I’ve noticed that the excitement and energy that comes with teaching wasn’t really there at the beginning of this school year. And if you’re one who struggles with anxiety or high-sensitivity, teaching these days is harder than ever.
Today’s episode is a re-release for both new listeners and old ones who’ve forgotten or missed out on this one the first time around. It involves one of my favorite conversations and is highly relevant to the trauma and stress educators are facing in the world right now.
In it, I interview two highly-sensitive teachers, Monica Wright and Amber Jordan, and we talk about how we handle our anxiety and sensitivity in the classroom. By the end of the show, I hope you find some nuggets of wisdom for your use or, at the very least, feel less lonely in your struggle.
2:59 – Monica and Amber introduce themselves briefly
7:37 – What it’s been like for me as an introverted, socially anxious person
9:01 – What it really means to be a highly-sensitive person
10:02 – Amber’s #1 management tool for dealing with noise in the classroom
13:21 – How Amber avoids light sensory overload in her class
19:54 – Monica’s approach for handling the noise level in her classroom
24:09 – Preventing students from getting uncomfortably close and invading personal space
30:09 – A way to help alleviate the biggest cause of anxiety for new teachers
32:46 – Do this in the first weeks of school for a long-lasting, positive impact
36:57 – Monica’s coping mechanisms for social events at school
39:06 – How we’ve struggled to not take home the emotions of our students
49:39 – Solutions for dealing with our “hot spots” (peak stress moments)
1:01:36 – How Monica and Amber deal with teaching and parenting at the same time
1:08:43 – A tendency among the super anxious to over-plan and be hard on ourselves
- Beyond the Surface: Free Email Course
- Mrs. Wright’s Art Room on Facebook
- Highly-Sensitive Person Self-Test
- How to Liberate Yourself from Social Anxiety | Youtube
- Episode 12: “Mapping the Chaos with Lana Jelenjev”
Be a Podcast Guest: Submit a Voice Memo of Your Art Story (Scroll to the bottom of the page to submit your story.)
Cindy Ingram: Hello and welcome to The Art Class Curator Podcast. I am Cindy Ingram, your host and the founder of Art Class Curator, and The Curated Connections Library. We’re here to talk about teaching art with purpose and inspiration from the daily delights of creativity to the messy mishaps that come with being a teacher. Whether you’re driving home from school or cleaning up your classroom for the 15th time today, take a second, take a deep breath, relax those shoulders, and let’s get started.
Hello everybody. Welcome back to The Art Class Curator Podcast. Today, I have another older episode for you. If you have not listened to this oldie but goodie, I am bringing you a republish of one of my favorite conversations that I have had, one of my favorite interviews that I’ve had. I feel like it is very highly relevant to what is going on in the world today. We are in an incredible period of stress and trauma. This school year, I really noticed that the excitement and energy that comes along with teaching, that didn’t seem to happen at the beginning of this school year. Teachers are so burnt out. I think that those teachers out there who are especially struggling with things like anxiety and sensitivities, now it’s harder than ever. This episode was Episode Number 19. I interviewed two teachers, Amber Jordan and Monica Wright, and we talked about how we handle teaching when we have anxiety and also being highly sensitive people. I am happy to bring this episode back from the vault for you to listen to today. Hopefully, you get some great nuggets of tips, and at the very least, help you feel like you’re a little bit less alone in the struggles that you’re dealing with. Thank you so much for listening. Here is my interview with Amber Jordan and Monica Wright.
There’s a common misconception that teachers are all extroverted, attention loving people but there are actually a lot of introverts at the head of classrooms. Today on the podcast, Amber Jordan, Monica Wright, and I open up about the struggles of teaching art when you’re a highly sensitive introvert. We talk about the impact of sensory overload and anxiety on our teaching, and share our own strategies for coping with the classroom chaos.
This is Cindy Ingram. Welcome to The Art Class Curator Podcast where we’re taking art out of the dark with thoughtful explorations and in-depth interviews, designed to ignite curiosity, and delight in art classrooms everywhere.
Welcome, Monica and Amber, to The Art Class Curator Podcast.
Amber Jordan: Thank you.
Cindy Ingram: What I want to do first is have you introduce yourselves. Tell us what role you’re in art education, then we’ll get into our topic at hand. So Monica, why don’t you start and introduce yourself.
Monica Wright: My name is Monica Wright. I teach in Central Illinois. This is my 21st year of teaching. I’ve taught 12 years of high school, eight years of middle school, and this is my 18th year of elementary.
Cindy Ingram: Wow, so you have all the different grade levels, so I think that’ll be great to talk about with this conversation. Amber, what about you?
Amber Jordan: My background is a little bit different. I have a corporate America background. I actually was in the world of design for several years before I came into teaching. Now, I’m in my third year of teaching at Founders Classical Academy of Flower Mound and I have grades two through seven.
Cindy Ingram: What’s fun is that Amber teaches for the same district that I used to teach for when I was at a Founders school as well. It just so happened that we met that way. I met her through my website, then found that out later. How we came together today is on Facebook. I chose the Middle School Art Teachers Facebook group because I think middle school is the most chaotic and emotionally draining of all the grades. I said, “Hey, is anybody an introvert who is also highly sensitive, who also has anxiety that wants to be on a podcast?” Surprisingly, so many people came forward to talk about this. So many people were like, “Yes, post a link when you’re ready because I want to hear. I don’t want to be on it but I want to listen.” I’m so excited that you guys agreed to do this because I think there’s a lot of us out there. This is going to be an interview but I’m going to be interviewing myself as well because these things also fit me. We’re going to each talk about our experience with that, then we’re going to go through different topics of how to handle being a highly sensitive introvert with anxiety. Tell us about your anxiety journey.
Monica Wright: I suffer from social anxiety. I do not like having eyes on me. I noticed when I was teaching high school, I was much more nervous than when I taught middle school. My first year of teaching, I was K through 12. I noticed that when I had the little kids in there, elementary, I was in the zone. I was a totally different person. Somebody came in once and it’s like, “It’s like watching theater. You sing, you dance, you’re so excited. You’re always happy.” I thought, “Why am I not that way with the older kids?” I’m not. I was conscious of everything I said, how they were taking it. I knew right away that my element was with the younger kids but I also noticed that my interactions with adults caused a lot of anxiety. Open house, parent-teacher conferences, evaluations, I hated presenting in front of teachers. I knew right away that there was an issue. I needed to find coping skills. When I saw you address this on Facebook, I was so excited because we don’t talk about this enough. This is something we need to talk about.
Cindy Ingram: No, we don’t. It’s seen as a weakness, so we don’t talk about it but I even tell my students. If they get too close to me, I tell them, I say, “You know what, you’re making me uncomfortable. I don’t like when people stand close to me. I don’t like when people touch me. I need my planning time away from you. It’s not a thing against you.” But I think we have to be open about this stuff because it’s not a weakness.
Monica Wright: It’s who we are.
Cindy Ingram: Then when we’re open about it, we’re teaching our students who are like us that they don’t have to hide that part of themselves.
Monica Wright: Exactly.
Cindy Ingram: I think it’s great that we’re talking about this today. Let’s move into Amber. You can tell us about your journey.
Amber Jordan: I’m a little bit different. I am an introvert but I can act as an extrovert. I am a very good actress. On the outside, people meeting me would have no idea that I’m actually a very, very sensitive person, a highly sensitive person, an extreme introvert but I hide it really well. It’s a little bit different for me where the majority of people that meet me have no idea that I’m actually a true introvert to the point where I have a lot of anxiety but I am very good at just masking it and covering it. I have some coping mechanisms that have helped me but when someone first meets me, they’re like, “Oh, there’s no way you’re an introvert. Like, “Yes, I am. I really, really am, I promise.” It’s like, “You’re making me nervous. You need to just take a few steps back.” But I can fake it. I can fake being an extrovert but it’s all in training where I’m very much truly on the inside. I process as an introvert, everything about me, my makeup, all that I have to do, all the steps that a typical introvert would. I just don’t necessarily present myself in the world that way.
Cindy Ingram: I don’t know about you guys but I don’t think introvert was a thing when I was a child. People didn’t talk about that. I always felt, probably for 20 years of my life, that I was broken. I felt like there was something wrong with me, then it started to come out. I never studied the history of what an introvert is but it used to be associated with shyness and it used to be associated with anxiety but really it’s about how you process your energy. If you spend a day with people, at the end of the day, are you just completely and utterly drained? That’s where introverts come from. My mom still thinks introvert is like an insult. I’m like, “No, you’re just how you are.” With my journey with this, I used to have very bad social anxiety for the longest time. Even in college, the only class I ever failed was an Italian class because with an art history degree, you have to have foreign language and you have to talk in Italian. I would be walking on my way to Italian class and I would turn around, and walk away. I would just not go to class because I was so terrified of Italian class. I had no friends. It was just really bad. Once I labeled it and I identified it, I’ve gotten a lot better. As I’ve aged too, I think you just get more comfortable but I used to suffer highly from social anxiety. Now, I just have general anxiety, which is nicely controlled with medicine but the teaching environment is very stressful. Another thing I mentioned is when you hear the term, this is for the listeners, a highly sensitive person, that is not someone who just cries a lot. It’s someone who is overly impacted by sensory input. Loud noises, touch, smells, lights.
Amber Jordan: Noise in general. Clanging water bottles.
Cindy Ingram: Oh gosh, flipping water bottles.
Amber Jordan: The ones that hit the grounds, that hit the tile floor, then they cling for five minutes afterwards.
Cindy Ingram: I am honestly getting goosebumps just thinking about that. If you think you might be a highly sensitive person and you’ve never heard about this, there actually is a test you can take online. It’s 25 questions. You can go through them. If you’re like me, you scored 24 out of 25, you’re like, “Okay yeah, this is me.” We chose to be teachers, which is the most sensory inputting of things. We’re going to talk about how to deal with that. Let’s talk about I guess the noise level in a classroom. What ideas do you have for that, Amber? How do you deal with that?
Amber Jordan: That is probably my number one classroom management tool that I actually use. In my classroom, I use the noise level where I have Zero, which is Silent Mona Lisa. I have one, which is Spy Talk. “You could go above a Spy Talk. You’re too loud.” Two is a Low Flow. Three would be Formal Normal, then above that, I don’t even really talk about it. Five would basically be Out of Control. My classroom has lost its mind. I’m really big on my noise levels. Typically, I have my kids start out. I do zero silent for the first 10 minutes of class because I love just having them get into that creative time. Usually, after 10 minutes, they forget that I put them on zero. After that 10 minutes, I say, “Okay, well, “You know what you’re doing is really great. Let’s Spy Talk. Most of them don’t even know. They forget because they’re so involved in the process. For me, noise levels saved my life. That is my number one tool that I use.
Spy talking sometimes gets a little bit crazy and a little bit loud. I’m like, “Oh, we’re up here at two.” Of course, today with my third graders, I was like, “Whoa, we’re Out of Control.” They knew immediately what they meant and they took it back down. They’re like, “Oh, okay, we’re so sorry, Ms. Jordan.” They took it back down to that Spy Talk. For me, it helps me one, to control the classroom and for management but two, it keeps my sanity because I don’t like a really loud, noisy classroom. I know some people feel like, “Oh, that means they’re being productive. The louder they are, the better it is.” Then for me, a quiet, calm classroom means that they’re in their own world. They’re thinking about their projects they’re creating. It’s not just about having control. It’s about letting them have that space to create. That silence creates that space for them just to be in the zone and where they need to be.
Cindy Ingram: I love that you started them out at silent because I would have them talk at first, then anything after that would be viewed as a punishment. You’re talking, then you’re going to silent but if you start them out as silent, then it builds at, “Okay, you’re earning the right to go to–” I love the Spy Talk too. That’s just amazing. The little kids probably like that. I guess even the middle schoolers would like that.
Amber Jordan: Even middle schoolers, they get it. They are big with middle school right now.
Cindy Ingram: I think that’s really important. I think not modeling yourself off of what you think other people might say. You mentioned people thinking if it’s not loud, they’re not being active in the process but really it’s about you and your environment. I know that for me, I keep a very controlled environment because I can’t handle chaos very well. Even getting up out of your seat, you have to get permission first. Only one person is allowed to be out of their seat at a time because if two people are out of the seat, we’re going to lose our minds. It’s all about creating an environment that works for you, so you can make it through the day. But I also love what you said about giving them that space because if they’re talking the whole time, they’re not thinking about their work. I love that too.
Amber Jordan: I’m pretty lucky. The way my classroom is set up, I have wonderful natural light. With that natural light, I actually leave the classroom lights off the majority of the time. Part of that is for my sanity because when light is sensory, I get sensory overload. If the bright fluorescent lights are on, I get a headache. It puts me in a bad mood. It makes me feel anxious but I notice when I turn off my lights, it sets the mood for my classroom. I usually have some soft music playing in the background, so when they enter my classroom, they instantly know this is a change. This is something different from the hallway. This is something different from PE class. It’s a signal to them to change their behavior, quiet down, calm down. It’s just a nice flow for what I do. We have enough light where I’m not too worried about their eyesight. They’ve gotten in the habit where especially if they know like, “Oh, okay, Ms. Jordan’s lights are off. It means something really important today.” They’ve learned to listen more when I have the lights down. Usually, it means I’m going to put something up on the projector that they’re interested in.
I’m really strict on the routine of when they come in. You come in and I say, SHOMO. So SHOMO means Show me Mona Lisa. So show me that quiet sitting Mona Lisa. Especially the younger grades, I’m really strict on them, “Come in, sit down. Your hands are folded. Your eyes are on me. Your mouth is quiet and you’re calm.” When I set that calm at the beginning of class, it makes it so much easier for me to just set the pace of my class. I’m like, “All right, here we go. You’re already quiet. I don’t have to tell you to be quiet because you know how it should be when you come into my classroom.” I think just setting that pace and expectation of, “You know what, this is a calm place and this is a quiet place,” for me, being the personality that I am, it keeps me calm and it helps me teach, then too, it just helps me get the class started at a fast pace. I don’t like to yell. I don’t like having to quiet down the rowdiness of a class. Anything that I can do that can just set that calm from the beginning is the best for my sanity. I would like to say it’s the best for my class. It’s for the kids. It truly is for my own sanity and my own well-being too. We’re just going to keep it calm. The lights are down and we come in quietly.
Cindy Ingram: I like that too. I think teachers and maybe it’s women, we’re taught to think of other people before ourselves. If you’re struggling in this way, you need to put the airbag on yourself first. I used to just like during my planning period, I would turn off all the lights and I would lock the door because I was like, “I can’t handle this.” Sometimes, I would lay down on the tables. I would just lay there and I would put on white noise on the speaker. I wasn’t working but if I didn’t do that, then for the next class period, I wouldn’t be as good of a teacher. You have to notice when you’re about to lose it, and prevent losing it, which I think is with this noise level and structure. How do you teach students to do that, to do the SHOMO? Do you have any good classroom management tips?
Amber Jordan: At the beginning of the year, I actually had some guinea pigs. All the teachers, kids had to come in and we did a demo video of all my classroom procedures. I did a video from how do we treat our glue sticks to how do we put an eraser away and where are all the supplies that I included the SHOMO, and how they walk in the hallways. I did a funny little video of hallway horror and added all these crazy effects to it. But I was teaching them. From day one, every single class, I was very big on, “Okay, we’re just going to practice this procedure. When you come into my classroom, you SHOMO. When we leave the classroom, your chairs are tucked in, your hands are behind your back, your eyes are on me.” It’s all part of that first year procedure. Now I just say, “SHOMO.” I can whisper, “SHOMO,” and the entire class is like, “Oh, okay.” Hands on your desk. Put your eyes on me. I’m like, “Oh, that was too loud. Can we do it quieter?” Our mascot is the owl. It’s like, “Owls don’t make any noise. When their wings flap, so let’s be an owl. How quiet can we do SHOMO?” Then it’s a challenge to them like, “Oh, okay.” I’m like, “SHOMO.” Then I add in some crazy, I’m like, “Okay, show me Medusa. Hands up here, crazy Medusa.” I’m like, “Okay, we’re explorers,” and we explore, then it’s like, “We do Aphrodite.” We add that. I go,” Oh, okay, SHOMO.” I can whisper it.
The class has it to the point where they just know the routine. I do it often in between as I’m teaching or as they’re working. Sometimes, I just go, “SHOMO,” just for fun. They know to stop what they’re doing, they put their utensils down, and their eyes are on me. That’s especially good if I’m trying to teach another point, I’m saying, “Oh class, be quiet. Let me get your attention.” I just say, “SHOMO,” and they all drop what they’re doing, their eyes are on me, then I can give a point, then let them go on with their work. For me, it’s just part of the routine from day one, just teaching them that routine and what the expectation is. It’s a sanity saver for me. The videos were huge at the beginning of the year because then I saved my voice. I didn’t have to teach the same thing for grades two through seven of, “Okay, this is the expectation.” I just put on my silly little video. The kids laughed. We had a good time but I got my point across of what my expectations were in a fun way. It wasn’t, “This is the first day of school and these are my rules.” It wasn’t any of that. It was just a nice way for them to connect and get that. It worked all year long. Even to this day, they understand.
Cindy Ingram: I love that and those videos too, you can always come back to them.
Amber Jordan: I have it saved.
Cindy Ingram: I see this a lot now on the internet, of people who teach, especially elementary teachers, making videos of the intros to projects, demos, and rules. I was like, “I wish I would have thought of that when I was teaching elementary.” I had six classes of each grade level, so it’s like 36 classes. I’d have to say the same thing 36 times. Just making a quick video and making it fun, that’s awesome. Amber and I were talking about noise level. I don’t know if you heard any of it but she was talking about how she uses SHOMO, which is Mona Lisa to deal with her noise. Would you want to share what you do with keeping a good noise level in your classroom?
Monica Wright: Keeping in mind that I’m talking of my younger kids. If they come in with bubbles in their mouth, we get to pop the bubbles and make a really big deal out of it. If they’re working very quietly, they get stories from me, stories from my childhood. If they had to choose between watching a video at the end of class because they were super good, like a three minute Scratch Garden video or listening to music while they’re working or me telling the story, they will choose a story every single time. They would rather me tell stories to the whole class than do anything else. I talk a lot during class. If I’m talking, they’re listening. It’s a quiet zone. If I tell them, “Okay, I’m done, you’re working. If you stay at a level zero to one, then we’re fine, then partner talk is fine. The minute we get louder than partner talk, you did not earn a story at the end of the class.” They will do anything possible to earn that story.
I have some crazy stories from childhood. As a matter of fact, parents are like, “Is this true? Do you make these up? This couldn’t possibly have happened to you.” I’m like, “Oh no, these are all real stories.” That helps a lot. Also, establishing procedures. Like Mona Lisa, I also do that. I’ve got my Mona Lisa in the corner that I point to and how to sit, how our arms should be, and how we should be quiet. They know all my supplies are pets. I put little googly eyes on all my pets. I’m like, “If you’re hurt, would you go home and stab your cat with a pencil? You do not stab my eraser. It’s my pet.” Believe it or not, I have the same supplies from the beginning of the year. They are almost in perfect condition. My kids take those so seriously.
Cindy Ingram: That’s so good too.
Monica Wright: Middle school not so much but middle school, when they disrespected my supplies, I literally assigned them a number, gave them each a baggie with eight broken crayons. That’s all they got until they showed me they could respect my supplies. After that, I had no problems in middle school. It works for all grades.
Cindy Ingram: I’m going to go and draw cat ears on all my erasers first thing in the morning. Don’t hurt the kitty.
Monica Wright: Exactly.
Cindy Ingram: So good, that is genius. Googly eyes everything. Oh my gosh, I would do it on the tables too because I’m like, “Don’t hit the tables.”
Monica Wright: It’s true. I do, everyday. Yes, it works. It works.
Cindy Ingram: That’s awesome.
Monica Wright: It keeps the noise level down because I can not stand when they hit the tables, so I’m like, “You are hitting my pet.” Then they’ll pet it, they’re like, “I’m so sorry.”
Cindy Ingram: I love that. That’s so good. I love your story idea too because you’re finding something that they enjoy. It’s not some fake reward where they get candy or something. They’re getting something they genuinely like and enjoy. They’re getting a closer connection with you by hearing your stories and hearing you talk. It’s just building that classroom relationship of fun and connection. That’s really cool. Now I want to hear one of your stories. But maybe at the end.
Monica Wright: I could tell you. It’s crazy. Okay, here. Why not, at the end.
Cindy Ingram: That’s awesome. Noise level is one, I do this noise level too, like zero, one, and two. I’m not as good at enforcing it as you guys are but I think that this came from Anna Nichols at the blog Managing The Art Classroom but you write the word art on the board and if it gets loud, you erase the A, that’s a warning, then you erase the R if it continues to get loud, then they lose five minutes of talking, then if they erase the T, then you lose the entire class period of talking. That works really well for middle school because they just love to talk so much. They don’t want to lose that privilege but in general, I try to make sure that it’s nice and quiet. What I would erase an A for would probably be a lot quieter than what another teacher would erase the A for but I just gotta keep it. What about those students who are always up in your face, what do you do about those guys?
Monica Wright: Do you want to start, Amber, then I’ve got quite a bit, so go ahead, Amber.
Amber Jordan: I have a funny little thing that I do in my classroom. I have red masking tape on the floor. I have my podium up at the front. I have my little rug. My rug is my zone. I put red tape on the floor but by my white board. My podium is up front in my whiteboard. Students are not allowed to cross the red line. There are two things. One is a safety issue. I have my projectors up there, my TV is up there and I just don’t want them near my whiteboard. Two is honestly, it’s just my personal space. I’ve taught them from day one to just not go past the red line or the rug. They can’t get onto the rug space. They can talk to me behind the podium. We’re at a comfortable distance. I just don’t want them wandering around the room and just magically popping up in front of me. I am big on, “You have to stay in your seat. Raise your hand and wait until I call on you.” I don’t like wandering around the room and just random children popping up, and showing up, either at my podium or at my desk or just appearing next to me.
Cindy Ingram: I hate when they do that.
Amber Jordan: That genie poof, I’m like, “Oh no, we’re not doing that.” They know. If they come up to me and they try that, then I say, “Oh nope, go back to your seat.” They know to just go back and raise their hand, and try it again, then when they raise their hand, then I’ll come over to them and talk to them in a one-on-one conversation. I just don’t like the little genies popping around and following me around the room. One is my space issue. Can you see my face turning red? One is my personal space. I don’t deal well with having that surprise of having a student suddenly next to me. Two, I don’t want to say proper, that sounds so classical, formal, I just don’t think it’s polite for a child to just come up and interrupt what you’re doing, and your flow. It’s good training for them to just raise their hand and wait to be called on, and for the teacher to come over to them and have a conversation with them.
Cindy Ingram: I have two comments. One of them was that she was talking about how she was getting red. If you don’t know how this feels, it really is like a physical reaction. Several times, when both of you have talked about different things, my skin starts to crawl. Just hearing about it. I know her face is red. We’re on video. You can’t see it but her face is red right now. Mine, I get goosebumps and I get chilled. It’s like the hair stands up at the back of your neck. That is how I feel if I were to start talking about screeching noises or styrofoam or different things. I would have physical reactions to them. This is not just a thing that’s in our heads. It’s a bodily reaction. I want to point that out.
Monica Wright: I’ll jump in then, I want to say a couple things. First of all, I’m going to say that my face gets red and you can tell how stressed I am based on how red my face is. If I just get flushed, I’m relatively okay but I’m definitely out of my comfort zone. If I get big blotchy red marks that go all the way at my face, I am stressed to the max. How I deal with it is I always keep a turtleneck in the back of my room. If I know I’m going to have to meet with a parent, if I know I’m going to have to meet with the principal, I change into a turtleneck. It won’t cover all the red but it calms me, knowing that it’s covering most of it. Because I live in a climate where it can be very cold or very hot, I also have a sleeveless turtleneck. I always have that turtleneck, then I also get dry mouth when I’m nervous. I’ll keep the Bio Mouth dry, the spray or the gel and I’ll keep that in my desk for a dry mouth when I get nervous, and I also keep an extra strength fan under my desk. When I’m really red, the kids will be like, “What are you doing?” I’m like, “Oh, I’m just a little hot. I’m cooling down.” I take that time to do my breathing techniques and to calm down because people don’t realize, people like us hold our stress in our shoulders so much. We walk around with our stress in our body all the time. My turning red is just an external that people can see but I’m keeping it in my body all the time.
I feel that stress, so I do relaxation, meditation. I do the three slowed breaths in, hold it for three seconds, then slowly out for three. I now have my kids doing that. My kids that get stressed out love that. I have an emoji pillow that they go to. It’s tactile. It’ll go from a sad face to a happy face or angry to happy. It’s a tactile one. Just feeling it calms them down. I know what they’re going through. To have that for them has been a huge benefit for me. But as far as personal space, I have a table and a desk that I’ve made into an L. You cannot get past me when I’m sitting there but at the end, I have a seat. It’s an “I need you now chair.” If a child goes and sits in that seat, they’re telling me, “I need you right now. I need you to come see me.” I know to stop everything and find out what’s going on but I keep all my supplies at the table, so my kids aren’t up and walking around. They have no need to be. I taught it in inner city school. I’m also going to address that child that is literally in your face, the children that are pressing you out, the children that are throwing chairs at your head. I’ve had that.
I have a couple different strategies. This is a little off-tangent because it goes into classroom management but I’m going to say that the biggest cause of anxiety for new teachers is proficiency, planning performance, their student makeup, their self-confidence, their communication, their expectations. I say you prep, you adapt, you reflect but overall, you be positive. I will take my hardcore student. I will find them during my lunch, my prep, before school, after school, during their PE, and I’ll do what’s called a Same Side Chat. We talk for maybe five minutes, maybe 10, 15 minutes but they’re not allowed to talk about school. They have to talk to me about anything they want as long as it doesn’t relate to school. We get to know each other. The next time they see me in the room, they know I took the time to come find out about their life. It really helps. It’s not just the kids wandering around because you have that middle school all the time. It’s those kids that you feel like you cannot reach.
I don’t know if you guys have heard of it but I use Kagan Structures. Dr. Spencer Kagan, I love him. I do team building. I do class building in middle school. We do silly sports. We do goofy games. The first two weeks are just getting to know each other and getting along because if your class doesn’t like each other, you are not going to accomplish anything that year. You are going to be so stressed. When I moved to middle school, especially my inner city middle school, I used to always love school. I cried the first two weeks. I had never cried in 20 years. I wasn’t, “How am I ever going to reach these kids?” is what I thought, but it happened. It took a culture of being positive. I had three goals for myself. I walked into that attitude and I was going to savor every moment whether it was positive or negative. It worked. It helped. I know that went off on a tangent but those kids in your face reminded me of my kids that were literally yelling, screaming, spitting in my face.
Cindy Ingram: I’ve been there too. I think the best reaction is always through kindness and through connection because the students are often doing that because they don’t have that connection. If you take the time to get to know them and to talk to them, and even if it’s making little comments here and there, I think becoming the teacher that is interested in them, then they’re going to be better for you. It’s not a tangent to talk about classroom management when talking about this because that’s how we deal with this, is through classroom management. I think we’re doing a lot of classroom management talk because that’s how we can make it happen.
Monica Wright: If all teachers took the first three weeks, the first three weeks is all it takes to take a positive phone call, a positive email to every single child, just those first three weeks, then every time you have a conversation with that parent, you’ve already started off on a positive note. Sure, they will support you. They will be behind you. They will remember you as the parent that quite honestly may have been the first parent ever in their child’s career in education to have ever called with a positive comment. I spent my first three weeks in high school and middle school, making those positive connections. It helps.
Cindy Ingram: I think it does. The district that my kids go to, they do home visits. The Friday before school starts, all the teachers go and visit all the kids. The art teachers don’t do it. Actually, no, they do. The classroom teacher, then one of the special teachers. There were three people that showed up for each girl. The kids get to see the teacher. They get to have a little conversation, then you’ve made this positive connection so that when you go into the classroom, you’re set up for success. I love that. A lot of work though calling all those parents.
Monica Wright: But when you think about how it saves you in the long run when you’ve got an angry parent, they’ll remember that you cared enough to call. It does help in the long run.
Amber Jordan: I guess I’m in a different situation where I’ve had the same kids for three years now. I’ve had some of these kids since they were in kindergarten. Now, some of my middle schoolers, I had them when they started off in fifth grade. I have that relationship already built, one with the child and two with the parents where the parents really know me. We’re a very small school. I do the yearbook. I do a lot of balls and events for our school. I’m not just the art teacher at our school. I have other events where I’m really involved with the parents. That has helped so much with what I do, just day in and day out because when I do have a problem with a kid, the parent has an understanding of how I’m like outside of the classroom as well. They know, “Okay, she really cares about my kids. She knows me. She knows my family.” That’s made the biggest difference in the world.
When I do have an issue, a discipline problem in the classroom, I’m at the point where I can just email a parent and say, “Okay, this is what happened today.” I don’t have to deal with a lot of that back and forth of like, “Well, that’s not what happened.” A lot of that is over now because I’ve had that relationship. The parents were like, “Oh, okay, Johnny did do that. I’m going to talk to him. I’m so sorry.” I am very thankful that I have the time under my belt now where I know the children, I know the kids, and I know their parents. That has, for me, helped with my overall stress level of teaching because one of the biggest stressors is the parents. That relationship with the parents and making sure that when there is a problem, you can resolve it amicably and just building those relationships is key.
I agree with what Monica is saying is be the person that sends the good behavior report. Don’t always be the one that’s saying, “Oh well, Johnny played with scissors again today.” Notice the little things. Notice when Johnny actually picked up something off the floor and sent a nice note that day, like, “Oh, I’m so happy he did this today and he helped this person.” When you notice the little things with some of the kids that you’re having difficulty with, it just makes your life so much easier. You build those relationships, not only with the kid but with the parent. You just let them know like, “We’re a team, we’re on the same side.” For me, that’s been the biggest thing that’s just helped the most with what I do.
Cindy Ingram: I think that’s a really good point, especially I think tying it to saving your sanity, which we were talking a little bit about earlier, is one, finding the right school and finding the right grade level that you are most comfortable with. Monica found her little ones and now she’s thriving there. Then also, once you find that, stick with it so that year after year, you’re developing the relationships. It’s only going to get easier. If you’re in the situation where it’s not the right fit, then find the right fit but also know that it does get easier with those relationships.
Monica Wright: I’m going to say this for people who suffer from anxiety. I know that change is hard. Leaving my school of 12 years to go to a school and start over, then have cut backs and lose that job, then end up in an inner city school, I loved it but I was taking home their problems every day. I was living it. It was affecting my health and my relationship with my husband. Now, I’m at a new school, starting over again. With elementary, I’m in my zone. The parents are so supportive. My principal is so supportive. I’m very fortunate. I am so fortunate but I’m starting over again. People don’t know me. I’m not eating in the lounge and I’m not going to social events. They’re wondering why. Having to explain why I don’t socialize like other people, I will say things that cut down on my stress level. When I’m evaluated for open house night, I start with the lights off and a presentation, and pictures of my kids because it’s dark, it’s quiet. That’s my way of getting my zen, getting in my zone, getting prepared for being all eyes on me. That has helped me.
I do student-led conferences, so the students are in charge of their conferences. Also art fairs, have the students be in charge of. Students are the ones that walk the parents around and show the work, and talk about it. The more I can have the kids be in charge, the less I feel eyes are on me, especially starting over because this is my second year at my new school. These are my coping mechanisms that you need to be able to not fear change in the sense that it was hard for me to switch schools, then be like, “Go, then switch to another school.” Then the school that let me go invites me back. I was hired as middle school, then right the week before school started, “Oh, by the way you’re teaching elementary. Talk about stress for somebody through things.” But they must have done something I didn’t because I’ve never been happier. I’m in my zone. Don’t be afraid of change. Change is hard for us. I know it is.
Cindy Ingram: One of the things too that you mentioned I think that is a really profound thing for me and a really big struggle for me, not really profound but a struggle, is not taking home the emotions of your students. I have pretty much only taught in inner city environments and low-income schools. I love those environments. I think they’re great for me in many ways but the struggles that the kids are going through, I have a really hard time not wearing that. If a kid is crying and telling me something, that I’m not, the rest of the day, crying too and that night crying, and crying on the way home, how do we deal with that?
Monica Wright: We’re so sensitive. You do take it. I could have stayed there forever. I loved it there. It was so hard for me to leave them but I left them for my health because of the things my kids were going through, I mean when I go in the next day and I’m like, “Oh, I had an argument with my husband on the way to school,” because we commute two hours together. “Oh, last night, my neighborhood was shot up.” That’s all I can think about the rest of the day. This poor child. I was spending my lunch time, I was having kids come in during lunch, before and after school, just to have a safe space and being this person who is an introvert, and it was my time to decompress, it wasn’t the right place for me. For you to be able to be in your zone in an inner city school, I commend you because we need people like you. That’s awesome.
Cindy Ingram: I’m not there anymore. I would be if I was still teaching. My first teaching job was in a South Dallas school, elementary. When I left—and I had to leave, it was one of those same things. I left my own sanity. I could not be there anymore. I would cry on the way there. I would cry on the way back. It felt very hopeless to me. I felt like I couldn’t make any difference. I just had a baby too, so that didn’t help the whole situation either—but after I left, I think I had PTSD for years. I would drive by that neighborhood and I would completely freeze up. If I needed gas in that neighborhood, I would just rather run out of gas a little bit later and just stop, and get gas because I was so scared I was going to run into them because then they were going to see that I failed them. It’s so hard dealing with all of this. I don’t have an answer for that because last year, during my planning time, I would often just take walks with kids because they were dealing with a lot. If a kid came to me crying, I’d be like, “Well, let’s just go take walks.” I would just take walks all the time with children but that’s hard on me because then I lose my free time. I’m not a good model for this thing.
Amber Jordan: A student passed away last February at our school. It was in a situation where as the teacher, you’re falling apart. Your students are falling apart. It was such a touchy situation because you want to model healthy emotion but you also want to be there for your kids without completely losing it. Finally, someone very wise just told me, they’re like, “You know what, you’re human too, it’s okay to show your emotions.” I was just very honest with the kids. I just said, “You know what, I’m just sad today. Just let me have the space to be sad.” When I was honest with them, because kids react in different ways, especially when they’re grieving, they get even more hyper or they’re acting up more than usual. It’s just not your typical environment to be in. I learned a lot through that period and from those couple months because it wasn’t a sudden thing. It was something that took some time. It was a period of grieving and a period of having to, I don’t want to say hide motions but deal with emotions and also deal with an entire student body that was also going through the grieving process.
When you’re doing that, your reactions, I realized the best thing I could do was just slow down, just slow, just be quiet and calm, and just listen when someone is saying something. Just to really truly listen to what they were saying, then not necessarily even have an answer for them like, “I’m just going to listen to you.” They need to be heard. That time my role was to just let them be that place, let them be that quiet, and just to be a presence but not have any answers. Just be quiet and just listen to them. When they’re upset, if something comes out in their artwork, just allow the space, the breathing room. I do that now, even if we don’t have such a huge trauma like that, I mean thank goodness, we haven’t had anything that bad this year but there’s a lot of stuff going on.
Middle school is a crazy time for everybody. We have a lot of big emotions. Everybody has something going on, but if I approach a child and they come upset, if I’m just, “Okay, tell me, talk to me, tell me about it,” and I give them that space and I don’t have to have the answers, that’s not my job but my job is just to be that quiet space for them. I found that’s the best role for me. One for my sanity and two for my personal peace because then I can come home, then I know for myself that I need that space and I need that quiet, so I’m modeling truly what my personality is but I’m also modeling what a child doesn’t understand how to do yet. If I can do that at home and be like, ”Okay, when I get home, my kids know.” If I come directly to the bathtub, we’re in trouble. They’re like, “Oh no. Mom is sad today.”
They just know that if the door is closed and I come in, and I close the door and I turn on the bathwater, they know that I need space. I think that’s something that not only do we need a model but in a way, you have to teach that to kids. It’s not necessarily something that is inherent to them. They’ll try to occupy their time with something else. Just like an adult, when something goes wrong, you want to fix it but sometimes, you just have to teach that there’s not a solution to every problem. There’s not necessarily going to be the right words. Sometimes, you just have to give that breathing room. For me, I’ve been trying to give that breathing room with my students, then also the hardest part is when I come home going, “Oh, you know what, I need some breathing room,” allowing my own space to stay healthy and not go crazy. You lose your mind, you lose your soul if you don’t.
Cindy Ingram: That’s so powerful because I think we feel like we always have to have the answer and we have to fix it but we can’t. That’s not the world we live in. I think that’s really powerful that you’re teaching that to your students by modeling that. Showing them that emotion is okay. It’s okay to feel sad. That even adults feel sad and even adults feel anxious because I had a student last year who would have panic attacks all the time, and would come to me. The music teacher, we were next door to each other and we would just sit with her because we can’t fix it. We can’t make the panic attack go away. We would just sit with her and she would breathe. Like Monica, I would tell stories of my childhood. I’d be like, “Oh,” and just be with her in that situation. I think that’s the best way.
Monica Wright: I’m going to jump in and agree with you guys. We can’t fix everything but coming from my experience—and this is personally my biggest accomplishment—my inner city school had no anti-bullying program, whatsoever. My first month there, two children were beaten to the point where they had concussions. I go to my principal and I say, “We don’t have anything in place. No anti-bullying program, nothing.” She said, “Well, no one will step up.” Me not wanting to have any eyes on me, not wanting to blend in the background, I stepped up. I was trained in what’s called Olweus but I also went to Kagan’s Win-win Discipline twice, cooperative learning, best strategies, everything. Basically, I had the kids take a survey, “Where are your hot spots?” They said, “Before school, after school, during lunch, in the restrooms, transition times.” We actually walked our classes in silence from class to class. We quadrupled supervision in the mornings. At lunchtime, everybody had to be there after school. It really changed the culture of our class. We had an advisory on Fridays. The first half hour of every Friday was just team building where we had to play and play games, and learn to get along with people you wouldn’t normally talk to or just talk about what’s bothering you. We’d circle up and get in a circle, “What happened over the weekend?” The stories these kids shared are heartbreaking but they needed somebody to listen. These kids understood each other.
I normally would say, “This is somebody else’s problem but I couldn’t stand back anymore. I had to fix something because people were getting hurt.” By the time I left, major referrals were down 80%. We’ve been doing something right. I, to this day, miss that school. I love that school. I feel like I made a difference, then I went up and left them but my kids, we still keep in touch. They have my email. They let me know how they’re doing but you’re right, we can’t fix everything but if we’re in a situation where we know something must be changed, we need to not be afraid to change it. The very first time I had to present all this, not only do I have to tell these teachers that they have to do more work but I have to be the one to tell them that. I was given permission to be the one to call the parents and say what the punishment would be, and to meet with the parents. All the things that I don’t want to do, I just volunteered for. The very first time, I met with these teachers. Afterwards, one came up to me and said, “Are you okay, are you going to pass out? You are so red.” I go, “No. But I did it.” They looked at me like, “What do you mean?” But I was just so proud of myself that I was able to get up in front of everybody and say, “Hey, this is what’s best for the kids. This is what we’re going to do. We’re all in it together.” I, of all people, was the one. They didn’t realize until they got to know me better, what a big moment that was for me.
Cindy Ingram: That’s amazing. One thing that I’m noticing as we’re talking is that a lot of this is about really being aware. It’s noticing little things that if you give yourself the space to pay attention to how you’re feeling and pay attention to how your students are feeling, and pay attention to your surroundings, and we’re oversensitive to our surroundings as is, so we notice those things, but I think that is a way to deal with this. One of the things you said—and it wasn’t even really related to this whole idea of teaching with anxiety—but you said, “What are your hot spots?” That stood out to me. I was like, “Thinking through your day as a teacher, what are your hot spots? What are the times where you’re feeling like you’re going to lose it? What are the times where you’re feeling or your skin’s crawling or your face is getting red and finding solutions for those little things?” Even keeping a journal like, “Okay, this a lot. I really got upset when seventh grade was there today. This is what they did.” You start to notice, “Okay, well, it was because of this noise they made.” Then you start to fix those little things. I think that’s a good lesson. It’s amazing but I’m like, “Oh, what are your hot spots? I love that.”
Amber Jordan: I have a really big hot spot. I’ve actually trained my first period class to recognize it. One is I’m not a morning person. I’m just not a morning person. We have morning meetings every day at 7:00 AM. I usually have about five minutes before my first class starts. I have six graders lined up outside my room at 7:30 in the morning, so I come downstairs from the meeting and I walk into my room, and I immediately have to start teaching. I don’t have time to check my email. I don’t have time to drink my coffee. I don’t have time to do anything for myself or anything just teacher related before I have to instantly start my day. I still have my bags on me as I’m walking down from our meeting. I’ve taught the kids and in a way to just give me a little bit of space, “Ms. Jordan, her coffee is still at the top of her mug.” I’m like, “Give me just a little bit of a minute to just drink a couple sips and think over my day, and calm down before I start into a lesson.” Because they understand that they’re a little stressful first thing in the morning. They’re very hyper. I am not. I’ve got 30 six graders that are already bouncing off the walls. They’re being very loud. They’re throwing their books down. They’ve learned as they come into my classroom, “Okay, we’re not going to slam our books down on the table. We’re just going to gingerly walk in, put our things down.”
I’ve gotten one kid that they’re so trained, they’re like, “Have you had your coffee yet today, Ms. Jordan?” I’m like, “I’m still working on it. Give me five more minutes.” They’re like, “Okay, just let us know when you’re ready.” I’m like, “Okay, I’m almost there.” It’s to that point where just little cues of letting them know like, “You know what, you guys just got a lot more energy than I do.” I’m not a morning person. It is a trigger. If I had to start my day with just chaos, noise, and they’re throwing their books down, they’re screaming across the room at each other, it sets me off on the wrong tone. I just don’t like to start my day that way. I’ve been trying really hard to help them understand, “You’re coming into a new environment. You need the respect, one, my classroom and two, my space. If we’re going to come in quietly in the morning, then we’re not going to be this crazy loud.” That they are rambunctious.
It’s taken some time but now we’re in May and they’ve gotten it. I actually have one kid, they bring me like, I get text messages like, “Do you need a coffee this morning?” Like, “Oh my goodness, yes.” It’s like we have that sense around the corner and like, “Ms. Jordan, we have coffee for you.” Like, “Yes, you are trained well my child. You’re doing great.” It’s just the little things like that but I am aware of my hot spots. The other is munch, if I start to get hungry, the second graders get on my nerves a little bit. I’m realizing there are different spots in the day when I definitely have more energy. Study hall at the end of the day is not very good because I’m exhausted. They’re tired of listening. It’s just controlled chaos at this point.
Cindy Ingram: One of my hotspots was after school. I couldn’t do art clubs because by the end of the day, I could not muster any more interactions with any more people. The music teacher, she’s the complete opposite of me. It’s awesome. I’m going to have her on the podcast. We just haven’t scheduled it yet, so I can’t wait for you all to hear me talk with her but she’s always has everybody always around her and it’s next door, so they’re always like, “Oh, let’s go into Mrs. Ingram’s room.” I’m like, “No, let’s all go back to the music room because I can’t handle this right now.” Or I’d just leave and go somewhere else. I noticed and I felt guilty because I’m not doing after school programs. They wanted it, they wanted an art club so bad but I had to say no because I’m like, “I just can’t physically handle that edition of more.” It’s not the teaching. It’s just noise and people.
Amber Jordan: I can’t do it. I’m like, “I gotta go. See you later, bye. Good luck.”
Cindy Ingram: The music teacher was mentoring to practice. She would run like 600 clubs and she would have one club going in one room, then she’d be like, “Okay, you guys go practice your ukuleles in the art room.” I was like, “Oh, I’m going to leave early today. I’ll see you later. I’m going to go work from Starbucks the rest of the day because I can’t.”
Monica Wright: I like everything structured. A couple of my hot spots, I’ve noticed now that I’m at elementary, I have classes that’ll show up six, seven minutes early. They’ll come right after morning announcements. I lock my door. I need that time. I’m not going to start early just because you arrive early, then I have teachers that can be seven to eight minutes late. I have two classes, so I’ll have 63 kids in my room. For me, that’s just uncontrolled chaos. My class that’s lined up knows to sit down, zip up, not a sound. My class, entering knows to come in, not to say a sound. They don’t talk until that class leaves because I cannot handle all of that noise. They know if they do it quietly, I’ll tell a story. They want that story. That’s the only way I can handle it. You don’t get that in middle school. You don’t have to deal with those issues. Now that I’m back at elementary, I’ve forgotten that’s going to happen. The other one is I used to work through my lunch time. I have learned I have to take that time for myself. It decreases my anxiety for the afternoon. I get a little bit stressed that I don’t have everything set out and ready but if I don’t decompress, I notice my anxiety rising. I don’t eat in the lounge with other people. I am now eating lunch in my room, which I used to, for the first 20 years of my life, I did not eat lunch. I skipped it. I worked right through lunch. I’m learning to take better care of myself.
Cindy Ingram: It was funny, you all are listening to this and not watching but right when she said she worked through her lunch, both me and Amber were shaking her head at the same time, “No, don’t do that.” I’m used to that. I’m a workaholic. I just want to work, work, work but you really have to learn to put yourself above that and try to give yourself that space. I think it really does boil down to setting boundaries, like setting boundaries with the students, setting boundaries with the other people on your campus, that you need to learn where your boundaries are, then make sure that those are clear. That the other teachers know they cannot send a whole classroom full of kids into your room, seven minutes early. That is not okay to do, especially when they’ll just send them in and you’re like, “Why are you just sending them in? Line up with them and you wait until class time starts.” It reminded me of a story last year. In my old school, we had a house system. Do you have a house system, Amber?
Amber Jordan: I do, yes.
Cindy Ingram: We have this house system. I love my house, like I really connected with my house but I wasn’t the head of my house. Anyway, the head coach, now I can’t even remember what he was asking me to do. We were having a meeting, me and the two heads of houses about what we were going to do for our house. He wanted me to design something or create a t-shirt or something and I instantly started crying. I was like, “Oh God. This is bad.” I was at that moment in my life, I was like, “No.” Then I felt so bad and I was like, “I’m going to have to say no to this. The art teacher is not going to design the t-shirt for domus. I love domus.” He looked at me and he was like, “It’s okay.” I did a course for my website at the same time last year. I was doing that on the weekends. I was teaching full-time, I have two small children, so I was just like you asked me to do one extra thing and I just lost my mind. People ask me how I do it all. I’m like, “I cry a lot.”
Amber Jordan: Yeah. Last year was your book and ESL, then the revolutionary ball, so it’s not just teaching art. Finally, this year, I’m like, “Okay, well, l got rid of ESL.” But somehow your book is still there and we did revolutionary ball, “Oh, let’s add a regency picnic on top of everything.”
Cindy Ingram: Go ahead.
Amber Jordan: It’s just somehow, I haven’t learned no. I need to learn the word no.
Monica Wright: I’m great at it. You have to because my old school, I not only updated but I designed all three elementary websites. I kept them updated weekly with my full-time job plus I was in charge of every display, not just the art displays. Every event, I had to decorate. Finally, I was like, “I’m not doing this anymore.” What I’ve learned is if somebody asks me for something, I give them the tools or I tell them, “Here, this is what we can do. I can tell you how to do it. You can Google it or I can give you the tools to do it yourself or I can start it but you will finish it.” I’ve learned that if I say one of those things, it ends up that they go away. I don’t have to do it. They find something else or they find someone else who will do it for them because you can only do so much in your life. Teaching is a full-time job. We have families, we all have children, we have a life outside of school. A web page designer, that was basically a part-time job on top of my teaching job. I wasn’t getting paid for it. It’s good to say no. It feels so liberating but as an anxious person, you get so anxious about saying no.
Cindy Ingram: Because anxiety is so rooted in what other people are thinking. Not what they’re thinking, that’s what you’re thinking they’re thinking. It’s not actually what they’re thinking. They’re thinking of themselves. They’re not thinking of you but that you don’t want to disappoint someone. You don’t want to have them think ill of you. You don’t want to be seen as not caring about the students or not caring about the school or not caring about domus, your house. You don’t want to be seen that way but so you can get bogged down in that. You just have to realize that they’re not getting that, maybe they are but they’ll get over it five seconds later.
Monica Wright: I need to get outside my head because I’m constantly staring at them, thinking all the different things they’re thinking of me right now when really, you know what, no is no. Move on.
Cindy Ingram: No is a complete sentence. You can just say no. That’s it. Just learn how to do that more often. I’m pretty good at it now. I felt I held those boundaries pretty good last year but not always in my life have I done that but I also was running a business on the side that made it easier to say no. I’m like, “Sorry. I’m basically doing two jobs right now.” Let’s see, what else do we need to talk about? You mentioned that we all have children at home, so how do you deal with parenting and teaching at the same time?
Monica Wright: My son is highly functioning autistic with severe anxiety. I come home to tears every night for hours over homework and the fear of bedtime, what if I don’t get to sleep? What if I can’t get to sleep? What if I can’t wake up early enough because we commute two hours, so we have to be up by 5:00 AM. It is tough. Sometimes, I want to go in my room, shut the door and cry but I know he needs to see that we can get through this. We set timers, we do lists, we checkmark everything off. “Okay, dinner time. Now, it’s 15 minutes of reading. Now, it’s homework time. Whatever we get done in this chunk, we get done. If it doesn’t get done, it does not get done. We’re not going to stress over it.”
I probably have a different home life than you guys in that sense, dealing with the anxiety that my child who I sometimes feel like, did I give this to him? Did he inherit it from me? But we work with lists and we work with timers. When he is very worried, we have a worry box. We write down the worry. We put it in the worry box. We give it 10 minutes and we worry about it for 10 minutes. After that, we can’t worry about it anymore. I’m like, “Why didn’t I do that for myself at night when I’m laying there at night and I’m thinking of all the things I’ve done or done right?” Because I’m a perfectionist and I’m learning to let that go. Now I’m like, “I’m giving it 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, the heck with it. I got to get some sleep.” That’s how I deal with home life plus I’m lucky that I have an hour in the car with my husband, commuting. He’s also an art teacher, so he gets me more than anyone else possibly can. He gets what my day is like. Sometimes, we drive in silence because we’ve had those days. Other times, we’ve talked the whole time but we shut everything off early in our house. If things aren’t done by eight, they’re not getting done. That’s okay.
Cindy Ingram: My daughter sounds a lot like your son. She has very extreme anxiety. It was a really hard thing for me at first because I always thought my anxiety came from things in my life, like the alcoholic father who abandoned me when I was a child, that sort of thing. You just think it’s because of that. I have this daughter who has this lovely home life with two stable parents who both work. I was home for a long time with her, then all of a sudden, she has the same anxiety I have. She has the same sensory problems I have. She doesn’t like to be touched. She’s me but eight. I was like, “Okay, this is just a thing we have. I gave it to her genetically because she’s me.” But it opened my eyes to anxiety in a whole different way to see it just manifest in this little person who didn’t have any of the same problems that I had but also, we do the same thing. I’m going to use that worry box thing. I’m going to write that down, so I won’t forget it because we need that but we do the list thing.
I also talked to her about my anxiety as well because I think she likes to know that she’s not alone. If I’m feeling anxious, I will tell her, I’m like, “You know I’m feeling anxious about this right now.” I think she likes that. She likes to know that she’s not crazy. Sometimes, she’ll be like, “Can you tell me about something you’re worried about?” Just so that she knows that it’s normal to worry sometimes. It’s really interesting. When you come home to someone who’s having anxiety issues, you have to be with them. You can’t take that time for yourself sometimes. It’s very hard.
Amber Jordan: Yes, my poor three kids go to school with me. They’re at my school. I’m also their teacher. The poor little darlings get me all day long but they put in the same hours I do. If I’m staying there late and of course, I’m there at 7:00 AM, they’re there at 7:00 AM. We use our car time. It sounds similar to Monica. When we’re driving, we have 30 minutes, not two hours like you do but we have 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes after school, that’s our decompression time but for home life, I’m really clear. We try to get all our homework done at school, just the same mentality of you leaving your work at work. We leave our school at school. We try to do our homework there before we even leave. I don’t like getting home, then having dinner and having to pull out more school work. It’s just not good for us. When we’re home, we want to just relax and decompress from the day. I don’t want to have to talk about their homework or what they have to do. We just try to leave it back in the school grounds because we’re there enough hours of the day to get it all covered. We’re there a lot longer than the normal kids are, so we get it done at that time.
But my kids are actually the polar opposites. My husband is an extreme introvert. We have the three most extroverted children you have ever met. Our youngest, adoringly, we call her the queen because she’s the queen, then our oldest is in the drama club. She’s the most extroverted person. She can walk on stage and has no anxiety, whatsoever. The middle child is still, for a middle child who has no worries. He’s just not wired that way. We don’t understand it but we’re learning from them about how to function in the world. We’re teaching them to be kind to the softer people of the world because they’re the loud ones. They’re full of confidence and energy. At home, they’ve learned to go to their zone, to give everybody space, either the front porch or their bedrooms. We just space out and give each other time to decompress because our day is very intense. Especially at our school, I think Cindy understands. The curriculum that we have is just very vigorous. It’s a long school day. By the time we get home, the last thing they want to do is talk about school, work or any of that. We try to just make a rule, just a division line. When we get home, we’re like, “Oh, let’s go for a walk, let’s go to the playground but we’re not talking about that history test coming up or that Latin homework.” We try to just save that for the car rides and save that for when we’re in our school space.
Cindy Ingram: I’m a firm believer in not taking work home. It’s not always possible but I work from home now, so that’s a problem but I really do feel just like what Monica said is at eight o’clock, when it’s not done, it’s not done. Life will go on tomorrow if you’re not 100% ready for it tomorrow. Things will work out. Your sanity is more important than doing that last thing, says the person who just spent 10 to 12 hours working on one project. It’s not always good in practice but I do try my hardest.
Monica Wright: That brings me to a question I have because first of all, I used to do overnighters. I was known at my school for doing overnighters. I could not go to bed until everything was done. That was my younger years. The first thing I did when you contacted us was I sent out an email to all my staff at both my schools saying, “Hey, do any of you know anyone that suffers from social anxiety or stress? Or any of you introverts, how do you deal with it?” First of all, that was so liberating because in that email, I explained why I don’t eat in the lunchroom with the lounge and why I don’t go to social gatherings. I was amazed at how many people that I didn’t know very well, that emailed me back or from other schools that I don’t even go to because somebody said, “Hey, a friend of mine at your school sent this to me. I have crippling anxiety. This is how I deal with this.” Or this person I didn’t know very well said, “Hey, I really want to sit down and talk with you.” We ended up talking his whole plan time but the one thing we all had in common and I noticed was that we all over plan. The way we deal with it is to plan to the extreme. Do you guys do that too? Is it just me?
Amber Jordan: I used to. I did. I used to. I had a planner for my planner. I had a color coordinated planner. I will say that is the one thing my oldest has gotten for me. Her planner is color coordinated. She recycles it. It’s full of artwork. It’s gorgeous. I’m going to sell her planner but I am an over planner. One thing that actually my youngest child has taught me is that I can plan as much as I want but my plan is going to change. I’ve really learned to just go with the flow with her, then of course, just with teaching in general has taught me so much. My schedule every day for the last three weeks of testing, I had no idea who, what classes I’m getting, who’s coming in the door, how many kids. I’m just going to go, “Okay, throw that lesson plan out the window.” My first year completely stressed me out because I was like, “I had a plan. This is the perfect lesson. We’re going to do it no matter what.” This year, “I’m like, “Ah, it’s okay. There you are, you’re coming today. Okay, let’s see.” Just free paint. I learned to just let it go a little bit more because it’s not worth it. It’s not worth going back and being so stressed out about it, and trying so hard to hold on to my ideal of what I think has to be done when not necessarily. It has to be done at that level.
Cindy Ingram: This is based off of what I’ve learned in years of therapy but I think anxiety is rooted in one, perfectionism, and expectation. Perfectionism and over planning, I think you’re setting yourself up to fail. I have always been a perfectionist. I still am a perfectionist. I have to let it go. Some of the things my husband says is, “You’re good enough. Someone else is excellent.” I set standards too high for myself. I set standards too high for the people around me. That’s just setting ourselves up to fail. If I’m going to deliver a lesson that I’ve never done before and I’m not 100% confident in the material, in the plan and knowing that the timing, and the pacing of the lesson is going to work out exactly like what I think in my head, I feel a lot of anxiety. There are certain topics that I feel a lot of anxiety about teaching. I get panic attacks when I have to teach Renaissance and Ancient Egypt. You notice in the Resource Library, my membership site, there was not a Renaissance lesson for years.
Amber Jordan: I noticed it.
Cindy Ingram: Amber is like, “I know. I’ve been wanting one. You didn’t post one.”
Amber Jordan: It’s okay. I love Renaissance but Ancient Greece just now arrived. But it’s excellent. That’s great.
Cindy Ingram: I feel like the Renaissance and Ancient Egypt are big topics. There’s so much expectation of getting it right in there. They’re so interesting. Everyone loves Ancient Egypt. I’m like, “I’m going to screw this up royally because you’re expecting this amazing lesson from Ancient Egypt. I can’t cover three thousand years of ancient history and be perfect at it.” I can build myself up in this panic. It’s so funny. I did it with Australian Aboriginal Art too but I think I’ve finally gotten over that one but I have to know the material. I have to know it in my heart and my soul.
Amber Jordan: I actually broke my podium the other day. I had one book. On top of it, I had my backup book, which is about five inches thick from my original huge art history book. Just in case I messed up a detail of one of them, I put the heavier book on top of the other two books I already had on my podium and the whole thing fell to the ground. It didn’t matter what I wanted but that’s an example of my perfectionism at play. When I was so wanting to make sure I had it right, I blew the whole thing up because I wanted to get it right. It was my overthinking, my over planning. It ended up being a disaster anyway where I should have made a one-page copy and gone off of that instead of trying to make sure I had every detail correct. But that goes back to my anxiety.
I’m very fortunate I have some very, very smart kids. They catch on quickly and they ask me questions on the spot sometimes. I’m like, “Oh. Augustus of Prima Porta,” and They’re like, “Well, what was the date of that battle, that naval victory battle?” I was like, “Oh, okay.” I’m flipping through my book, “Oh, the battle was back to 31 BCE. One kid looks at me and they’re like, “It was not new.” I’m like, “We’ll fix it tomorrow.” But seconds back to just my anxiety of wanting to make sure I have all the answers and be completely prepared. Even if I tried my best, we can’t be prepared. I’m just going to break my podium. Now I’m just learning to let it go a little bit, put the big five-inch book on the table, then off of the one worksheet and we’ll go from there. It’s a process.
Monica Wright: My husband and I spend the weekends doing my online plan book to make sure it’s always two weeks in advance, and all these things. We’ll be driving and he’ll be like, “What are you doing with fourth grade today?” I’m like, “Oh well, I don’t really know yet.” That to me would just get me shaking not knowing. I’m getting better at it. Every day on the way home, I couldn’t talk to him until I had updated my art face page with everything we had done that day. I have set my phone down. It’s like, “No, this is my time with my husband.” I’m getting better at it but I over plan. When I was in my evaluation with my principal, he just looked at me and he’s like, “I don’t know what to say to you.” I’m like, “Oh no, what did I do wrong?” He’s like, “You wrote so many things that you should have done differently. Things I never would have thought of. What goes through your mind?” “Well, I have a reflection journal. I reflect every night.” He goes, “How thick is that journal?” I said, “Well, I’m getting better at it because when I looked through it, I was only seeing the negatives. I was forgetting all the wonderful things that had happened that day.”
When I said that I was going to be present and choose my attitude, and slow down and enjoy the moments, one of the things I’ve learned is when I start my reflection at night, the first five things went awesome that day, then I can write about things I want to do differently and improve upon but I was so scared. I had no idea. The look on his face, he’s just like, “We’re just going to skip this because I have nothing to say. You’ve said more than I ever would have because I didn’t see anything wrong with it.”
Cindy Ingram: I have done that. I’ve had bosses that said, “You’re rating yourself and your pay is based on this. You’re doing a great job, why are you so hard on yourself?” I’m like, “That’s my natural state. What are you talking about?”
Monica Wright: We’re very hard on ourselves. We need to learn to not do that. We really do because we’re doing our best. That’s all anybody can do.
Cindy Ingram: For sure. This is going to be a longer episode. There was one thing I wanted to point out. I had another podcast interview and it was with Lana Jelenjev. You might have already listened to it. You all have not because the podcast hasn’t launched yet but one of the things that she said that I thought was great and she’s not an art teacher but she said she did check-in times with herself, and her family every day. I think everything that we’re talking about can boil down to that, like, “Are you checking in with yourself?” Maybe every hour every day, just stop and go, “Okay, how am I doing? What can I do better?” Don’t criticize yourself but like, “What can I do to make myself feel the way I should feel? How can I reduce my stress level? How can I be more present and mindful?” I think being present and mindful is such an important thing. That’s what Monica was just saying with her reflection but also just being okay being in the moment and not criticizing yourself, and all of the things. I’m not saying this very eloquently.
Monica Wright: You’re right. You’re right.
Cindy Ingram: I think that people who are like us, probably are listening to this, going, “Yeah, yeah.” Hopefully, the people who are not like us are listening too. They kept listening and they’re understanding their children, their students, and their co-workers who are like us. I’ll put that in the intro too, and be like, “If you’re not like this, just listen, so you understand what it looks like.” I think it was super fun to talk with people who have similar neurosis. Being an introvert is not a neurosis. I don’t know the definition of that word actually, not that I think about it but anyway, thank you guys so much for joining me today. We will put links in the show notes to things we talked about. I know that Monica especially mentioned some different strategies and stuff that she’s used, then I’ll link those.
Monica Wright: I’m going to send you some information because I had a bunch of colleagues give me things that work for them that may work for somebody that doesn’t work for me. I’ll send those.
Cindy Ingram: That’d be great. I always end the podcast with the same question and that question is, which artwork changed your life? Who wants to start?
Amber Jordan: I’m going to start, just because you said that the Renaissance makes you really nervous. It’s actually my favorite.
Cindy Ingram: Awesome.
Amber Jordan: That’s my cup of tea but I love Botticelli. The Primavera is my favorite, just because of all the mystery behind it. I love how it keeps going and there’s more, and more and more, and the Greek myths behind it. There’s so many stories. As Monica kept saying, she loves telling stories. I’m the same way. I love to just tell stories. For me, that piece of work just lends itself to so many great tales and epic adventures, these Greek goddesses and Myths. It wraps it all up, then the lore you can go into the history. For me, I love the Renaissance. I’m the opposite but that’s my favorite. That’s my one.
Cindy Ingram: I certainly like the art of the Renaissance. I just freak out when I have to teach it. Probably because I like them so much.
Amber Jordan: What about Leonardo da Vinci?
Cindy Ingram: I don’t like Leonardo da Vinci all that much actually. I’m a Michelangelo fan.
Monica Wright: Because of the audio issues, before I answer, I’m going to tell you I lived in Italy. I studied in Italy. I liked Italian. Because I refused to get up in front of everybody and speak it, I couldn’t do it but you would think one of my favorites would be an Italian, especially being over there and studying all of it but actually, I think I’m wearing a van Gogh Starry Night shirt right now. His Starry Night, the background, that’s how my head and my stomach feels when I am stressed out. I relate that to my kids when I talk about Vincent van Gogh and how I feel he and I would be friends. I think he went through a lot of the things that we did, that we’re going through now, and that introverts go through. I spent last summer in Europe. I saw six different countries but the highlight was going to Amsterdam, to the Van Gogh Museum. I paid extra to be the first one in the door and to be surrounded by everything all by myself. It was the most amazing experience of my life. I will never forget it.
Cindy Ingram: I’m going there in three weeks.
Amber Jordan: Have fun. I want to go.
Monica Wright: Pay extra, so you can be there first. It’s worth it.
Cindy Ingram: I have also used Starry Night to describe my anxiety as well. I feel like looking at that is how my chest feels. I carry all my stress in my chest. My muscles and my chest, I see that painting. I feel it. Definitely. I’ve already told my story in the past but my story is about Picasso’s Girl before a Mirror but I think it really does fit with this too because she’s looking in a mirror. What she is seeing is different and green. The colors are different. What’s going on inside of us is different from what we’re projecting to the world. I think it’s probably why that’s my story.
Monica Wright: If people would walk away with one thing from this podcast, don’t be afraid to open up and tell people that you do suffer from this. People don’t talk about mental health. They don’t talk about what they’re going through. Our kids are going through this. If we can talk about how we can help our kids, why can’t we talk about how we can help each other? It was a burden off my shoulders to let everybody I work with know that I suffer social anxiety. It was liberating. It never would have happened if you hadn’t reached out, so thank you.
Cindy Ingram: Wow, that’s wonderful. That’s just such a wonderful way to end. I would love for people listening to reach out to us and let us know your struggles, and tag Art Class Curator on Facebook or something. Do you all have Twitter or Instagram or anything?
Monica Wright: I have a Facebook page. Mrs. Wright’s Art Room.
Cindy Ingram: You mentioned updating your Facebook page. Awesome. Tag us on there and tell us your stories because we want to hear it. Thank you guys so much for opening up. I know that there are a lot of us out there that benefit from hearing this.
Amber Jordan: Thank you.
Monica Wright: Thank you.
Cindy Ingram: What’s keeping you from showing more artwork to your students? Do you get stuck trying to choose a work of art or do you fear your students will ask a question that you don’t know the answer to? Have you tried to start a classroom art discussion but didn’t know what to say or how to get your students talking? Are you worried you’re going to spend a ton of time researching and planning a lesson that none of your students are interested in? That’s why we created Beyond the Surface, a free professional development email series all about how to teach works of art through memorable activities and thoughtful classroom discussions. With Beyond the Surface, you’ll discover how to choose artworks your students will connect with and learn exactly what to say and do to spark engagement and create a lasting impact. Plus, you’ll get everything you need to curate these powerful learning experiences without spending all of your time planning. Sign up to receive this free professional development email course at artclasscurator.com/surface.
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