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DA Keynote Speaker RT Duke Shares How He Rewrote His Own Story

April 19, 2024

RT Duke delivers the keynote address during IEA’s 2024 Delegate Assembly.

A while back, RT Duke, an English teacher and member of the Boise Education Association, was teetering on the edge of burnout.

“ ‘I’m supposed to be a normal, happy person,’ ” he remembered thinking. “ ‘I’ve got a family, I’ve got a house, I’ve got kids. There’s something going on.’ ”

His wife, recognizing his frustration, shared a podcast with him called “Ten Percent Happier” (see below). What he heard changed his life.

Duke, the keynote speaker for Idaho Education Association’s 2024 Delegate Assembly last weekend, shared the lessons he gleaned during his journey and offered words of encouragement and consolation to educators exhausted from lack of respect and support from anti-public education forces. Duke referenced rampant fear among his fellow educators.

“Many of my colleagues were afraid to teach certain history concepts,” he said. “English teachers are afraid to read a story about race.” Recently, he said, he and his colleagues received tourniquet training — a nod to a new reality that’s all too familiar for educators.


Duke cited a 2022 survey from the RAND Corporation that included shocking numbers. Seventy-three percent of teachers and 85 percent of administrators said they faced frequent job-related stress compared to only 35 percent of professionals in other fields. Only 46 percent of educators reported feeling resilient, compared to 80 percent of other professionals.

The key to changing attitudes is within educators themselves, Duke said. “We ought to study ourselves seriously to see if we hold any stories — of martyrdom or achievement, people-pleasing, cynicism or constant complaining,” he said.

When Duke examined the stories he told himself, he realized his false narratives had eroded his boundaries. Many teachers, he told the audience, feel like they have to say yes to every request while showing up too early to work and staying too late.

“Worse yet, those false stories sometimes lead to substance abuse, sleep issues, inability to interact with your family and friends, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety and desperation,” he said. “These are all things that I’ve had to face and replace with a healthier story, to start looking inward on my own.”

Too many educators waste time hoping for changes that may never come through the Legislature or in the form of district policy, he said. But he believes educators can create collective good by changing their narratives on an individual level.

“I know that a group of people — a union — who turn their lenses inward can do a whole lot more about the promise of the world if they can act from a place of strength and confidence, equanimity and peace, clarity and purpose,” he said.

If he can do it, he made clear, any educator can.

“That quest to know myself — separating my thoughts from my past — led me to my true values,” he said. “Creativity, connectedness, confidence, curiosity, compassion, all of these things for myself and for others.

“These values changed my life. And I began to write a new story for myself.”


RT Duke’s Resources for Rewriting Your Narrative

“My biggest advice for people is to find resources that help them,” Duke said. These are a few of his favorites:

Opening to Life Without Conditions: This 10-minute guided meditation by Sonia Kreitzer helps challenge the “if/only” thinking that can sabotage happiness. It’s available on Apple Music, Spotify and YouTube.

Headspace: This uber-popular meditation app is free for K-12 teachers and supporting staff.

Ten Percent Happier: A popular podcast, Ten Percent Happier is free and full of amazing resources, Duke said. He especially values episode 523, “A Masterclass in Handling Yourself When Things Suck,” which includes strategies for handling the regular stimuli of stress while understanding deeper emotional imprints from past experiences. Episode 508, “Seven Buddhist Ingredients for a Happy Mind,” features Pascal Auclair, a dharma teacher who speaks about seven practical ways to train your mind for reduced suffering. “This one is calm, clear and deserves multiple listens,” Duke said.

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