“We get carried on the current of our thoughts. What we don't realize is that's a choice; we choose that. And in a stressful life, a stressful job, you don't want your mind taking you somewhere that doesn't benefit you, that gives you more anxiety about things that may or may not happen.”
Hey there! Thanks for popping into My 5 Freedoms Life. I'm your host, Suzanne Klein, an educator-turned-entrepreneur with a 5 Freedoms Life and teaching you how to have one too!
About a year ago, I was at a marketing conference in Arizona—it was a mix of a Beyoncé concert and an Oprah inspirational interview. For our lunch break, the rock star speaker instructed all 2,000 of us to go to lunch with someone we hadn't met yet. I looked to the right; I looked to the left. I was looking for someone I hadn't seen yet. And my eyes locked with one person, and we gave each other that “Let's do this” nod.
What was so incredible...out of the 2,000 non-educators there, we were
probably the only two teachers! We were each other's lunch dates, and I am thrilled today to share his story with you—it was beautiful serendipity, the way we met. Turns out not only were we both teachers, but both educators-turned-entrepreneurs, working hard to serve teachers just like you.
An entrepreneur and online learning creator, his company, Not Waiting for Superman, is training teachers to create online courses as an escape from the classroom—to be their own hero and rescue themselves. He's going to talk about the people freedom he has after leaving the classroom, as well as meditation and entrepreneurship. James Anthony, a big, warm welcome to My 5 Freedoms Life! Thank you for being here.
Hi, Suzanne! It's great to talk to you again. That event was one of the highlights of my year so far and it did seem meant to be, meeting as two teachers in that environment was great. It was a great conference.
I love to teach, and I've loved meeting teachers in my life who have changed so many young people for the better. I feel really privileged to have been a teacher, and I've met many wonderful students and teachers in my time. The dedication of teachers across the world creates two things, and I've experienced them both.
The first is a simply wonderful working environment when schools are managed well; there is no better job than helping young people achieve in a well-managed school. I've had some great experiences in wonderful schools.
Sadly, the selfless attitude, the generosity, of teachers is taken advantage of by too many schools today in the UK, in the US, and around the world. Education has changed; expectations of us are now unrealistic and have created a broken job in many schools. My business, and I personally, want to help teachers find a better balance in their lives, for their families and for themselves, and I hope to explain the first step in doing that today. I'm looking forward to speaking to you.
Thank you for sharing that, and I'm so thrilled you’re here. And thank you for coming to this interview quite late at night for you. You live just outside London, right?
A couple of hours outside London. It's not too late. I'm fine. My daughter's asleep just through that door. I'll try and be quiet, so we should be okay.
Wonderful! I'd like to start us off a little bit differently and ask you about when you didn't have people freedom. Talk to us what you were doing and what that felt like.
I think anyone who's worked in the classroom the last few years will recognize that teaching and school have changed dramatically. Data and targets are a much bigger focus than ever before. Data runs the system like it never has; these targets and judgments are imposed on teachers and students, and this influences our confidence and self-worth. The school experience, what should be a creative and exciting time for students, is now reduced to a series of data checkpoints. Imagination, teamwork, creativity...all sidelined in preference of easily measured academic skills. And it's so sad that's the case. I've yet to meet
a single teacher who's happy in this situation.
I found that situation increasingly tense—between my reason for being there and what I was being made to do, the increasingly micromanaged
environment. Instead of exploration and excitement in the classroom, we and our students are afraid of failure instead, because the judgmental system we work in picks up mistakes and punishes us for them. Students are constantly compared to each other, to students in other classes, to students with completely different life experiences, and I think it has a drip-drip-drip effect on their belief in themselves.
I'm happy to say, not every school is like that—I've worked in a variety of
different schools in my 19 years as a teacher.
This matters, though: I believe the extra workload piled on teachers in this modern system is unrealistic; the expectations on staff are
damaging—potentially very damaging—to mental and physical health. I think this is a genuine threat, and teachers need to be proactive in managing their own jobs and lives in a way we didn't when I joined the profession.
I worked really hard in one school for 5 years, but was constantly told—through observations, and the fact most of my students couldn’t reach the frankly ridiculous targets they were given—that I was the problem in my classroom.
When I burned out in that job, I believed that. It was only after I left I realized how damaged I was, how broken. It had crept up on me without my notice.
And at no point did my administrator, my leader, my head teacher, or my principal turn around and say, “You're doing too much,” when my family and friends were telling me every day.
Teachers care. Don’t we? We want to go the extra mile for our students. When we're told we need to improve; we take it personally. And I think we need to protect ourselves in the modern education system; that's the reason my business exists.
One of my Facebook group recently pointed me to an article that likened the way we're managed in schools to an abusive relationship. I honestly had tears in my eyes while I read that and realized just how much of it was true for many teachers I talk to and interact with on my blog and email list and in my Facebook group—they're looking for a school that better matches who they are. And some have worked in so many different schools with similar experiences, they’re looking to leave teaching altogether and are wondering how to do it. Those are my passions, and that's where I'm coming from.
Thank you, James, for sharing that. There’s vulnerability in admitting teaching no longer works for you; I think because we are caring in nature there is a bit of guilt when we leave. Did you feel any guilt when you left?
Yeah, for sure. I think there's no way around it. When you leave a teaching job, you're leaving the students. I was happy to leave the managers, administrators, the pressure, the targets, the system I didn't believe in—but I was protecting my students from that system. And to look at the door...yeah, there's a huge amount of guilt in terms of leaving. I've kept in contact with a lot of my students because of that feeling; I still want to be their mentor in one way or another.
You say you’re “a technology salesperson turned high school teacher.” Can you share your thoughts on the trend of e-learning?
This is a real passion of mine, and I think it came about by accident when I realized my small Coding Club of 5 or 6 students was growing to 70 the following year. I had to work out a way to teach that many people, so I created some resources to help them teach themselves and each other, with high school tablets and challenges and applications of what they were learning. Little mini chunks of tutorials. And I think when I burned out in the job, that innovation took me to interview at an international university in Manchester—in the UK where I live—where they were interested in increasing the amount of e-learning they offered to students at degree level. Which is exciting!
I think in many ways we live in the perfect time to be an educator, because The Information Age is changing learning, what's available to learners. Learners today don't have the lack of access to information we had when we were younger. I had to get to a library, and look on microfiche, and all sorts of other weird and wonderful ways, to find information. Back when I was younger it wasn’t really who you knew; it was who you knew could help you.
Today’s learner has far more power. Learners across the world can make serious decisions for themselves, and the self-development industry is booming as a result. What's interesting to me, as an educator, is how much easier it is for me to publish what I know—and what I know will help people—online, without needing bank loans, a shop, or a publisher for people to be able to agree with what I'm saying. I think that direct impact, that direct interface, between me and the people I'm helping is something that reawakens my love of teaching.
I love to teach; I don't love what education has become. I don't want to work in a school anymore. These days I don’t think you have to. There's something wonderful about publishing something online and getting questions in your Facebook group or getting emails from your learners. Making sales while you teach in your classroom and do your normal everyday job. There's something wonderful about that, and I feel privileged to have stumbled upon it, because of my own level of curiosity and my desire to help my students.
You definitely have many superpowers! I know two of your many secret
weapons are your technology ability and your knowledge of e-learning. But you also have another superpower, and it involved a $17, or was it pounds, e-course that you took. Can you tell our viewers how that shaped your future?
It was dollars. An American course. Yeah. After leaving that job, I felt guilty, I was down on myself. I wasn't in any mental position to confidently look for the work I wanted. I didn't know what I was going to do. I was really lost...and I think I look back on this moment as the moment that life changes. $17—it was on thinking skills. It was recommended to me by a Canadian I was talking to on Facebook. I've never met this guy, Nathan, and it was the best piece of investment I've ever done, the best thing that I've ever done for myself.
The fog lifted for me after 11⁄2 hours of work and research. You just read the...kind of fundamentals, and then you meditate to train your mind so that your everyday life becomes easier. And look, meditation is not what people think it is; it isn't something you do in funny positions where you’ve got to tangle your legs up. It doesn't need to be spiritual. I believe the most important parts of our lives are created by the thing between our ears, the brain we've got, and we don't get taught to use it.
This was certainly the case for me. I was constantly fearing the future. I was constantly reminiscing on past failures, or past problems, or past conversations. I would come away from conversations thinking, “I should have said that; I should have said this.” This complicated my life more than I ever realized, more than it should have done. And it had such a huge effect when I was able to choose my thoughts and use some very simple training to help my brain question the thoughts I had in my head before I acted on them.
I think too many people... I'm certainly guilty of it for most of my first 40 years of life. We get carried on the current of our thoughts. What we don't realize is that's a choice; we choose that. And in a stressful life, a stressful job, you don't want to be a victim of your own mind taking you somewhere that doesn't benefit you, that gives you more anxiety about things that may or may not happen.
Meditation is an exercise of the mind that teaches you to teach. It teaches you to think in a different way. And this has an impact on your professional and personal life. It has impacts on your ability to be able to love yourself, to be able to want the best for yourself. And for me, it enabled me to confidently step outside of teaching, knowing I had the skills to make something else happen.
Most importantly at that time, I was about to become a father. I've got pictures of my little girl all over this office, all over the place here. My most important job is being her dad, and I would not be the dad she deserves without understanding some very simple techniques that meditation helps you implement in your life. It's just... It's the one moment which changed me. And yes, seventeen dollars—what an absolute, utter bargain.
Oh, I love that. That's so beautiful. Thank you, James, for sharing that. I'm also a meditator, so I get that and how important it is. It's a life-force in our lives and helps get rid of—or at least stop for the moment—those tapes going on in our heads that are just not productive.
We have time for two more questions. And I want to remind our participants that James will be talking about his free gift at the end of this interview.
So, let's talk about transferable skills. We don't often think about our transferable skills. You wrote a whole blog on this I thought was very helpful. Do teachers have transferable skills?
An absolute massive YES. I think teachers have skills to a level of mastery most people wouldn't even get close to. And the only way people will ever understand is to try to do our jobs—and we know they wouldn't be able to manage it.
Look at the fundamental skills of a teacher. Let's just think about how
transferable these skills are and how many different professions might need them. We work hard—I don't say that lightly. Anyone who's taught in the classroom for any period knows just how hard we work.
We must learn new things quickly. We communicate incredibly effectively to a huge range of students and staff. We have an empathy...we must understand our entire audience—our students. To be able to do that... Few people I worked with in sales had any idea the level of communication you can get to if you really understand who you're talking to. The number of leaders who just don't do it...the number of educators outside the classroom who can't
We organize ourselves incredibly well. We have to; we work to deadlines every day. We work tough jobs. We are resilient and determined—and I don't say that lightly, either.
And I think, more than anything else, we react to change very well. In a lot of professions—certainly in the professional work I've done—people get very stuck in their ways. If they have to use a different coffee cup, the whole day is ruined.
I'm exaggerating only slightly here. Teachers have change forced upon us in all sorts of different ways. I've hardly ever gone through two years in teaching and taught the same thing the same way. It just doesn't happen; the students change, the time of day means the students will be different, and we need to adapt. We need to be flexible. We need to have empathy, people skills.
We lead every day—and I know so many teachers who don't feel that they're leaders. Honestly, classrooms are some of the most difficult environments to lead in. And that's coming from experience in leadership positions outside of education, where I found things so much simpler. Leading adults who are paid to be there, if you're going to lead a team: initiative, creative problem solving... I think it’s the ultimate irony that as teachers we spend most of our days helping
our students realize the transferability of the skills we taught them, how to transfer those skills to different areas of our subject and different areas of their lives. But at the same time, we as teachers don't recognize the transferability of our own skills. I think before you even get to the subject-specific skills we might develop and the “specialisms” we have, there's an awful lot of transferable skills there.
The challenge here is not what skills we have; the challenge is helping employers recognize just how good we are what we do. And that starts with writing a skills-based resume that doesn't mention you're a teacher until people are interested.
I appreciate what you're saying, because sometimes we do play small and we don't let our light shine. It’s when we let our light shine and work in our purpose and our passion that we have the freedoms we’re all longing for.
All right, last question. This is the question I ask all my guests. When you talk to that teacher who says, “Hey, I no longer want to teach. How do I do this? I feel stuck. I feel like I'm getting stressed. I feel like I'm getting depressed, and anxious and all that.” What do you tell them? What advice do you have for that teacher?
I've got some great news for that teacher, because the biggest thing you can do for yourself is totally in your control. It's a leap of faith, though, because until you see the other side—until you are able to recognize how you make things difficult for yourself, and learn to be kind to yourself, to love yourself in that process—you don't realize how much of a problem you're causing yourself.
This is certainly the case for me. I did an awful lot of reminiscing and
past-focused thinking that just isn't necessary. It’s nice to be able to have
decent memories about the past, and I'm not saying that isn't helpful, but to be able to choose your thoughts is hugely powerful.
The biggest thing for me is: We aren't our thoughts. I think that's the profound thing that I discovered and that has helped me feel better about myself. I stopped relating what I thought to who I was. Our minds create connections, and fire off in all sorts of directions, and some of the things we think are plain stupid or unnecessary.
Being able to train your mind, to choose your thoughts, is incredibly powerful, and it's the one thing I would advise people to do if they want to make more of their time in school and be a more effective teacher, to make better decisions, to be able to deal with stress better.
If you're in the classroom and want to stay there, please investigate this with the resources I'm providing, or the resources you might be able to find online, because it's not spiritual. It doesn't need to be New Age. It's not weird thinking; it's training for your brain. It’s the one piece I was missing, in terms of understanding how to live a healthy life, and it is probably the most important piece for me.
Amazing, James. It’s so incredible; you’re really impacting humanity through the work you're doing. And I love that you're speaking about meditation and mindfulness and staying in the present, because it is needed more than ever before with our educators. It’s just getting to be a tougher and tougher job. I want to thank you; it's been an absolute joy. Before we go, can you please tell our participants about your freebie gifts?
I've prepared some resources and training to help teachers take the first step into thinking differently, into lifting that fog and being able to start to live a much simpler and easier life. How using meditation and understanding the fundamentals of how we think can have an impact on our everyday life and our feeling of self-worth. You can find that at 5daystochangeyourmind.com.
Ever since I started doing this work, it seriously chokes me up that I can share something which has had such a massive impact on my own life. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do this.
Oh, you are so welcome. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It's been inspiring, and I know it’s what our participants needed to hear. I'm Suzanne Klein. Remember, you can rewrite your future. Until next time. Stay savvy, my friends.
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