Teacher Renewal

Is especially important this year

We are nearing the end of the school year in the US and much of the world. It has, by all accounts, been one of the most difficult years to be a teacher in recent memory. From the pivot in March, to the fear of our own illness and loss of loved ones and even students and colleagues, to teaching fully online, to the back and forth (are we teaching online or in person today?) it is hard to imagine a more difficult year in the teaching and learning world.

We teachers are often taken for granted. We give and give, and our students take and take. Year after year. Once a student has learned what you teach - like all things we learn in life - it doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore. It seems simple, then. I think that’s part of the root of why teachers are underpaid and under appreciated. The nature of transformational teaching is that when the transformations happen, it is hard - maybe even impossible - for the student to look back over that threshold they just passed through and remember what it was like before they learned the thing they learned that got them over that threshold. I mean, what’s the big deal at that point?

But if ever there was a year for there to be a reckoning about how hard teachers work, this would be the year. Teaching in masks? Sure. Teaching online? Sure. Teaching - when no one even knew what this was - Hyflex? Sure. Older teacher scared witless about going to class in-person? Sure. Feel yet again like we’re being ignored and taken for granted? Absolutely. Object a few times, through unions and other avenues. Yes. But ultimately, most of the time, most ways we possibly could, we stayed focused on our students. Listen to any administrator speak to a group of the teachers who work under them - they can’t even come up with the words to describe how they feel about what we did. They know we saved their bacon. Big time.

Often people who are not teachers are amazed by and envious of our mythical “summers off.” They don’t really understand why we need the time, and what we do during the summer. It seems to them, I guess, a vast expanse of free time.

In reality, we teachers mostly spend our summers working, just in a different form. We attend conferences to learn how to be better teachers. We catch up on all the reading about teaching and developments in our particular field that we did not have the time to get to all year. Some of us use the chunks of uninterrupted time to write about teaching, or contribute to our chosen field of study. We present at conferences or smaller gatherings of our colleagues about what we learned in the past year or two of our teaching. We mentor younger teachers new to the profession. Sure, we spend a week or two on vacation - but it’s really only that much, not the whole summer.

But I would like to suggest that this is the year to really take some time off. To flip the script into a model where instead of working most of the time and taking two weeks we work two weeks and take the rest of the time off. Really rest. Sleep until we wake up (if we can). Spend some quality time in the backyard. Go for long walks in a park. Go to museums. Learn something about birds. Read a book that has nothing to do with teaching. Or several.

We have been through a very rough period. There will be time to share what we have learned, but perhaps letting it percolate for a summer might be the better choice. Remember that there will be dozens of conferences this summer about teaching online and they will all say the same things - and guess what? - you know them already. Stay safe. Reconnect with friends you have not seen in a while. Host more backyard barbecues than you usually would. Try not to think about the classroom, virtual or otherwise. Set an example for your students to do the same.

And I would like to suggest that each of you block out one hour in the next week and put it on your calendar. Spend that time in front of a big sheet of paper, and try to answer these questions:

What do I really care about?

What am I grateful for?

What do I want to have accomplished five years from now?

How will I recharge my batteries before school starts up again?

Please do this, or something like it (you might have different questions you want to wrestle with). Please do this, or something like it. Please.

This should be a private exercise - just for you, as an investment in you. But if you would like to share with me some of your ideas about how you are going to rest, rejuvenate, and recharge this summer, I would be honored to hear from you. I will share (without attribution) your ideas in a future letter. (You can just reply to this letter, and I will get your email). Or, if you want to share with everyone, please post a comment!

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Letters of Recommendation

My recommendation this week is a book in the same theme as the newsletter: do less, A minimalist guide to a simplified, organized and happy life, by Rachel Jonat. While it seems odd to suggest the route to minimalism is to buy one more thing, this one will help you see “the piles of to-dos, to-knows, and to-buys” that are a part of all of our lives. And of course, seeing is the first step.

Q of the Week

The Q of the Week is a Quote from the late American poet Jane Kenyon:

Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook.