This article was originally published by CJ Reynolds in Language Magazine on October 19, 2020. CJ Reynolds teaches high school literature and The History of Hip-Hop in West Philadelphia. He is the author Teach Your Class Off: The Real Rap Guide to Teaching. CJ is also the creator of the YouTube channel Real Rap with Reynolds.
To hear more from CJ Reynolds, check out his interview on Teachers in America.
With only a month of virtual teaching under my belt, this year is already the wildest year I’ve ever taught. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to overcome challenges at the beginning of a school year, but it is the first time I’ve burned the candle at both ends without even a solid grip on the candle. Like so many others, I’ve worked 10-hour days that have left me falling asleep on the couch at 7 p.m., yet I feel like I barely know what I’m doing. I hope I’ll eventually figure out how to teach in this new way while still giving my students the same level of care, but I know I can’t unless I figure out how to keep my own mind right.
In that vein, I’ve changed my mindset from defense to offense by starting every day from a position of strength and focus. I used to wake up with just enough time to shower, get dressed, and toss back a cup of coffee, but now I’ve realized that when I don’t start the morning on the right foot, it’s nearly impossible to walk through the rest of the day without missteps.
My first decision was simply to get up earlier and go through the exact same series of events every day. Keeping my morning consistent means I don’t have to think about anything; instead, it becomes second nature. My second decision was to fill this extra time with activities that energize me. Here are a few practices that get me ready and roaring in the morning:
- I NEVER check my phone or computer first thing. The notifications and emails will still be there an hour later, when my mind and soul are more prepared to deal with them.
- If I let my brain wander when I wake up, my first thoughts are inevitably about exhausting or discouraging things. Instead, while I prepare for my day I consume books, music, and podcasts that lift me up.
- My favorite part of every morning is talking with my wife over coffee – our “morning meeting” – when we talk about our dreams and paths that will carry us ever closer to achieving them. It inspires me and reminds me of the real reasons I do all the things I do.
Look, I’m no professional at this stuff. I just know that this routine makes me feel great, and when I feel great I’m better equipped to focus on being the best teacher I can be. It helps me use the small chunks of time I get here and there to hone my skills with the help of great tools like HMH’s Teacher’s Corner. The online space offers a variety of bite-sized content that fits into my jam-packed schedule from short podcasts, to a virtual breakroom with other teachers, to quick tips on teaching to remote learners. Tools like Teacher’s Corner (and even my foolproof morning routine!) reinforce the idea that we don’t have to be superheroes, but that we can work with the circumstances we’ve got to overcome difficult times.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.
CJ Reynolds uses his passion for creating engaging content as a Teacher Ambassador, working with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to develop original bite-sized professional learning resources in Teacher’s Corner. To join the HMH Teacher’s Corner community on Facebook, go here.
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