Wellness in the Worldplace

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 bad.

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.

Why Wellness - A Supplement

As much as anyone would claim to deny it, humans are comprised of: mind, body, and spirit.  People that are doing well are doing well in these areas.  The body is obvious; the mind perhaps less so, but becomes much more obvious when you see an elderly person with dementia, or a younger person that has 'lost' their mind from drugs; spirit may be the part some ignore, but we enter the spirit anytime we recognize the fact that something bigger than us is going on.  This could be when you hold a child, hours old, laugh really deeply and unexpectedly, or experience a gratitude that you're unable to express.  It could simply be the feeling of being overcome with joy, that you get to be here and do this.    

Many people miss the mark on heath and wellness (me included, far too often) because we do not acknowledge each of these three components.  Instead, we'll recognize two of three, focusing on spirit and body, mind and body, or spirit and mind, and we'll feel off.  (I think of an extremely overweight pastor, huffing and puffing his way to the stage to tell us to worship 'the God' in whose image we're made; it's like, 'dude, you can't even take care of yourself').  We'll think to ourselves that we're 'healthy' because we're active in our mind, healthy in our body, without realizing that 2 of 3 is only 66%, and that's a solid D. 

If we want to be healthy, we must focus on all three.  It is not my right to tell every individual to work out, read (or listen to) things that expand your mind, or do things that fill your spirit; for general people and the general public, that is your choice.  But our teachers and administrators - our leaders in general - must do this.  When those in-charge neglect their own health and wellness, everyone around them suffers.  If a plant needs light, water, and pruning but you give it only 2 of those 3 things, you've neglected the plant and it will die. 

What follows are personal examples of each of the three components, and the effect my own wellness had upon my classes.


For five of the years I taught in Chicago, I played basketball two mornings a week with my coworkers.  It was the best.  Morning ball was some of the highlights of my career.  We played Wednesday and Friday mornings, and I can honestly say that Wednesdays and Fridays were rarely 'bad'.  This was not for the obvious - last day of the week - reason, either.  It was because we started the day treating our bodies well.  Playing a sport where you run, jump, sprint, and are physical is a great thing.  I'd often do 50 pushups, and 55 sit-ups after each game as well.  When I walked into class, my body naturally relaxing into the daily rhythm, I felt good.  My body felt great, my mind was focused, and I had an ease in all interactions with students.  If one did something that was slightly annoying, I could take it in stride and deal with it well and fairly.  

This was not the case on the days I didn't ball.  It was also not the case for people that rushed to school, just beat the bell, and were anxious.  One year, I taught three straight periods, and I felt great and energized for all three on the days I played basketball in the am.  


I earned my Masters in 2010, and for two years before this, I went to class every Wednesday from 4:45-8:45 p.m.  Shortly into this, I developed a routine.  It took me about an hour to drive to my school from my job (also a school).  The routine was that I'd get coffee from Dunkin' Donuts (sometimes two glazed donuts), and I'd listen to a sermon.  I go to church (loosely), but never found one I liked in Chicago.  While drinking coffee and driving to class, I'd listen to the sermon from Mars Hill Bible Church, and it usually took the whole drive.  Some of the best spiritual experiences of my life came through listening to sermons in that Honda Civic.  I was on my way to better myself (getting a masters).  While in the process of bettering myself, I was listening to something to better myself (feeding the spirit).  The process was great.  I felt open and alive, part of something bigger.  From that place, I'd enter class.  After class, I'd usually get take out from Sutlan's Market, watch a show, have a couple beers, and go to bed.  The next day, Thursday, was often my best 'teaching day' of the week.  I'd come to class from a place where I'd learned something new.  I'd also see my students as a part of something bigger; that it was my job to help them find out who they are and were, which was a reflection of The Divine.  Seeing their Divine Spark, and thinking of them in terms of whole people figuring out the world certainly had an impact on how I would approach the subject, the class, and the person.  

This was in direct correlation to feeding my own spirit.  


In 2007, I walked into school at 7:40 am.  The office where we punched in was about fifteen feet away; on my way from the door to the office, I was stopped three diffferent times and asked questions.  I answered each of them, punched it, went to my locker and then rushed to class.  

During class, I was asked another 100 or so questions, in charge of 30 or so students, and repeated the process 5 more times that day.  

When the bell rang at 2:46, I was exhausted.  I finished up what I had to do, and then headed home.  Once on the couch, around 4:00pm, my head finally cleared.  My body was physically exhausted, my mind hazy; I hadn't had a moment to myself the entire day, hadn't had a chance to breathe, think, or feel.  And then I realized: every day was like this.  

Every single day, I'd walk in to this type of chaos.  I was 'on' the entire day with no break, no time, and no space.  It exhausted me.  I felt physically and mentally drained, and knew I needed to do something about it.  

The next day, I decided to wake up a little early - 30 minutes earlier than normal.  Instead or rushing from my apartment to school, I changed up my routine.  I had a cup of coffee and read a book.  I set a timer on the stove for when I had to leave, and until it went off, I didn't move.  

It was great. 

I was able to enjoy a book, a cup of coffee, and when the timer went off, I could head to school with a clear head and sound mind.  I didn't have to rush through traffic, because I wasn't running late, which meant it wasn't too big of a deal if someone cut me off, or did something annoying.  

When I parked and entered school, I was stopped for a question, but cut the person off.  "Good morning," I said.  "Good morning," they responded.  "How are you?" I asked.  "Can I get an extra day to turn in this paper Mr. Bratt?" "How are you?" I asked again.  "Fine, but can I turn it in later?" "That sounds like a great question to ask during class," I said.  "Have a good morning."

I punched in, went to my locker, and arrived at class in a calm state.  It worked.  I was in my own head and body, rather than trying to catch up with life around me.  

When all three components were working, I was definitely a better teacher.  If you were to take me on the days I was taking care of my own health and wellness, it was not even close, not even comparable to the days I didn't.  This is true of everyone.  When you start from a good place, you will be a better leader.  If and when we teachers, administrators, and leaders are taking care of our bodies, minds, and sprits, protecting them, watching out for them, and treating them with respect, this extends to our students, our coworkers, and betters the entire school, company, and country.