If you scan the room of a teaching conference of urban teachers, we look terrible. We look way older than we are, we're out of shape, poorly dressed, and look unhappy. Many people look like they need 5-8 drinks to feel normal.
It's not a secret, either. If you talk to teachers in urban schools, the aging process is something that comes up fairly commonly. Two major exceptions were a man that looked like Clint Eastwood, and a woman in her upper 50's that worked out twice a day. The man and I were friends. He was thin and handsome at 60. At his retirement party, I told him, "I want to look like you when I retire." He thanked me and confessed that when he was about my age, he looked around and noticed that all the older men were fat and out of shape. He swore he wouldn't be like them, and wasn't. It was cool to see. Inspiring.
Those two are not the norm. Way too many urban teachers look terrible when they retire*. A reason for this is that they neglect their bodies 9-months a year, for their entire career. They show up to school, get stressed out, and go home feeling awful. They eat shitty food, quickly, and do not work out. They stress about money, job security, transient work environments, and then go to bed and do it again the next day.
Why is this a problem? There are many reasons. The biggest is that they bring this stress and negative energy to school. They take it out on their students, and turn children off to the joys of learning and curiosity. Another is that people that fit (maybe unfit) this category do not inspire the youth. Jaded, haggardly teachers give off the immediate impression that: this doesn't work. Without saying a word, they're showing kids that the route of academics doesn't lead to a thriving life. Juxtapose this with an athlete that's had a great career and seems to continue a great life, or a movie star that's attractive and still acting in their old age, or a musician still doing their thing when they're old. By presenting simply who they are, and how they've lived, teachers that fit the description above are turning children off to their subject year after year. This is a problem, but I'm more into solutions. (Also, if this sounds judgmental or you wonder the point, I'm not here to debate this. Walk into an urban school on a teacher development day and look at the staff. If you find a fit, urban staff, please let me know where.)
The solution: wellness needs to be a major priority. This is obviously true for the students, but for the staff as well. I think a trainer should be added to every school, and that teachers should have to work out for a period a day as a part of their job. Naysayers will say this impractical and talk about love of their bodies, but I'd leave it to the trainer as to what to each teacher has to do. I also think sticking to the personal plan should be a part of that individual's evaluation. It could be yoga, meditation, resistance training, cardio. And it can change based upon the shape and fitness level of the teacher's starting point. Have it all there, and make it a part of the day. If we did this and made it a priority, we'd see better results in the classroom.
Teachers are people with a big responsibility. They mold the youth, and show a daily example of what it means to be a professional. In a lot of urban (and rural) settings, teachers are the only 'professionals' a student sees in a given day. They should not be allowed to have that responsibility if they cannot take care of their own body.
Too often, in the places that need whole, competent, talented people the most, what students end up with is the shell of a body. To fix this, we should make health and wellness mandatory for teachers.
*African Americans seem to avoid this, by and large. But this is a different subject for an upcoming series. I think a reason is they see their work and the 'urban' environment as a 'school', not 'an urban setting' and think their impacting children not bad kids. Anyway.