Riding Out the Storm

As October comes to a close with a hurricane whose impact we won’t know until a day or two from now, these unexpected two days off are a chance to reflect on the school year so far.

It’s difficult to know where to begin with this, because I have been so busy living day to day, so I suppose that’s precisely where I’ll start.  I am very protective of my time.  I treasure my time teaching, from the big picture thinking to the nitty gritty of grading and meeting each individual student where they’re at – but I also do my best to put fatherhood and my marriage ahead of any work I do.  Throw in other family relationships and the friendships I wish I had more time for cultivating (saying nothing of hobbies), and there simply are not enough hours in a week to fit everything.  This makes me no different from anyone; we all must learn to prioritize.

From a purely quantitative perspective, this is what I spend on work: a minimum of 9.5 hours per day, from 6:30 am to 4 pm, if I include the approximately 20 minute commute in that, another hour or so, on average, each weekday, and somewhere between four and eight hours of work each weekend.  A conservative estimate is that I’m working 56 hours per week.  This is in no way meant to be a complaint, just a reckoning: I think it is a very fair amount for a teacher, and it is precisely what I’ve bargained for by committing to this profession.  I truly love this work, I wake up excited each day to engage in it, and I would not want to spend a moment less on it.  But I also wouldn’t want to spend more that that.  (Put another way, 56 hours is precisely one-third of the hours in a week.  This leaves, ideally 56 hours for sleep and 56 hours for one’s personal life, right?)

Here’s the thing about those 56 hours of work: I’m squeezing the most I can out of every moment.  I currently teach five different classes.  I have one full and two half preparation periods per week.  I spend my lunch periods either helping students, talking shop with colleagues, or catching my breath and checking a few items off my to-do list.  I take great pride in how I’ve been able to build systems that make all of this possible, and these systems actually make the day to day of school seem pleasant, engaging, and peaceful.  I look forward to the individual pockets of time I’ve carved out for planning a particular class or grading or talking to people.

I take pride in knowing that incredible things are happening at Validus.  What’s been eating at me is that I have no time to reflect on them.  We are engaging kids and we are building community and we are implementing innovative structures.  This is such an engaging, infuriating, exciting, despairing, hopeful time to be a teacher, but for those of us doing the day to day work of figuring out what works, it’s frustrating not having the time or mental energy to engage in the many larger conversations to which I know that we should be contributing.  Last week, my colleagues and I answered a call to join smaller iZone Affinity Groups with excitement to engage, but doubts that we’d actually be able to make the meetings.

And so, this blog.  To echo the sage advice of some of the best bloggers out there, I should only be writing if I want to.  This is not a chore.  I started off the school year thinking it would be cool to write about a different formative assessment strategy each day, and I think I pulled it off three times in the first two weeks of school.  The idea of that project was right on the border of the “shoulds” — I really liked the idea of it, but I think I was forcing it as something I should do rather than something that really lit a fire under me.  With that in mind, I want to reinvigorate this blog by writing about exactly what I want, and not worrying about how it fits within the community of education bloggers.  I want to document the work that I and my colleagues are actually doing, without worrying about casting anything in precisely the right light or sounding like someone else.

I want to outline all the things I’d like to write about, and I want to get a lot of thinking on this page as soon as possible, but even the pause permitted by Hurricane Sandy will be all too finite.  I have more to say about the tension I feel between all the work we do as teachers and the constantly moving tide of education punditry.  I want to put down some thoughts about mastery-based grading and the common core.  I want to write about the individual courses I’m teaching, and to find a clean way to archive some of that work here.  I want to build the habit of a much more temporal sort of reflection and engagement with the thoughts of other writers and educators, without feeling so overwhelmed by the pace of life.  Ok, good, that’s a start, and it feels good to get it on this page — but for now, I’ve got another two thirds of this storm to dedicate to rest and my little family.

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