-indulgence. Yes, I want the occasional "Law and Order" mara- thon and a pedicure. These luxuries are lovely, but they are not the kind of self-care that fills me up in ways that strengthen me for the tasks I shoulder as a teacher. What kind of enriching does Ubuntu encourage us to pursue? Ubuntu teaches us to take care of ourselves in ways that develop our inner reserves. It results in me taking care of myself in ways that help me be more patient, more compassionate, and more effective in in my classroom. All of this sounds a little bit woo-woo. So, let me get specific. I'll share my list! Kimberley's List of Ubuntu Enrichments 1. Deep breathing with hope — and acceptance of whatever actu- ally happens. (My personal favorite!) a) I breathe in through my nose while "seeing" an image of whatever I am hoping for: a call from my daughter, the stamina to grade five more essays thoughtfully. b) While breathing in and envisioning, I think, "Let it be." c) Then I breathe out through my mouth while releasing the picture I have just "seen." d) While breathing out, I think, "Let it go." e) Repeat and enjoy. 2. A warm shower or bath. 3. Journaling. 4. Snuggling with my dog. 5. Needlework. 6. Rereading special letters from students, parents and colleagues that I keep in a folder. (If you haven't started one, do!) 7. Writing a note of gratitude. 8. Listening to music. Try making your own list and taking care of yourself As the autumn days grow a little shorter and the evenings grow a little cooler, I wish all of us a year of creation and rest, pouring out and filling up, and the wisdom to know that these dualities are not the problems and the perks of teaching, they are the two connected wings that make each year fly. Guest column 26

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