On a cold, dark November morning, my teacher training classmates and I rolled out of bed before dawn and hiked up to the main house of our retreat center out in the countryside of Virginia. We had a mala practice scheduled for the day. However, the group's physical and mental exhaustion led Padma substitute our 108 sun salutations with a different type of mala practice.
We sat in a circle, lit only by a few flickering candles, with a needle, a length of cord, and a number of small slips of paper in our place. We sat in the dark and passed around little glass spheres--our "guru" beads which formed the beginning of the malas we created. The beads were all a little different--slightly bigger or smaller, smoother or more coarse, and different colors. They represented the teachers we would become--sharing common traits as teachers while each expressing a different style. Once we felt we had settled on our guru beads, we threaded them onto the cord.
Over the course of the next hour or so, we sat in the dim room. We took turns going around the circle and sharing the words written on the slips of paper in front of us. There were 108 words total, words representing the qualities of a good teacher. Creative... Caring... Inspiring... Dedicated... One person would read a word, and then we would each reach into the center of the circle and pick up another bead--these ones were wooden. They came in different sizes, shapes, and (although we couldn't see it at the time) colors. They represented our students. As a teacher, you don't know what your students will look like--you teach those who come to you.
108 words later, we tied off our cords and completed our malas.
Yesterday, as I was getting dressed I saw my mala beads on my dresser and I put them on solely because they were a good accessory to my outfit. As the day went on, though, I remembered how and why I created them.
This has been a really hard week for me, professionally speaking. Every day this week, I have had someone tell me they were angry at me, that their student hated me, that their student thought I hated them, that I'm doing X well, but I still need to work on Y. Every day this week, I have had someone implicitly or explicitly tell me that they think I'm a bad teacher. It's been exhausting. I feel like a failure, I feel frustrated, I feel like I can never win. I can't live a balanced life AND be as professionally successful as when I was working until 10 or 11pm every night and never saw my husband or did anything outside of my classroom. And yet, when I was spending that much time at school, I was a miserable person--miserable to be around, unhealthy, unbalanced.
So this morning, I put my beads back on as a reminder of why I do this. A reminder of what I can be, not in the yoga world, but in the public school world. A reminder that I need persistence and determination and discipline in addition to kindness and compassion and creativity. A reminder that "perfect" was NOT a word that anyone thought about when describing a good teacher. A reminder that, somewhere along the way, I thought I was a good teacher.
Today, I'm wearing my mala beads in hopes that they help me remember why I thought I was a good teacher... and maybe as a reminder of the things I need to do to feel that way again one day.
Hopefully sooner than later.