This morning, I rolled out of bed around 8 o’clock. My seven year old was already deeply immersed in her craft project and my five year old slumbered on, mouth agape and arms thrown gloriously overhead, like a bizarro world roller coaster snapshot.
The house was still. I headed for the coffeepot, searched for a mug to match my mood, trading in my favorite Vonnegut for a sunshine yellow, and poured an easy cup. I sat down and read a book for a while and then thumbed through a book of Natasha Trethewey poems as the morning sun poured in. I washed a few dishes and tidied up a bit. I mixed up some waffle batter and relished in the sizzle of batter dropping onto the hot iron. I buttered and syrup-ed fresh waffles for my kids and got sticky snuggles after breakfast.
I love these human moments of summer break. I love seeing pictures of my teacher-friends planting their gardens, building benches, vacationing with their families, joyously reading away the day with their bare feet soaking up the sun. I see my colleagues committing time to self-care, and it’s inspiring.
It gets me thinking -- why do these moments seem to be reserved only for summer break?
My catch-phrase of the 2016-17 school year became, “I know I’m doing too much, but so far I’ve kept it all going.” I guess acceptance is the first step, but I realized that if I was seeing life as “keeping it all going” I should probably re-evaluate. The good news is, I have because...
This year, I choreographed two show choirs, was a club advisor, taught Sunday school, blogged regularly, helped build my school’s STEAM Academy, taught two packed sections of an AP course, and rocked out as a mom to my seven-year-old and five-year-old. I made time to hang out with my husband, family, and every now and then, friends. This is not braggery or martyrdom -- this was my inability to say no. And you know what? I’m exhausted.
Notice I didn’t mention any self-care in that last paragraph? No yoga, no reading, no cooking or crafts.
Remember #OneWord2017? Mine was FOCUS. I knew that in 2017 I wanted to focus on what was essential. That drive led me to the book Essentialism. As my friend and fellow teacher Liz Matheny says of the book, “It’s a game changer.” The philosophy of Essentialism according to Greg McKeown is simple: the disciplined pursuit of less, to do the right things with your time, and to take control of what and how much you do.
And McKeown challenges, “What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?”
My enduring understanding from Essentialism is, if some thing -- some project, task, relationship, or commitment, isn’t a definite yes, then it’s a definite no. This logic brought such clarity to my life, both personally and professionally.
But what I’m learning is something we already know: being an essentialist teacher is difficult. The profession demands much more than what is essential, and many teachers, myself included, have a deeply rooted desire to contribute their time and talents to more than one worthy project. Being an essentialist teacher is difficult, but not impossible.
How do we pare back to the most essential? What are the right things to do with our time as educators? What is your definite yes?
For me, it is essential that students in my classroom are safe and loved, that they share in a community of learning that is positive and prosocial. It is essential that I know them and they know me, that I am vulnerable with them so we can develop honest and necessary connections that allow us to explore the meaning of literature, and oftentimes life, which occurs when great literature and our life’s experiences intersect.
Well-designed lessons and intentional teaching are also essential. A student’s discovery of meaning in literature and their exploration of their own authentic voice in writing is essential. Their ability to ask questions, to examine a writer’s craft, to notice subtleties in literature that make meaning, to play and experiment with language and to feel safe and supported doing so is essential. Inviting students to innovate and problem solve and consider their role and ownership in their own community and state -- all this is essential.
For me, being an essentialist teacher is to remember and recommit to the one job I’m there to do -- to teach and inspire students.
And of course there’s more. I have more professional “Yes”es -- writing and reflection and professional connections and learning.
And I wonder, on this beautiful summer day and lazy morning, if we commit to professional essentialism, will it relieve us from just “keeping it all going”? Will identifying the right things we do with our time professionally allow us more human moments not only during summer break, but all the time?
My friend Jay from Moving Writers says, “Teaching is a human endeavor." It is essential that we remember this, too.
WVCTE is wondering, how do you balance work and life? What is essential in your classroom?
Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
I'd love to hear from you! -- Karla
by Jeni Gearhart
Dear future student,
I get to meet you soon, and I am so excited.
Right now, you might be out with your friends enjoying those last sweet moments of summer. Or maybe you are sitting at home wishing you had started that summer assignment just a few weeks earlier. Maybe you are dreading the new school year because last year was one of your worst. Or maybe you are dreaming of how this year could be (WILL BE) different.
Do you know that I am thinking about those same things? Do you know that I am torn between the sadness of the dwindling days of summer and the joy of the fresh start of a new year?
Do you know that I also groaned when I saw Wal-Mart setting up the school supply aisle in July? Do you know that filling my cart with school supplies still gives me butterflies?
Dear future student, do you know how much I already care for you?
Do you know that I bought extra school supplies to keep in the back of the classroom in case you need them?
Do you know that I keep extra granola bars in my desk for those mornings that you didn’t have breakfast and can’t afford to charge for one at school?
Do you know that I spent hours in used book stores this summer collecting new novels that I hope you will find yourself in?
Do you know that I will cry about you this year?
I will cry when you tell me about how lonely you are at home.
I will cry when you tell me “Yes, he says awful things sometimes, but it doesn’t matter. He loves me”.
I will cry when your grades start dropping because you have started caring more about getting high than showing up to my class.
Do you know that I will listen? Do you know that I care just as much about WHO YOU ARE as I care about how you do in my class?
Dear future student, we will meet very soon. I need you to know what to expect this year:
I’m going to push you, and you are not always going to like it. I’m going to ask you to do hard things in my class. I’m going to challenge you to think differently. I’m going to ask you to think deeply about your world. I’m going to require that you actually know why you believe what you do.
I’m going to require you to do things better. I’m not sorry that you’re not going to like that challenge at first. You are going to wish that I let you turn in a first draft essay and call it a day. You are really going to hate that the phrase “go deeper” is written on every assignment at the beginning of the year. You may hate the word “revision” by the end of the year.
I’m going to require this of you because my job is to help you to grow. I can’t wait for the day those C essays start to morph into the B+ and A’s that I knew you would write.
I’m going to be so proud of you this year.
I’m going to ask a lot of you. I ask a lot of you because I believe that every single person has the capacity for growth and change. I know that you are capable of such beautiful things.
Dear future student,
I need you to know one last thing. It is probably the most important thing that I will ever tell you.
I earnestly hope that I am not the first person to tell you that. If I am, let me say it again: YOU MATTER. YOU MATTER. YOU MATTER.
YOU, dear student, are the reason why I come to my classroom every day. YOU are why I teach.
You might not think you are important. But you are. You matter so much to me.
See you soon!
What do you think?
What do want to tell your students before the first day? What are you excited about for the coming school year? Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
Jeni Gearhart teaches 10 Honors English and AP English Language at Hedgesville High School in Berkeley County. Originally from Western PA, Jeni loves West Virginia and has taught all four years of her teaching career in the Wild and Wonderful state. She a not a hipster, but adamantly proclaims that she liked coloring books before they were cool. When not wandering the internet for new teaching ideas or grading papers, Jeni likes to drink coffee and devour good books.
by Dr. Renee Peterson
Teaching is a very difficult profession.
I have heard some teachers warn their students away from teaching. “Don’t do it!” they say. When you are considering a major for college and a profession for your life, it can be discouraging for those in the profession to attempt to deflate the passion that you have for education. Why would current teachers discourage their own students from pursuing their profession? It’s a very difficult way to make a living. When I am approached by a student who has the desire to become a teacher, I give the expected “Are you really sure you want to do this?” speech, but then I couple it with a statement about passion: “You must have enough passion for kids, for learning, and for teaching that you can endure the CRAP.” By CRAP I mean, Criticism, Regulations, Accountability, and Problems (yes, sometimes the P stands for parents). Fellow veteran teachers, I just heard you chuckle…because you know exactly what I mean.
There are many reasons that the school year still runs from August to May (or June with snow days), but I think the most important reason is to allow the teachers to find their passion again. I’ve seen many memes and videos on social media this summer describing the emotional roller coaster that is the school year; it can wear you out. Excellent teachers are expected to be passionate about their students and their role in the lives of those students every single day, but the CRAP can take its toll. Having a summer respite allows us the breathing space to find our creativity, our passion, and our desire to go back for another year.
The summer, while allowing us that space for creativity, can be overwhelming. There are so many things that you want to accomplish: things you put off during the year because there was just no time, but what you need to do is rest. Rest allows our bodies, minds, and spirits to recharge. We need REST – Reignite an Educator’s Sustaining Passion – to return even better than before.
Once you experience REST and your passion returns, so does the creativity. Attending workshops, participating in Webinars and on-line chats, reading books, and relaxing with other teachers just brainstorming ideas can allow those creative juices to get flowing again. The thoughts of fun lessons and educational experiences for your students come flooding back, and the passion that encouraged you to become a teacher in the first place returns like a tidal wave. You actually start to get excited about the new school year! Unfortunately for many, that grand excitement wanes during the preservice meeting, diminishes during the procedural necessities of September, and is squelched by external forces by October.
How can we keep it going? How can we take the passion that we reclaimed in the summer into the doldrums of winter? We need FOCUS: Fix (y)Our Commitment Upon Something specific. As your ideas multiply in the summer, choose ONE thing to add or change or create this school year. Trying to adjust too many of your procedures or pedagogy will set you up for failure. You are preparing yourself to be disappointed in your lack of commitment to all of those many things you were going to do better this year, and then you give up. Don’t do that to yourself! Choose one, maybe two, new strategies to try or lessons to add to your already excellent collection and FOCUS. Maintain that new strategy by practicing it often. Prepare that lesson unit well, make notes during delivery, then take the time to reflect when it is completed. How can it be better next time? You know you will be bombarded with fires to put out and external requirements to complete, so do not purposely add to the stress you cannot control. Control the things you can and handle the rest.
Fellow passionate educators, life-givers, future-preparers, I wish you a blessed school year full of promise with less CRAP and occasional periods of REST so that you may FOCUS on what’s important: the kids. May someone present you with a bouquet of beautifully sharpened #2 pencils for your first day back in the classroom.
WVCTE is wondering...
How do you maintain your passion throughout the school year? What do you do to recharge that passion in the summer?
Dr. Renee Peterson is the theatre instructor, the International Thespian Society Troupe 8066 director, the Cardinal Players director, and the Drama Club advisor for Spring Mills HS in Martinsburg, WV. Renee spent 21 years as a teacher of English in public and private schools, for grades 7-12, with students of all levels in three states before changing her role to theatre director. She reared two wonderful children to adulthood while earning two master's degrees and a doctorate. Second only to teaching her own students, Renee finds joy in encouraging young teachers because "They are the future of our profession, and our students need them to be awesome teachers!" she says. Renee and her husband Tom enjoy their empty nest that is perched on 50 acres on the top of a ridge in Southern Berkeley County, West Virginia. To read her musings and missives, follow her blog at www.thelearningdoctor.me and her Twitter posts @renpetwv. To keep posted on the shows and activities of The Cardinal Players, follow them on Facebook or Twitter @smhsplayers.