Promote, Not Guarantee
No matter what grade or subject we teach, our work is to promote the long-term flourishing of kids. That verb, promote, is important. We cannot guarantee, force, or omnipotently deign that our students will go on to lead great lives. We are teachers, not saviors. Each year we should get better and better at creating lessons, units, and classrooms that promote the long-term flourishing of kids.
Having a life and being a teacher isn’t optional. For most of us it’s the only way that we can stay in the profession and perform at our best. Unfortunately, with teacher attrition rates growing nationwide, survival mode is overtaking our ability to think clearly about what it is that we do and how we ought best to do it. Below are some things that we need to keep in mind:
Quit at Quitting Time
I can imagine future history students smirking at our society’s wide acceptance of “multi-tasking” the same way that my history students smirk at the widely accepted medical practice of bloodletting in the Middle Ages. Teachers, if you are “relaxing” at night with a loved one and a stack of papers on your lap, you are not relaxing — you’re working! Only when we set rules for ourselves — for example, I stop working at five p.m. every day, and I don’t take work home — can we begin to ascertain which of our tasks are necessary, which deserve our best efforts and which can simply be abandoned.
The modern teacher is worried about everything from creating a pretty classroom to managing mental health crises to planning effective lessons. Some of these deserve our finite time, and others don’t. Unlike with money, there are no credit cards for time. We have what we have, and there’s no more to spend.
In short, the first step to having lives as teachers is to thinking clearly and rigorously about the things that seem to preclude us from living full, well-rounded lives while also being the best teachers we can be.
Getting Our Identity Straight
When we use what Warren Buffet calls the “external scorecard” — getting our sense of self from how well the kids perform, our administrative evaluations go, the standardized test results look, etc. — we are going to tend toward overwork and emotional inconstancy. Just as a doctor ought to be emotionally constant in the face of difficult, complex, and grave decisions, so too must we as teachers. But we won’t be, and we can’t be, if our identity is rooted in the sandy soil of how things in the classroom are going.
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