The goal of mindful and constructivist teaching, like parenting and raising respectful kids, is to foster empathy, work ethic and frustration tolerance to succeed in life. It requires having high expectations, clearly delineated limits and boundaries, and consistent consequences for poor decision-making. Sometimes, it even takes some tough love, so they see the results of their faulty choices. It’s a testament to our resilience and fortitude as people that we can be self-aware enough to examine and figure out what in our life works and doesn’t work, and then to be brave enough to change directions and fix it. Go in a new direction. Forge a different path. Seek meaning and inspiration, follow our passion.
As a part of my interview series about “5 Things You Need to Know to Be A Highly Effective Educator,” I had the pleasure to interview Marci Brockmann.
Marci Brockmann, M.A, M.S.,is an author, artist, podcaster, and English teacher. The seeds of many of Marci’s passions have been sowed in her classroom as she has taught and been touched by more than 4000 students over 26 years as a public-school educator and Adjunct College Professor. For Marci Brockmann, teaching is about fostering a skill set of communication, writing, analytical reading, sharing stories and truths, and fostering emotional intelligence, and even after all these years, teaching continues to be a deeply rewarding career that provides her with meaningful challenges, joyous mindfulness, and abundant compassion.
Growing out of her passion to share with others the knowledge she has gleaned through personal experience, Marci Brockmann developed a mission to help people find inspiration to heal from trauma, learn to trust the whispers of their hearts, to live fully in their authenticity, and find the love and meaning they desire. Marci’s commitment to supporting others through their healing journeys is the basis for her books — Permission to Land: Searching for Love, Home & Belonging and Permission to Land: Personal Transformation Through Writing, her Facebook group Permission to Heal Safe to Fly through which about 550 inspiring and compassionate members from all over the world encourage and motivate each other to become the best versions of themselves, and her podcast Permission to Heal which provides inspiration, human connections, whole-hearted vulnerability, kindness, and empathy and learn to give ourselves permission to follow our hearts and desires, and build lives of love, home, and belonging. Her writing has appeared in Elephant Journal, Fairy God Boss, and Medium.
Marci says, “We all grow in wellness as we share our stories with others. Sharing meaningful stories, and inspiring others is where empathy begins.” Find out more about her at www.MarciBrockmann.com.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career path?
As a young girl, I had many aspirations — princess, figure skater, singer, artist, world diplomat — but I didn’t picture myself as a teacher. I majored in English literature in college but envisioned myself in some sort of creative career which led me through public relations, book publishing, computer graphic design in advertising, portrait and wedding photographer, men’s fashion, and non-profit fundraising. I spent the first half of my twenties moving from job to job trying to find one that met my needs for creativity, challenge and meaning, and would allow me to support myself.
After a heartfelt conversation with my favorite aunt who stated that my family had always known I was born to be a teacher (nice of them to finally clue me in), I did some deep soul-searching. I had many varied dreams of what my future career would look like, but the only thing I was sure about was my need to be creative, to help people, to inspire them to be their best selves, and to make a positive, beneficial impact on the world. Teaching, I came to see, made sense as it combines all of these together.
I enrolled in graduate school at Long Island University/ CW Post Campus in 1994 and completed my first master’s degree dual majoring in English Literature and Secondary English education. While I was doing my student teaching internship, I interviewed for and landed a job writing curriculum and teaching a new seventh grade English class in a local Long Island district, which began in September 1995.
My track record for job longevity prior to becoming a teacher was pretty abysmal because I found myself bored, unchallenged, or missing some bit of nuanced meaning or joy that I couldn’t live without. Until I fully immersed myself in teaching, I was skeptical that this would be any different. Although the curriculum for the courses I teach doesn’t change dramatically from year to year, my experience with it does because the energy and dynamics with each new class and its infectious curiosity changes. So, I’m never bored and always excited. Although I might read Shakespeare’s Othello, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, or Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake with students year after year, the literature bends, folds, and reveals itself differently and magically each time. We each bring our heart, soul, and life experience to each literary work each time we read it and so our experience with it changes as it changes and excites us.
Over the years with this district, I’ve taught every grade 7–12 and spent some time advising clubs and co-directing the middle school musicals. I’ve learned so much about myself and the world, made lifelong friends, and have grown in ways I could have never predicted.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your teaching career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Like every educator, I’ve had a very wide variety of experiences with students over the years — students cursing me out, coming out to me, confessing their deepest problems, asking for help and advice, taking me into their confidences with news of suicidal thoughts, abuse at home, pregnancies, dating turmoil, and broken hearts. The most interesting phenomenon that transpired over the years is one that I could have never predicted.
For a couple of dozen students, I have become a rare combination of teacher, parent, friend, and therapist — the School Mom. As a School Mom, I hold a special relationship with a student that has made me privy to their raw, human hearts and allowed me to love, nurture and advise them as they navigate their drama and trauma. Through my openness, genuineness, humanity, and storytelling in the classroom, many kids come to trust my heart and feel that I am a safe ally. These kids, who need a trusted adult to turn to, tell me their stories, share with me their hearts and fears, unload their pain and confusion, and confide in me with their fears and dreams. It is an honor and privilege to serve (and love and grow with) these kids in this way.
I’ve learned the value of holding space for another as they cry, grieve, and scream, as they figure out what it means to be themselves and to live, love, and survive in their families. I’ve learned my role in helping them figure out how to live into their authenticity growing into themselves, how to help them evolve their perceptions of their family relationships and build healthy boundaries for themselves as they navigate very adult situations. Most of these kids become my life-long friends and we keep in touch semi-regularly or almost daily through social media, texting and email, and in non-pandemic times, with coffee and brunch dates. I see them through college, jobs, military service, marriages, children, divorce, and sometimes death. They give me friendship, advice, their expertise with hair styling, and the honor of being a part of their lives. I cherish the tender and meaningful ways they have become part of mine.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
After my mother’s death in 2013, I set upon a journey to heal myself from the turbulent relationship we shared and find some closure. I continued my decades long journal practice and talk therapy but started to harness my bravery and take deeper dives into my past uncovering a great deal of painful and traumatic events. The meditative power of creating art became a way for me to process all of this and gain the closure and healing I needed, and it became a business through which I share my art with others.
I have been writing expressively in personal journals for more than 38 years, which is a practice I began as a teen as a way to vent all my frustrations and process all my hard-to-understand and manage feelings about growing up in a dysfunctional family hampered by mental illness and addiction. Keeping a journal saved my life and became the basis of my two books. My memoir, Permission to Land: Searching for Love, Home & Belonging chronicles my turbulent relationship with my mother and how I learned to trust myself and build a healthy life of love and connection for myself and my children. Simultaneously, I published a companion journal workbook called Permission to Land: Personal Transformation Through Writing, which provides over 100 pages of writing prompts as a guide to a long look back that is akin to my own analytical life journey I wrote about in my memoir. Both books are changing lives and helping others to heal their hearts. It is being sold by the world’s largest retailers and has helped people along their healing journeys on four continents.
Looking for ways to increase the number of lives I can touch and expand my community, I began a Facebook community called Permission to Heal — Safe to Fly which includes over 500 people from all across the world who share their stories and support one another on their healing journeys.
Recording the audiobook of Permission to Land myself, helped crystalize the idea of creating a podcast to be of benefit to an even larger number of people by sharing inspiring conversations and stories of healing. Permission to Heal, a podcast with Marci Brockmann was born in late November 2020. The Permission to Heal podcast, engages in meaningful, deeply human conversations using our voices to inspire connection, compassion, understanding, empathy, and whole-hearted wellness. We all need to learn to give ourselves the grace and space to heal from trauma, to breathe through the tough stuff, and create meaningful lives and love. Only we can give ourselves permission to trust and take care of ourselves, permission to follow our hearts and desires, and build lives of love, home, and belonging.
I’m committed to sharing candid, raw, and vulnerable conversations with select coaches, entrepreneurs, thought leaders, authors activists, writers, and educators. Each guest, story, and episode provides inspiration, human connections, whole-hearted vulnerability, kindness, and empathy as we learn to give ourselves permission to trust and take care of ourselves, permission to follow our hearts and desires, and build lives of love, home, and belonging. And the most important lesson — that we all grow in wellness as we share our stories with others.
Permission to Heal is about sharing inspiring stories and giving ourselves permission to heal, permission to love ourselves, and build amazing lives. Creating this podcast is one of the singularly most joyous experiences of my life. New episodes drop every Wednesday on all major podcast listening platforms.
In order to increase my impact and benefit to others as well as my philanthropic contribution, I began a Patreon in February 2021 as a way of providing more beautiful, inspiring content for my subscribers, while supporting the sobriety efforts of those suffering from substance addiction. I am committed to donating 25% of the profits from my Patreon page to The Caron Institute Recovery Center which helps individuals, and their families, heal from addiction. This wonderful place saved my cousin’s life and could have saved my mother’s if she had been open to it. I want my Patreon community to help more people on the recovery journey to heal themselves. To join me in this very valuable endeavor, subscribe at Patreon.com/PermissionToHeal.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?
This is a bit out of my wheelhouse, but I’ll give it a go.
I think the results of the US education system are infinitely varied and dependent upon economics, geography, race, gender, and testing. I read recently that over half of this year’s kindergarten students will eventually work in careers that haven’t been invented yet. Another interesting point is that according to the US Department of Education, three quarters of today’s fastest growing occupations required a college degree, and the US has one of the highest high school drop-out rates.
After several decades of No Child Left Behind, A Race to the Top, and the Common Core Standards, and an extremely heavy reliance on standardized testing from K-12, it is very clear we are not meeting the needs of all of our children nationwide, and therefore are not adequately preparing for our future as a nation as we continue through the 21st century. We have gone around in circles over the decades, reinventing and repeating philosophies, and we still have a long way to go in building a public education system that fulfills all or most of our expectations.
Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?
My perspective is limited to what I see and read about.
1. We have all worked very hard to transition education, educational access and opportunities from an in-person 3D model in classrooms across the country to many varieties of virtual, online, hybrid 2D models in classrooms and private homes across the country in order to minimize the negative impact the coronavirus pandemic is having on our students. Teachers from Maine to California, from Washington to Florida have worked countless hours learning new hardware, software, apps, and methodologies to continue to provide the academic and emotional support our students need and deserve. Is it perfect? No. But teachers across the country have done their level best to take care of their students’ academic needs at every grade level while also attending to their social, emotional, and physical health and safety.
2. There continues to be an economic disparity in educational opportunities and access across the country, but I think that that is improving little by little. We still have a long way to go, but baby steps are still steps.
3. We are working to promote learning, literacy, and STEM training inclusively in grades K-12.
4. We are working to promote healthy, nurturing relationships between students and teachers that enrich everyone’s lives and support the educational process.
5. We are striving to offer a wide variety of programs in the arts and extra-curricular activities to allow students abundant opportunities to explore new talents and experiences.
Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?
This is also a bit out of my wheelhouse, but this is how I see it.
1. We need to get better at offering the same rich educational opportunities to all students regardless of socio-economic differences. Public school rigor, standards, access to technology and extra-curricular experiences should be universally accessible throughout the country for all students.
2. We need to equalize funding for districts nationwide. (This would help with number 1.)
3. We need to pay teachers as the highly effective, highly educated, professional experts they are, which will draw more talented educators to the field.
4. We need to end our over-reliance and unhealthy emphasis on standardized testing because it is taking the joy of curiosity out of learning and creating an entire generation of students with school anxiety.
5. We need to reintroduce classes that teach skills in life management such as cooking, shop (basic tool use), home economics, etc… Our kids, these days, are missing out on basic life skills that I received in school in the 1970s-80s. We need that back.
Super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share your “5 Things You Need to Know to Be A Highly Effective Educator?” Please share a story or example for each.
Teaching is about academics and skills, but it’s also about respect, mindfulness, resilience, work ethic, socialization, self-identification, confidence, self-compassion, communication, and empathy.
1. The goal of mindful and constructivist teaching, like parenting and raising respectful kids, is to foster empathy, work ethic and frustration tolerance to succeed in life. It requires having high expectations, clearly delineated limits and boundaries, and consistent consequences for poor decision-making. Sometimes, it even takes some tough love, so they see the results of their faulty choices. It’s a testament to our resilience and fortitude as people that we can be self-aware enough to examine and figure out what in our life works and doesn’t work, and then to be brave enough to change directions and fix it. Go in a new direction. Forge a different path. Seek meaning and inspiration, follow our passion.
About ten years ago, I had a student in my senior college English class who was the third sibling I had from the same family. This young man was bright and charismatic, like his older sisters, but was very interested in acting like the class clown and wasting his efforts on nuisance and sarcasm. I set clear limits and expectations for all of my students and was not letting up on this young man no matter how hard he tried. Several times I met with him privately to let him know that I see him and all that he is capable of and although I want him to do better and work harder, ultimately it was up to him. He passed, but with grades that did not represent his intelligence or capability.
Fast forward five months and this young man marched into the faculty room afterschool on random day to apologize to me for his atrocious behavior the year before. His college professor was impressed by his knowledge and skill level which helped him get into the honors program at his college. This young man realized that he learned these skills from me against his will and tracked me down to thank me for never giving up on him. This was a huge WOW moment for us both and we have remained friendly ever since.
2. Teachers often become a safe zone, a school parent, a confidant, a mentor, a friend, therapist, psychologist, confidant, counselor, coach, nurse, disciplinarian, and sounding board. We do all this while connecting with students as people and maintaining boundaries and authority while nurturing their feelings and validating their struggle.
A brilliant young woman came into my middle school English classroom not knowing that she was brilliant. She came in feeling alone, scared, victimized, defensive and feeling it necessary to pretend to be confident and self-assured. I was her teacher but became a confidant and a safe person for her to share her true feelings. I helped her connect with the school social worker and get the professional help she needed, while still being a safe adult she could confide in. She was rightfully angry with her parents who were neglecting some of their most basic and profound duties to her, and I was worried that she would take a rebellious path, as so many have done, and make life harder for herself that it needed to be. I instilled in her the belief that the best revenge on a disappointing childhood was to work hard and build a happy, successful and meaningful life for herself. Instead of being taken down by her parents’ alcoholism and abuse, she could leverage the intelligence she was born with and build a bright future for herself.
Over the years, she collected several other school moms who helped her along her journey. I was blessed with a second year with her as a student, her senior year, and we continued to grow our connection together. After she graduated and needed to get out of her parents’ house while she attended college, she moved in with me and my kids. I was a single mom with two elementary aged kids and desperately needed some live-in help, so this was a match made in heaven for us both. We both gave and received what we needed, and all our lives were enriched.
To this day, almost twenty years later, we are still in each other’s lives. She’s married and is a high school chemistry teacher in New York City, and is living a joyous life filled with love and meaning.
3. We teach students how to communicate what they think, see, and feel in speech and the written word and we also try to foster respect, emotional intelligence, empathy, self-love and self-compassion. Every year, I teach the concepts and skills of debating ideas with others who have the opposite views. Too often in our society we see and hear people who cannot tolerate others with differing points of view and opinions. We are losing our ability to listen rationally to other’s opinions and find common ground with them. If we have ever had this as a culture, it is really hard to find now.
I think one of the most important parts of our job as educators is to help students figure out what their feelings and opinions are about an issue or subject, how to communicate that to others, and simultaneously, to listen, understand and respect the various opinions and feelings of others. I think that academic debate helps learn this vital skill. I choose a very controversial topic, like gun control, to divide the students into groups assigning a position for them to defend. Students always complain that it’s hard to learn to defend a proposition that differs from their personal opinion, but that is one of the points of this exercise. They learn what the other side cares about and why and what can be said to defend it, and as both sides do this, the distance between them decreases. Empathy and understanding are born right there.
4. We need to create a supportive classroom space, promoting a culture for learning by making students feel encouraged, brave, and safe and risk being wrong in order to learn something. Regardless of the difficulty, we are experiencing with remote/ hybrid, online learning, we need to encourage universal participation to give each student a voice and show him/ her that he/she is a valued member of our classroom community.
Abraham Maslow, the educational psychologist, is most famous for his hierarchy of needs which basically says that humans cannot learn until their basic, fundamental needs are met. We cannot learn or even begin to achieve anything leading to our full potential until we have food, water, shelter, warmth and rest, are consistently physically secure and emotionally safe, and we have a sense of belonging and connection with intimate relationships. I think that in order to foster student growth and excellence, these basics need to be met in the school and classroom as well. I work hard to create a classroom where my students feel physically and emotionally safe and supported, where they are encouraged to work hard and do their best, and where effort is rewarded with praise and grades just as much as achievement.
People, who are not educators, think this is an easy job because they know what it was like for them to be in a classroom as a student, but that is an unfair comparison. Being a teacher is so much more than just planning and delivering a lesson, giving a lecture and a quiz, assigning a report card grade. If it were just those things, it still would be challenging, but the real challenge is to make the content interesting, relatable, and applicable to the ever-changing lives of children and teens while meeting state and national standards and meeting the learning needs of twenty-five to thirty individuals in each of your classrooms.
- We do all this while making students feel encouraged to be brave and safe and to risk being wrong in order to learn something
- We do all this while connecting with them as people and maintaining boundaries and authority.
- We do all this while nurturing their feelings and validating their struggle.
- We do all this while also being a therapist, psychologist, confidant, counselor, coach, nurse, friend, disciplinarian, and sounding board.
It’s a monumental and exhausting task and one that makes me thrive. This is a major source of my personal fulfillment and meaning. When people express difficult emotions, it means they feel safe with me, or at least safe enough to risk their vulnerability. It is about them, not about me. These are the moments that educators greet more often than anyone could guess. We live in difficult times of social strife, divisiveness, political clashes, eroding laws and national integrity, economic challenges, very real immigration fears as family unity is threatened by deportation or separation, sickness, death, and injuries. Each year, a greater percentage of students come from families touched by divorce, death, illness, military deployment, parental unemployment, immigration, and, oh yeah, the usual adolescent angst about body image, friend groups, and the ever-present struggle between fitting in and genuine belonging.
5. Teachers are the backbone of society. Teachers make all other careers and all life choices possible. We have an intrinsic social value, and our career is more of a calling and a lifelong commitment to service in many ways.
Teachers work very hard and most of the time we take our work home with us. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to strive toward a healthy life-work balance. We have to make sure we devote enough time to self-care, our own hobbies, and ample time for our families. Teaching, like parenting, is messy, fun, difficult, rewarding, amazing, head-spinning, and more meaningful to me than almost anything I’ve ever done before. It’s a close tie with motherhood.
Recently, an old friend sent me an article about caring teachers who get emotionally burned out and thought I would find it interesting because, as she put it, I’m one of those kinds of teachers. The article made me think about teaching and my students. I have kids who come to me all the time with very serious problems. Kids message me from college after they’ve graduated high school, to get my advice on handling crises in their lives; former students who are married and have kids of their own text me for advice on handling trauma in their lives.
It’s all so human, real, and visceral. I feel that those are the real reasons I do this job, much more than the literature and the writing instruction. This job is more of a calling and a lifelong commitment to service in many ways. As such, it is necessary that we take good care of ourselves.
Many of us work additional jobs, outside of our teaching, to make extra money to take care of our families and this cuts down on the amount of flexible time we have in our lives, but it’s imperative that we take a non-negotiable stance on our self-care. We all need downtime with our families and friends, we need time to engage in hobbies and creative endeavors, to engage in physical exercise and movement, to practice meditative and creative practices, to sleep and rest. Finding a unique balance between all the have-tos and want-tos in our lives is crucial to our physical and emotional health and well-being. It must be one of our main, non-negotiable goals.
As you know, teachers play such a huge role in shaping young lives. What would you suggest needs to be done to attract top talent to the education field?
When I was little girl in school, my family respected the school and my teachers. If a teacher called home to tell my parents about something that I did in class, very likely talking too much, my parents took the teacher’s word for it and disciplined me accordingly. They may have asked for my explanation of my behavior, but they never questioned the teacher’s authority.
Throughout my almost three decades as an educator, this has shifted and the authority of teachers has diminished in the eyes of the public — parents and students, politicians. Our salaries have not kept pace with the rate of inflation, our level of education and experience, and the majority of teachers I know, including myself, have had to work part time jobs in addition to our full-time teaching jobs in order to pay our housing costs and put food on the table for our families.
Many times, throughout the years, teachers have been blamed as the root of societal problems. The education reform movements have been built on the backs of teachers and largely without the input of teachers. We are on the front lines and as seasoned professionals with many graduate degrees in education, we are in a unique position to guide the evolution of education.
If teachers are included in the reform of the educational system and were paid commensurate with our education and experience, we, as a country, would be able to attract and retain high level educators in this field, whereas now we lose people who would have been exemplary educators to other industries. The system of education in the US would continue to evolve and improve in a swifter and directed way and students and society would be the direct beneficiaries.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite “Life Lesson Quote” is “The Only Way Out is Through,” which comes from a Robert Frost poem “Servant of Servants.”
Len says one steady pull more ought to do it.
He says the best way out is always through.
And I agree to that, or in so far
As that I can see no way out but through —
Leastways for me — and then they’ll be convinced.
I came to this quote not through this poem, but through a different route. This quote is a way of thinking about and healing from personal trauma. The philosophy of this quote came to me through talk-therapy as my therapist was helping me identify, process, and heal from my history of emotional abuse, traumatic experiences, and grief. The idea is that we can’t complete any journey — physical or emotional — unless we travel all the way through it. We may not want to feel all that is necessary to understand and come to terms with our painful experiences, but the only way to healing and knowledge is to walk through it. We must walk through the darkness in order to find the light.
This idea translates itself to all matter of life experiences and creativity. Inevitably as we create something new from deep within our souls, we stumble and feel stuck. But we can’t give up. The only way to the completion of our masterpiece is to continue to move through it. We must push away our feelings of doubt that are, for me, akin to giving birth, put our pen to paper, our brush to canvas, our breath to music, and create that which our soul calls us to create.
The only way out is through is so profound to me I had it tattooed on the inside of my right forearm, below my elbow crease.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
This is easy. I have a big, fantasy brunch I think about all the time. I created an Instagram hashtag to share my love, respect, and gratitude to all these people — #FANTASYENDORSEMENTS. I have created this hashtag and photoshopped pictures of all of these people with my books and as guests on my podcast.
I’ll tell you who they are. I want to host a champagne brunch with Alan Alda, Mayim Bialik, Brené Brown, Glennon Doyle, Marie Forleo, Elizabeth Gilbert, Rachel Hollis, Waylon Lewis, Michelle Obama, Amanda Palmer, Dax Shepard, Maria Shriver, Abby Wambach and Oprah Winfrey.
Each of these amazing humans has changed me in some pivotal, foundational way with their writing, podcasts, creativity, passion, heart, mission, inspiration, humanity, sense of community, commitment to service, joy, love, sense of personal growth, mutual support, empathy, vulnerability, kindness, encouragement, and deep sense of generosity of spirit.
They have already changed me. I am a better person, more able to lean into the tough stuff, be brave in the face of new challenges, and move forward with confidence and my mission to be of benefit to others. What more can I ask?
As long as Authority Magazine is asking, I’ll put it out there. If any of these amazing people has a couple of free hours in the New York City area to meet me, it would be my absolute pleasure to take you out for a delicious and fun brunch. (Maybe we wait for COVID to be over.)
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Facebook: @Marci527 & @marcibrockmannartist
Facebook Group: Permission to Heal…Safe to Fly
Email: [email protected]
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!