Better to Look Good than to Feel Good?


When you enter a classroom to teach, the students aren’t the only ones watching.

I’m not talking about the principal, watching through the window, making a skeptical face and then jotting something on her clipboard – although that sounds horrible, and I’m sorry if Ms. Fictional-Principal makes these rounds to your classroom.

The other person watching is, in fact, you.

What you see can have a drastic impact on how you feel. And how you feel, in a room of teenagers, makes all the difference.

Consider the following situation:

You have prepared a lesson plan, in which students will journal about their experiences with grief and loss. The plan is that they will journal, pair up to share their thoughts on the topic, and then proceed to read a text in which grief and loss play a major role.

Half way through journaling time, someone burps.

The class goes haywire. It is difficult to get them to focus again, and you are certain it will affect their partner conversation.

There are two ways to feel about this.

It is a disaster.

It is hilarious.

It’s easy to conclude that this is a disaster and everything is ruined. And in fact, that’s exactly what will happen. You will get tense. Reactive. You will snap at the next kid who so much as sniffles loudly. A student asks to use the bathroom, just as you get the students into pairs, and you bark, “NO!” Everything that happens irritates you. The room becomes awkward, and any hope of true connection over partner-conversation is dashed.

The alternative? The same student burps. You have a good chuckle with everyone else. You say, “Glad you’re feeling so relaxed and at home.” Everyone laughs. The sniffling kid – heck, you hardly register him. And to the kid who needs to use the bathroom, you say, “No prob. Be back in 92 seconds.” He’s back in 92 seconds. The room is full of the sounds of animated sharing and reflective listening.

You’re in the flow.

Probably you’ve heard of being “in the zone,” or maybe “the flow state.” In the words of Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, the psychologist who coined the term, flow is:

  • “A sense of that one’s skills are adequate to cope with the challenges at hand… Concentration is so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant or to worry about problems. Self-consciousness disappears, and the sense of time becomes distorted. An activity that produces such experiences is so gratifying that people are willing to do it for its own sake, with little concern for what they will get out of it, even when it is difficult or dangerous.” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1991:71)

Yes, we would all love to be in “the flow state.” But how? The school day is hectic and stressful and sometimes you just don’t feel it.

You need to see yourself having a good time.

Forget Ms. Principal-with-clipboard for a moment. The pair of eyes you need to impress the most is your own.

If you look at yourself, and you see someone who looks — who APPEARS ready to handle anything — who APPEARS relaxed, calm, and positive, then that is the direction things might move.

I’d like to share some strategies I use to build up the likelihood of “flow state,” and by doing so, make it more likely that you will shrug off the belches and hiccups of class. It will be more likely that you, and your students, will experience the kind of flow where students will be shocked to discover that class has flown by.

You may have to shove them out the door to their next class.

Trick 1: Start class with music you love – music which gets you grooving.

I’ve discovered that music at the start of class accomplishes several things. First, It sets the atmosphere – this is your party, and the students are your honored guests. Second, it dilutes the stressful noise of rowdy students at the start of class. That helps you look and feel calm. Third, a few minutes into class, after you’ve taken attendance, handled a few emergencies, and guided students into their “First Thing Work,” you can drop the music level and watch how quickly the room will quiet down. Fourth, if you sometimes bother to ask, in the hallway, in the cafeteria, what a student listens to – and you can find something you like by that artist – well, you can play it in class…and build some rapport!

But most importantly, good music will distract you from the fact that you might be white-knuckled with anxiety. As you take attendance, don’t be afraid to look like you’re enjoying your music. Notice yourself enjoying your music. Notice yourself digging the tunes.

[A word of caution. I do not recommend allowing students to pick the music. They will become entitled. Rather, allow the music to benefit THEM…but know that the music is for you.]

Trick 2: Wear something fabulous every day

You don’t need to be a fashionista/o to step up your steez. In fact, a colleague old enough to be my youngest uncle decided recently, and explicitly, that he’s wearing only suits from now on. He rocks a grey suit with a boring tie and a black suit with another boring tie. But he loves these suits, and you can tell. He has a glide in his stride. He looks great. It has a positive impact.

As for me, I may have the dubious honor of being the High School Teacher with the most gratuitous tie collection…and I’ll tell you one thing, it’s not so I’ll look good for the class. It’s so when I use the washroom between classes, I can catch my reflection, give myself the double-handed-pantomimed-pistol-shot and say, “You, sir! Yes, you! Looking snappy, sir!”

Trick 3: Cultivate Friendliness ALWAYS

Teachers who are stiff and brusque in the hallways and then try to be nice in class will be treated like phonies. Teenagers pick up on this. Instead, try being friendly — always.

When a student says, “Do you have a second?”

Say, “For you? I always have time for you.”

When a student says, “How was your weekend,” tell him one small thing, and then ask about his. Remember the story. Ask about it, later. If you go on to see the movie he saw, mention it. If a student had to work, let two weeks pass, and ask how the job is going. Ask questions. Be prepared to listen to a story.

Most importantly, when a student talks to you, treat him or her like s/he is the most important thing on earth.

Then, in class, if you need to ask for the class to be quiet, you’re not alone. You have two-dozen friendly conversations standing behind you — like benevolent but firm Saint Bernards.

Trick 4: Celebrate the Small Things

Walk around class and listen to the kids working on their projects. Sure, they may not be discovering the cure for cancer. But they could be smoking dope behind the woodshed. Or…shaking down freshmen for lunch money. Or whatever the local hoodlums do in the school next door. Your students aren’t eviscerating each other with brutal gossip. Instead, they are showing each other the edits they have made on their sculptures. So what if half of them forgot to do their homework and the lesson plan is undermined…it’s still an excellent use of everyone’s time! How amazing are you for setting up a class where they can focus on something productive for almost half an hour!  Nod approvingly, and notice yourself nodding. You’ve just won a TROPHY! Filled with…whatever naughty snack you can imagine.

Trick 5: Laugh a Lot

Do not, under any circumstance, miss the opportunity to laugh at something. This is NOT the same as laughing at someone. That needs to be rooted out if you are going to have a classroom that is safe for students and for you.

Rather, when someone says something funny, laugh. Fist bump – but only if the student has earned it.

When a student does something annoying, laugh (if off) and firmly correct him or her with good eye contact and a strong (but pleasant) voice.

When you trip over a cord, laugh.

When everything is falling apart, laugh, and know that tomorrow will be better. Tell the story to a colleague and share a good laugh. And remember what you looked like when you were laughing, and bring that image with you to class, next time. You look great when you laugh.

Billy Crystal’s “Fernando” used to say, “It is better to look good than to feel good…”

I’d suggest a slight edit. It’s much easier to make yourself look good than to make yourself feel good.

So look good, and watch — good feeling can follow.

Artists on Stilts: Part 2 – The Portfolio of Sketches

frankWhat do you do when a student turns in a piece of art that looks like a piece of…um…you know.

This is not the Rhode Island School of design. This is a high school Jewish Studies class, finishing a unit on the Tabernacle, the portable tent the Israelites bring through the desert in the Torah. Students are designing a “Personal Mishkan,” a temple designed to address and improve their own Quality of Life needs.

This is not an art class. I have not taught the class any art skills. I cannot grade them on their art, per se.

And until today, I figured I was grading them on their concepts and their process. Do they carry out the instructions, solving the problems in whatever creative way they choose? Do they pitch the ideas to classmates thoroughly? Do they use feedback from classmates to improve their work?

Process. That’s what the grade is for.

What do I do, then, when a student turns in a piece of art that is…sketchy? It’s drawn with markers – more a doodle than a drawing.

I asked her about it: “Well, did you take about 1.5 hours to work on this?” That was one of the guidelines to help students get a sense of the time-investment required for a decent piece of work. I figured that this would help her understand why it wasn’t sufficient. It looked rushed.

Mind you, students choose their medium. I didn’t require her to draw. She could have used any number of media ideas I provide them with – some requiring the “artist-on-stilts” only to drag and drop material together, like this film I made using [Artist-on-stilts] is my nickname for students who feel empowered to envision and create, though they may lack technical art skills.

As it turns out, this student had tried – a program anyone can use to design objects and send them out to be 3d printed. Instead of it being “mind to design in minutes,” as the website promises, it was “mind to disaster in hours.” She’d used up all her homework time trying to get it to work, erased the screen full of blobs she’d designed, and turned to markers and paper – more familiar territory, dashing off the scribble in minutes, hoping it would satisfy the requirements.

Yesterday, after listening compassionately to her story, I suggested that her sketch was not sufficient to earn the credit for the project. It needed a second draft. “Process!” I thought. She will learn the value of a second draft.

“How should I make it better?” she said.

I came up cold. Color it in? Stronger lines? It felt like it missed the point.

“I’m not good at art,” she said.

The project was causing her to say the exact thing I was afraid of reinforcing: that creativity is the secret realm of artists, and the rest of us will accept a C+ and vacate the art room 2 minutes before the bell rings.

The dozens of options I’d provided accomplished nothing to empower her to create art.

Over lunch with the art teacher, I shared the dilemma. What meaningful 2nd draft could I ask her to do that would focus on process and concept and problem-solving and not on how good the – the whataver it was – looked?

Answer: a portfolio of sketches.

On the one hand, students can still opt to produce a piece of art that they will design and hone. I know who they are; they will labor diligently and of their own according, far beyond the hour/credit requirements.

On the other hand, Students can opt to turn in a portfolio of 4-6 sketches.  The sketches show their design from different angles. Or – one sketch focuses on the furniture piece, and the other shows it in the room.

How big or small is it, compared to everything else?

Are there windows in the room? Lights? Is the furniture piece surrounded by other objects?

If a student draws a picture of the room, with a dozen sketchy details: he or she can do a series of -close-ups! Is there a symbol on the wall?  What hangs down from the ceiling?

Do a sketch of what hangs on the end of the thing hanging from the ceiling! Draw the outside of the building – showing one acre of land around it. Draw a map of the whole area. Mountains? Desert? Spikes?

Sketch the doorway. What words are carved into the doorpost? What does the doorknob look like?

Who cares what it looks like! Have you ever seen a Frank Gehry sketch?

I told students about the portfolio idea. Some students nodded: they’d already designed and built all manners of beautiful art.

But many looked relieved! Like I’d given them permission to walk out the door of a prison I’d inadvertently led them into.

They turned to partners to begin work. And as I heard them brainstorming, animated and excited, I could picture them walking briskly off into their own creative sunsets, perched high atop their stilts.

The Quality of Life Wheel: a tool for reading life


This article, formerly published in a newsletter for RAVSAK (a Jewish Education consortium), introduces the Quality of Life Wheel, a tool I’ve developed for teaching skills to help students become reflective, articulate, and compassionate about both the hardships and the joys of life.

* * *

Three questions guide me as I design and plan each course or lesson:

  1. Is the material interesting?

  2. Is it intelligent?

  3. Is it relevant?

Reflective practitioners design courses and lessons that are all three –but questions remain, for me, even when all three goals are met: what skills do the students learn that will stick with them from year to year? How can those skills benefit them throughout life? Will students become (dare I say) better people as a result of what they learn in my class?

In the field of Jewish Studies (Biblical or Rabbinic Literature classes, mainly), skills generally cluster around academics: translation, interpretation, forming and articulating arguments, writing, and in the best cases, problem-solving, cooperation, and application of creativity. Indeed, these skills make better students. They make more articulate meaning-makers. They enrich students’ intellects. But several years ago, I began to wonder if there were skills that could help students become better people? Are there skills that can help them understand not only Biblical character’s lives better – but also, their own lives better? Are there skills which could help them chart healthy pathways through life? Are there skills that could make them more compassionate, more helpful, more able to understand the ways life can bring us down, and more able to restore quality to life when it gets difficult? Is this something that could be taught and practiced, like other skills?

This question led me to ask an age-old question: what is a good life? What is a Quality life? How  does pain and loss affect our lives – suffering both minor and severe. And how can we recover from this pain? How can we thrive? What can makes life better? These questions are essential for young people learning to deal with life’s pains, and who are beginning to form values about what makes a life worth living.

We can teach these values, of course. We can give advice. But, I asked, could the ability to chart a course towards a Quality Life, a whole life, a life of joy, be a generalizable skill — a skill-set once learned, endlessly malleable?

The QOL Wheel

With these questions in mind, I developed a tool which I call the Quality of Life Wheel. It is designed to help students analyze and understand a wide range of subjects. At the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco, my Biblical Literature course uses it to understand the import of Jacob’s flight from his family and his desert-dream. We use it to understand more thoroughly the meaning of the Destruction of the Temples. We use it to appreciate the emotional urgency behind the story of the Book of Esther.

Beyond this, the Quality of Life Wheel is a useful tool for helping students to analyze their own lives: longing for summer camp, stinging break-ups, family strife. In the world around them, it helps them understand history at its best and its worst: the founding of the State of Israel, the Holocaust. Similarly, it helps them relate to Hurricane Katrina, to 9-11, to political strife they witness on the news. It helps them grasp the gravity of memories from childhood, and also their grandparents’ wisdom about what makes a life worth living. It is the central schema around which students develop a skill-set they can learn and practice and re-apply, unit after unit.

The Quality of Life Wheel is a literary tool, a sociological tool, and a reflective tool, all rolled in one – so to speak.

An Overview: MMMMCCCC

To begin with, click here to look at the Quality of Life wheel (henceforth referred to as the QOL). You will notice that it is divided into 8 wedges, each labeled with the name of a Quality, and a few brief notes to explain the quality. Notice, also, that the Qualities’ names begin with an M or a C, allowing for a helpful mnemonic to remember all 8: MMMMCCCC. Some of the Qualities are further defined with a “vs.” — thus illuminating what a lack of that Quality looks or feels like.

Here is a chart to help explain each.


Loosely Defined


Some sense or relating to a higher Being in the universe, whether that be God, the “Oneness” of all things, or, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s eloquent phrasing in The Scarlet Letter, the “sanctity of the human heart”


Some sense of there being a purpose to one’s existence, a big-picture benefit to difficult things one has lived through


Some sense of where one has come from; cherished recollections, family and collective history, national myth


Some sense of finesse, to be “good at” something, to apply talent and skill towards the aesthetic and functional shaping of the world – from music, sports, art, etc.


A sense of not being alone


Using one’s human, intellectual endowments to reshape and recombine the familiar into the new, to adapt, to grow


A sense of order, predictable outcome to the world, freedom of thought, action, and movement


A sense that the future will contain familiar and valued elements of the past and the present.

Periodically, a student will ask why certain things are not on the list. In fact, many things necessary for survival are not present in the QOL, in part because these are needs, but not qualities (food, shelter, safety), or because they are the outcome of a balanced life (peace, joy, happiness). These eight qualities, in contrast, can suffer and can be built up, they are affected by many factors, and they lead to many experiences. In my opinion, these eight qualities (and the helpful mnemonic MMMMCCCC) offer a tool that balances breadth and brevity. Like any schema, the goal is not to create a model to cram all of life into, but rather, to design a tool that illuminates the world around us — and inside us.

Building Up and Breaking Down: the QOL 360

Students begin the year interviewing a parent and a grandparent about what, in their eyes, makes a Quality Life. The parent/grandparent also ask the students about their own, nascent wisdom on the subject. Students and their parents/grandparents consider the various hardships in life which can cause damage or “trauma” to a Quality Life.

Using this new vocabulary, and the focused mindset that a conceptual tool like the QOL offers, students study Ancient Israelite slavery through the lens of the QOL. How does slavery erode at the Israelites’ own sense of confidence and Control? Their relationship to God/the Mystery? How does Exodus 2:15 demonstrate a breakdown of Connection, as Moses comes upon two Israelites fighting – Israelites who should be “on the same side?” Why did this breakdown in Connection happen? How does forced slavery degrade the human endowments of Creativity? Of Mastery? What is the Meaning of all the Israelites’ servitude, when they merely make bricks for store-houses which they do not own? When Pharaoh withholds straw for bricks merely to worsen the burden, the Meaning of their work is further demeaned. Their QOL is traumatized greatly.

Admittedly, one can explore the subject of the damaging effects of slavery on human life without a tool such as the QOL, but using the tool allows for a more robust, illuminated conversation. Systematically, students learn to empathize with the Israelites by turning over every stone – and more importantly, they develop the skills and the vocabulary to review the QOL of other disempowered people – using the same QOL wheel. This scaffolded approach builds a toolbox that the teacher can turn to in each unit, giving students a sense of Mastery more profound than facility with any single text. Now, the students learn how to look for potential QOL damage in other narratives, while speculating about how to rebuild after a trauma, how to heal after a wound.

In terms of the Text, the Exodus from Egypt itself can be seen as an enormous intervention, designed to repair and restore these problems. God appeals, indirectly, to Memory, Continuity, Mystery, and Control as he reassures the slaves: “‘I will bring you in unto the land, which I lifted up My hand to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for a heritage. forever: I am the LORD.’” (Shemot 6:8) In other words, “The past is here before Me. The future is before you. Control has been taken away, but it will be restored – along with the Meaning of your existence.” This is the nature of redemption.

Likewise, continuing on, the narratives of the Exodus, Mt. Sinai, and much of B’midbar can be seen as a series of case studies in which God attempts to rebuild the Israelite’s QOL, but the pre-existing trauma presents many problems. Likewise, relating to the Meaning of the Mishkan through Rashi’s lens, the Mishkan itself is a powerful symbolic-experiential intervention, helping people who have had problems with Connection and who harbor a misunderstanding of the Mystery (as evidenced by the Golden calf) to realign to each other and to God.

The stories of B’midbar chapters 11-15 provide further case studies of the struggle for Quality of Life, as the Israelites, for example, clamor for food when they are not even hungry, suffer from false Memories about the “free fish” (Bmidbar 11:5) they ate in Egypt and struggle over issues of Control and Connection (Miriam and Aaron and Korach’s accusations of Moses’ unique status in Bmidbar 12:2 and 16:3). Later, tragically, feel so out of Control in the face of entering the land of Canaan, that they would rather return to Egypt than enter into battle (14:4). The promised Homeland, it seems, has lost its Meaning. In return, God removes that goal from before this generation, prohibiting their entrance: the people then struggle to gain a sense of Control by invading, anyhow, against God’s will. Their defeat shows them, however, that they do not have Control, and the only thing that will save this people from dying altogether in the desert is Continuity: their children, those who do not have Memory of slavery, will inherit the land – though one wonders if the Meaning of freedom could be lost on this new generation.

For this unit’s assessment, Students review the story in terms of where various Qualities are breaking down, and propose various interventions. Perhaps Moses and his siblings need to go on a three day “road trip” where they can re-Connect and restore the Meaning of their family’s bond. Perhaps the Israelites should have a weekly history-music festival, where the nation listens to songs about how they got to where they are, drawing from Memory to grow a healthier sense of Continuity. God should practice letting go of Control by giving more and more Mastery to the Israelites; as He sees them make improvements, He should give them positive feedback. These interventions sound like they are drawn from teenage experiences because they are – they are the application of young meaning-makers’ experiences to the ancient texts. They are authentic (if somewhat cheeky) encounters with a text that could be ancient and irrelevant, now re-imagined in the students’ own language.

Other elements in the Torah’s narrative make for great conversations about the QOL and how they work in our lives: is Moses’s passing away at the boundary of Israel a blow at to Continuity, in that he will not be allowed to enter into this next phase of life…or it an affirmation of Continuity, since Joshua is instilled as leader, by Moses, before the crossing of the Jordan?  Is Moses’s willingness to barter with Reuben, Gad, and Menasseh (B’midbar 32) a relinquishing of Moses’s total Control… or the application of his Mastery as a statesman, ambassador, and leader? What is at stake, if if these three tribes break away from the Israelite Nation — in terms of the Continuity of the Unity? In terms of the Meaning of being a single people? In bigger-picture terms, how do various Qualities of Life, in our lives, compete for primacy? How do we make choices to bolster some Qualities at the expense of others? Can you “have it all?” What is the best way to repair a trauma to a Quality of Life, before other Qualities suffer?

While this interpretation of the events of B’midbar is not the only interpretation of the text, it is one which opens up many avenues for discussion. Students can consider what interventions should have been used to prevent their breakdown in Connection, to give a sense of Control, to reinforce Meaning, and by doing so, learn valuable lessons applicable to their own lives. Students reflect on their own experiences with feeling out of Control, about how Meaningless some of their own burdens can feel, how valuable are the Connections with their family and friends – and yet how challenging, how frustrating. Students consider how some Connections require the voluntary giving up of Control: people struggle to find ways to restore a sense of Control, even in shifting circumstances — applying Creativity. The QOL vocabulary sets helpful bounds, with familiar, reusable terminology, so these conversations can build upon and inform each other.

Student Assessment: Intervention for Trauma

Above, I spoke about the need for skills which help students to chart paths through life’s challenges. The Temple-Destruction unit asks students to review an event which was damaging to a nation or community (such as the 2011 Tsunami in Japan or the 1986 Challenger disaster), and explain the trauma not as numbers wounded or killed, or dollars lost, but rather what “internally” was damaged for those who survived or witnessed such cataclysms. Students learn a bit of social-psychology, reflecting on how communities suffer collectively, anticipating which areas of society can suffer trauma, and in turn, anticipating what sorts of interventions can help a community get back on its feet.

In turn, students gain a deeper appreciation for Jewish History, understanding the Exile as a traumatic cultural event; the Jewish people are not merely victims of Babylonian destruction (nor Nazi persecution, for that matter), but rather, are creative, adaptable people faced with a terrible task: to rebuild their QOL after enormous trauma.

How is Meaning to be restored in the face of such tragedy? What is the purpose of life when all appears lost? How will the Jewish people maintain Continuity in the wake of such upheaval? Will societies in exile manage to rebuild Connection with the homeland, with each other, and with their God (the Mystery)? What role must Creativity and Mastery play as communities reform around new ways of relating to the tragedies of the past (Memory) and the challenges of today?

Ultimately, the Quality of Life Wheel helps students develop an eye for understanding and “reading” the world around them, relating to Classic Jewish Text, Modern History, Current Events, and Personal Experience each as overlapping disciplines, each informing the other. The curriculum is not just about what is on the page, but also about what is within people.

The skills are not just for school — the skills are for life.

How to Prevent Burnout in 7 Lifelong Steps

My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light.

                           Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1920

I don’t want to give “a lovely light.” I don’t want to be a “hope I die before I get old” kind of teacher, a “shooting star” kind of teacher, briefly illuminating the landscape, fizzling out and forgotten.

I learned (or rather, memorized) this poem in 6th grade, Mr. Kupcho’s class. It’s only four lines, and I had no idea what it meant at the time, but I liked it — because I liked Mr. Kupcho.

He was energetic, and set up strict rules to reward attention and productivity and respect. He was one of the prime movers behind the establishment of Lakeshore Middle School’s 8-acre “Back 40,” a modest nature preserve behind the school building in Mequon, Wisconsin.

I didn’t care much for nature, when I was a child. I hated bugs and mud and dampness in any form, but I admired the fact that Mr. Kupcho loved these things, and that he brought interested students on a 2 day “bird bash.” It was the furthest away from home I’d ever been without my parents. Behind the shadows of the campfire, he cried out to the darkness, trying to goad an owl into responding: “Who cooks for you?! Who cooks for you all!”

This poem, and it’s tragic implications, has stuck with me for all these years because it does so much in such short space, short enough to get caught in your inner-ear. It’s puzzling, too. Who is the author talking to? Foes and friends? Is everyone gathered together for some sort of “foe-friend fire-lit feast?”

Though birds never “lit my fire,” so to speak, poetry eventually did. Terse, laconic verse, with plenty of space to wonder: that is what got me into Biblical Literature. And when I teach it, I hope my students feel some of the same “who IS this guy” feeling I felt for Mr. Kupcho.

When I take my students each year to Zion National park, I hope they have the same feeling of testing their own limits, the way I did, camped out in the Wisconsin Marshes.

Not entirely comfortable, not entirely uncomfortable.

In honor of the staying power of Mr. Kupcho’s four-line koan-like poem, I offer seven ways to keep us from providing the evanascent “pleasant light” that will not last the night.

1: Use the phrase “That Was Hilarious.” Often.

You plan to show a movie on your laptop. The plug, you are concerned, will trip anyone who passes. You move the table towards the wall, but the projector cord won’t reach. Just as you begin to move the table and laptop back to the original position, a student trips over the cable, pulling your laptop to the floor, and unplugging the projector mid-presentation. Everyone laughs and it takes five minutes to get everyone to re-focus. That was not funny. But “that was hilarious.”

Say it, and maybe you’ll feel it. Make yourself laugh.

Pick up the laptop and move on.

2. Find a Friend and Vent

Venting once every three weeks is not enough. I’m sure we can find a holistic medicine expert who will testify that stressful student or colleague interactions build up toxins that will need to be cleansed. Put down that wheat-grass and pick up the phone; tell the whole story to someone who will then take a turn. Laugh at each other’s stories. Say, “That was hilarious.”

3. Don’t Work Alone

Be a member of a Ninja Clan. Or a SWAT team. Pick your metaphor, you cannot work alone. People across stressful professions — teachers, doctors, firefighters, and soldiers — can keep from losing their minds by power of sharing the load, the stress and the victories with teams. Share your best work with a colleague during a three minute check-in. Bump fists as you head off to class – and high five afterwards. Make friends who do the same thing as you, but somewhere else. Go to conferences, skip the sessions, and network. Keep in touch with these people – treat each other like beloved members of a secret society. Cover your team-mates’ backs.

4. Wear a Uniform

Dress in the morning like you’re someone important, someone special. As you enter school, pretend you’re Wolfe, from Pulp Fiction:  arrive in a smart suit. You’re “here to solve problems.” All day long, you’re dealing with messes, and you keep cool. You have class. Poise. When you leave at the end of the day, you’re a champion. You’ve saved dozens from a burning building. Treat yourself to a new tie whenever you deserve it.

Which is always.

5. Go to “the stuff.” As much as you can.

Go to the talent show, the baseball game, the school play, and buy the fund-raising chocolates, while you’re at it. Support every event possible where the students are putting themselves “out there.

Yes, you will resent some of those evenings. But every time the students see you in the audience, they will remember you as someone who really cares. Because you do.

They will start to relate to you as a person. They will ask for help when they need it, and when you call in a favor, (like asking them to please be quiet), they very well might.

You will feel closer to them than you ever thought possible.

6. Do silly things with great passion.

Mr. Kupcho used to have a cushy teacher-stool you could sit on for 10 cents. The money went into a bucket, and was used to reupholster the stool each year.

I have a birthday bucket. When I hear it’s a student’s birthday, I invite him or her to my office for a celebration. He or she brings a friend, who picks a gift out of an old popcorn tin full of knick-knacks I’ve accumulated.

I think they love it. I definitely love it.

7. Get Knocked Down. Get Up Again.

Though Chumbawumba’s song is about drinking until you hit the pub-room floor, the same words apply to teaching. You take your lumps. It’s part of being a pro.

Good boxers stay up. Great boxers get knocked down and get up again, having learned a thing or two.

8. Give honor to the role-models who inspired you.

Here’s to you, Mr. Kupcho.