I love a classic: Jackie O. and her sunglasses, ordering anything cherry-flavored, and of course a classic novel like The Great Gatsby. On this Friday, one of the first of the school year, my thoughts move away from the works of classic fiction to a classic work of nonfiction: Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. This book was the first book my teaching partner and I had yearlong interns read before starting their student teaching this fall at our high school. Our hope is that the timeless and universal wisdom present in Ruiz’s guide would set them up for success in the classroom with their mentor and their students.
But as inservice progressed and new administrative changes appeared and I endure meeting after meeting with outraged colleagues, I felt the urge to reach into my backpack and hand troubled teachers The Four Agreements. I kept repeating the agreements when our attendance system proves less than ideal (“Something else I have to learn all over again”) or when hear a dedicated teacher lamenting the new late work policy (“This is going to push me over the edge. Is there no accountability anymore for students?”).
So as I begin my work with students this 2016-2017 school year and also am transitioning my own family back to school, I have made a promise to remember and implement the universal ideas of Ruiz’s even more. Here they are:
- Be Impeccable with your word
- Don’t Make Assumptions
- Don’t Take Things Personally
- Always Do Your Best
If new and experienced teachers (really all people) could speaking honestly and clearly without the intent to hurt, avoid assumptions, focus on students or other people and not themselves, and whether sick or tired always do their personal best, I think the school year would be off to a great start.
I would like to add one more agreement to the list. So here’s my plus one: listen more and talk less. I am an extravert and a verbal processor and keeping my mouth shut this is really hard; however, I find I can be more informed, understand more, empathize more deeply, and do better if I just resist the urge to speak.
As I read the four timeless ideas above I see a guide to support a teacher’s professionalism and a way to get through the often challenging and sticky moments presented to a teach every day. I hope all teachers can find a little gem of wisdom and hope from this little gem of a book. Happy 2016-2017 teacher-friends!
Veronica Iacobazzo is a an 11th-grade English teacher in State College and is the Co-director of Penn State’s Professional Development School where she supervises yearlong English interns. She loves the serious and frivolous in all things related to books, television, fashion and pop culture. Follow her on her fledgling Twitter account @viacobazzo.