It’s been a busy day. Lots of jobs to do. None of them very fun or very important, but all needing to be completed nonetheless. You know the jobs I mean- the ironing, the packed lunches for tomorrow, the tackling of the pile of stuff lying at the bottom of the stairs that grows from a small hillock on Monday morning to Everest proportions by Friday teatime. (Or is that just in my house?)
These small, not very important jobs tug at our shirtsleeves and our dutiful completion of them sets in motion the routine by which Things Get Done.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s very important for Things to Get Done. Nobody wants to be the guy walking around school in a crumpled shirt, stomach grumbling as he gazes balefully at his empty packed lunch box.
The problem comes though when Getting Things Done is all that ever gets done.
Sometimes the punishing schedule of what must get done leaves no time left for what should get done. Like long baths and reading books and going for a run and painting your nails and calling your mother and playing with your kids and just sitting still. The important things, the things that nourish you, often get squeezed out to make space for the faithful fulfilment of those monotonously regular little jobs, those bossy, elbow-tugging tasks that insist on your attention.
It is very tempting to listen to who shouts the loudest- and trust me, your dirty washing basket will always bellow louder than your bathtub.
So to have any satisfaction at all in your life, you must find a balance between what needs to get done and what should get done.
And it’s not just your leisure time that’s a battleground- the war is happening inside your head too.
Because there are lots of jobs to do in there too. Lots of bossy, elbow-tugging little thoughts like:
I need to get this marking done before the next class comes in.
I’ll look for the right resources to go with that lesson.
What homework will I set for next week?
This classroom is a riot; I’ll need to tidy up.
And that most faithful of inner thoughts, echoing ferociously around the minds of primary teachers everywhere:
That’s gonna need laminating.
These thoughts push and shove until they are right at the front of your mind, usually all yelling at once. They are unruly little blighters who demand all of your attention, all of the time.
Now, that’s not to say that your attention is not warranted. The marking undoubtedly needs done and God forbid you display something that isn’t resplendent in a protective layer of shiny plastic.
However, just like with your leisure time, you need to find a balance between what needs to get done and what should get done. Unlike with your leisure time, it can be hard to work out what the ‘should get done’ things are. Surely all those busy little jobs that you spend your working life thinking about are all that really matters?
Well, if that were true, that would mean that your ironing is all that really matters. And I truly hope you do not believe that.
You are more than the sum of your ironing pile and you are more than the sum of the jobs you do in the classroom. In your professional life as much as in your personal life, you must make space for the things that nourish you. The things that challenge and inspire you, that make you nervous and engage you and that make you want to be better than you are today.
These thoughts might sound like:
I wonder what would happen if…
He’s still not getting it, what do I need to do differently for him?
Wow, I wonder how I could use that in class!
This is all working fine but to get better I’ll need to change…
Sometimes these thoughts are uncomfortable, as anything that challenges us always is:
I wonder why I feel so resistant to this?
Yikes, I wonder why I flew off the handle about that?
Why am I being so defensive?
I’ve tried this but it’s not working, who can help me?
That’s really pushing my buttons, why is that?
It is about making space and time in your head for the important thoughts that should happen, in amongst all the clamour of what needs to happen.
It is about being curious about the world around you but also about the world inside you, the why of who you are.
In short, it is about being a reflective practitioner.
So, here’s this week’s challenge:
Find a balance between the needs and the shoulds.
Refuse to only listen to who shouts the loudest.
Make time for the big thoughts.
Grow a new idea, hold it lightly, see where it takes you.
After all, that’s the fun of being alive and it is most certainly the fun of being a teacher- it’s not about slaving away endlessly under the tyranny of now, it’s about doing what you must as economically as possible and then carving out as much space as you possibly can to wonder and ponder and enquire and imagine and dream and change and improve.
Try it- you’ll see I’m right. Go for a wander inside your own head and see where you end up.
Have a great week.