This space has been quieter this year, because real life has been busier. But now I’m finally on winter break and have a moment to relax and reflect, without immediate needs hanging over my head. (I still have things that are in the back of my mind and prevent me from falling asleep right away- such as, what should I put on the physics quiz review handout? How could I design an escape room-style review final exam activity for my chem students? When are we giving that quiz, again? What needs to be on the final exam? How can we sequence things better next year?)
I saw this quote on Twitter earlier this year, and I thought to myself, “well, yeah.”
Teachers make more minute by minute decisions than brain surgeons… And that is why you’re going home so exhausted. pic.twitter.com/HKTvjN1ED2
— Jason Elsom (@JasonElsom) August 27, 2016
When I mentioned this quote to a coworker, her response was that really, teachers probably make more minute-by-minute decisions than brain surgeons (because do you want your brain surgeon making a ton of last-minute decisions in the operating room?). Some of the Twitter responses suggest that teachers are more like ER doctors, which is probably more accurate. Some days, teaching feels like triage. I don’t know if the quote above is accurate or even accurately attributed (how do you measure how many minute-by-minute decisions are made by either teacher or brain surgeons? Who has that data?), but I do know I make a lot of decisions during the school day and also when I’m planning and prepping. And for me, the planning/prepping doesn’t actually end until late June, and probably starts up again in late July.
There are just so many things to do, and so many choices to make. Even what I end up spending time on is a choice that I have to make, how I prioritize things. And honestly right now, I feel like I’m not doing my best on anything and there are so many places where I could be doing more, could be doing better. I’ve talked before about how I want more time to do all the things that I want to do to improve my practice. And this year, I feel like I have even less time. I want to be more mindful of my student’s individual needs, I want to help my students reflect more on their own learning (I’m trying some different things, inspired by Kelly O’Shea). I want to really show my students that I care for them as both individual people and as learners of science. But then there’s all of the small or not-so-small administrative things that need to be taken care of (from tracking tardies to documenting students’ interventions), and I’m essentially leading or co-leading two subject teams this year. There have been a fair number of changes in our school and our department this year, which has made things more stressful as everyone’s trying to adjust.
Busyteacher.org has an infographic (shown below) on how teachers are masters of multitasking. I would love to know where this data is from (particularly in light of all of the things surfacing about fake news and our inability to recognize it, so I hope I’m not perpetuating bad data), but I do know that I find myself in all of these roles in one capacity or another, often all in the same day and sometimes all in the same period: information provider, role model, discipline controller, foster parent, assessor, administrator, and facilitator. And some days I feel like I’m doing a terrible job at all of them.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: teaching is intellectually intense. This is why I love it, why I find it so rewarding. But even though I love it, I recognize more and more that I need to find ways to balance my life better. I plan on taking time this winter break to do some recuperating from the stress of teaching, and enjoy some time with family and friends. And sleeping. (Today I slept until 9 am and it was wonderful.) But then I’m still doing some planning for after winter break/preparing for finals, and I also want to take some time to plan how to incorporate all of those other things I want to do. So it’s a break from students, but it’s not really a break from teaching. But my goal is to use the time to become a better teacher. It never ends, but I have to remind myself that this is a good thing- the possibilities for growth are endless, for both me and my students.