Yesterday I had an epiphany of sorts – I realized that the more of ‘me’ I pour into my teaching, the fewer reserves I have for myself. I think I have known this for a while, but in the past year – between my ‘regular’ teaching responsibilities, Twitter, blogging, working with the Common Core Fellows, and private tutoring (college tuition, you know), the me time – the private mental space time – has really shrunk.
It’s not that my choice of activities isn’t in many ways conscious, and it’s not that these activities don’t have their substantial rewards – emotional, intellectual, even financial. Rather, it’s that I go along, trying to bring my best self to everything I do (trying to be awesome?), and then suddenly, the recognition that time is finite – for us as individuals, anyway – hits me and literally stops me in my tracks (I actually stopped in the hallway for a moment yesterday as I thought about this). Maybe this is because I am of a certain age, maybe because I am dealing with scary health issues. Or maybe my subconscious is just issuing a cry for help (Danger, Will Robinson!) that I need to pull back a little. Unfortunately whatever it is that I am – overachiever, controlfreak, perfectionist [not really; come see my house] – eggs me on.
Whenever those teachable moments about honesty and integrity arise in the classroom, I always ask my students, “Who do you want to see when you look in the mirror?” And I think about that a lot in relation to myself – because I wasn’t always proud of who I was, and I have worked hard to become satisfied with my reflection. But of course, we’re never really satisfied – or at least, I’m not. I never imagined that I would save the world by becoming a teacher, or that I would be THAT person who made a difference in so many lives. But after 8 years of working harder than I knew I was capable of, I have come to be very proud of what I do, and of the efforts I make to reach as many of my students as I can. I know (and admire) many hard-working and dedicated teachers, but I also know more than a few teachers who are satisfied ‘enough’ with what they do, and rarely feel compelled to extend their practice. I also know which camp I prefer to find myself in.
I used to identify myself as a ‘quilter, mom and teacher – not necessarily in that order’. Well, my children are not entirely grown, and definitely still need me, but not in the immediate ways they used to (this is actually occasionally debatable, but I digress). My quilting mojo has been one of the major casualties of my development as an educator, and this frustrates and saddens me terribly. When I began quilting in earnest, about 15 years ago, I felt like I had finally found my creative outlet, something that I enjoyed and was good at. I taught workshops in my children’s school, wrote articles about my quilting, and I actually had a very small quilt featured in Quilters’ Newsletter magazine. Ironically, this was a mini-quilt I made to honor the start of my teaching career. These days it’s very hard for me to finish a project, and I long for the ability or motivation to put everything else aside and work with my hands and with color. But even as I think about that loss, I am sitting here typing.
This post strikes me as somewhat whiney, and I apologize for that. But as a blogger I know that this space is as much a place for my personal reflection as it is for public commentary. Every day I find myself weighing the priorities of my ever-present to-do list (only during the summer does everything get crossed off – for a short while), and trying to carve out a little time to fit everything in; there are always a few floating tasks that MUST get done but I cannot schedule; my Pi Day bulletin board and MathMunch display case are currently in that category. And all day long I am formatively assessing how my classes are doing, what needs to be tweaked, reviewed, clarified, livened up.
My New Year’s resolution for the last 5 years has been to have greater balance in my life – I guess I haven’t done so well with that. Last August, Nathan Kraft wrote a blog post which I re-read periodically, in which he addressed this particular issue. I think I need to take this post truly to heart – to be less awesome in school, but more awesome in life. As a parent, I know that your children learn more from what you do than what you say; I imagine the same holds somewhat true for students, even though as a teacher, we have specific responsibilities to say certain things (like mathematical content). So I guess it’s not ‘them or me’, but rather ‘me for them’.
I think I can face tomorrow now.