I recently finished reading the book The Mindful Teacher written by Elizabeth MacDonald and Dennis Shirley. My initial reaction was disappointment. There was little in the book that I identified with mindfulness, as I have grown to understand it, but, as I reflected on the book’s messages, I grew to realize it was my preconceived expectations that led to the disappointment rather than the message of the authors. My view of mindfulness is still quite immature or naïve. What the authors offered was not a recipe, but recognition that a strategy of mindfulness might offset the alienation that the conditions teachers work under may lead them to feel. The thesis of the book might have been stated as the alienated teacher, a phrase modified from the Marxist notion of the alienated worker, which “is a kind of teaching that teachers perform when they feel that they must comply with external conditions and from which they inwardly dissent” (p. 2).
To offset the disconnect from one’s heart and calling, the authors encourage teachers to cultivate mindfulness and “be informed by contemplative practices and teacher inquiry that enables teachers to interrupt their harried lifestyles, come to themselves through participation in a collegial community of inquiry and practice, and attend to aspects of their classroom instruction and pupils’ learning that ordinarily are overlooked in the press of events” (p. 4).
The authors suggested an approach based on mindfulness be brought into the classroom. I need to be present to myself to be present for those I serve. In my case, the collegial community of inquiry includes the parents of children served.
The Mindful Teacher reminded me that while I have many miles to go before I rest; the journey can be energizing and invigorating. Engaging each moment, being present each moment is essential to mindfulness. I determine whether I feel alienated or oppressed by things I do not control. Maintaining the fire means adding necessary fuel. Mindfulness has the potential to be metaphoric kindling for teacher practice that connects elements closest to our hearts so words spoken are filled with wisdom and matched by acts of compassion.