Humor me by drifting down a little stream-of-consciousness here. Tonight I realized I had missed my assigned day to post to this blog. I looked at the assigned date, and laughed. It was a day I had allowed myself to somehow believe I could simultaneously be at the AZK12 Ken Robinson book club (for the book Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative) and be at parent teacher conferences at school. Had I somehow managed to get all three of my obligations onto my calendar, maybe I would have planned better. But Sunday was spent on some freelance work that helps to supplement my teaching salary. Saturday was chores. Last week was a blur of grading frenzy after travel to a family wedding and in anticipation of parent conferences. 163 students is more than I’ve ever had in 17 years, and coming to terms with the obvious and subtle ways that shapes my teaching life is the subject of a whole other blog entry, but…
I am also highly distractable by nature (and maybe by caffeine). Last year in the high school creative writing class I teach, I had several intensely creative students who inspired me to re-embrace reading and writing in my own personal life. I rediscovered how much fun it was to just read and write… for fun, and to think and communicate. Much of it I revised, sometimes intensively, and shared. At any rate, I write almost daily now, for fun, and have a personal blog, which I was updating with wedding photos just about the time I realized I had better check my schedule here.
Being the distracted momteacher I am, during my freelancing work writing content for AP Language and Composition textbooks on Sunday, I began the following exchange on Facebook:
I want to be Annie Dillard.
“It is possible, in deep space, to sail on solar wind. Light, be it particle or wave, has force: you rig a giant sail and go. The secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind. Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff.”
“I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.”
Brilliant English Teacher Friend: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is my favorite book ever.
Amethyst Hinton Sainz I knew i liked you for some reason… P.S. tomorrow night is P/T conferences! Didn’t realize the book club conflict until just now! Wah.
Monday at 6:10am · Like
Amethyst Hinton Sainz I keep coming back to Annie Dillard as a model for all I admire in good writing. She is the real ####. When I read her again after a long absence it’s like coming home. Wish I could have her spiritual clarity!
Monday at 6:11am · Like
Brilliant English Teacher Friend: I sometimes dream of my own Tinker Creek or Waldon Pond. What must it be like to have nothing else to do but observe the world and write? *sigh*
I’ve been working — quite literally — all weekend. (Ok, I took time for dinner and a few episodes of “Arrested Development” with Peter last night.) Didn’t even get time to crack open the Robinson book. I’m booked through this evening, too. I can’t even keep up with a dang book club. When am I supposed to write??
Monday at 6:14am · Like
Amethyst Hinton Sainz I can’t keep up, either. What was I thinking joining a book club? What you do is you write with your students.
I somehow did manage to write with my students much of the time last year. Somehow we all created a space for it, and it was a joy. However, right now I’m writing for maybe 10 out of their total 45 writing minutes per week. I need the time to finish prepping, getting work back to them… it’s tricky. And the engagement strategy of open writer’s notebook time for 15 minutes a day doesn’t fit into the Common Core so well on its own merits. But I feel justified because creative writing is an elective, and the kids need that space.
In our first, earlier, book group meeting about the creativity book, the conversation veered dangerously close to a stereotypical teacher lounge whine, and I know we all felt it. It’s hard to vent our many frustrations without going there… it is a challenge to be continually solutions-oriented. But in order to find solutions, problems must be thoughtfully identified. Most of us there felt that in the schools where we worked, innovation was actually discouraged either by curriculum maps and pacing calendars, evaluation systems (especially the new emphasis on student achievement data), and largely by lack of time to jump off of the multitasking treadmill of our day and to think, dream, wander… and to be wrong. In his well-known TED talk, Ken Robinson says “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never discover anything original.” I would add “If you’re swamped with attendance, e-mails, planning, grading, testing, and meeting individual student needs….”
I don’t have a lovely metaphor to pull this one together. All I know is that before I started writing this, I set out on Google to see if I could find the source of that oft-used-in-powerpoints graph that shows the yearly cycle of teacher morale. That yearly cycle hits a low, if I remember correctly, around October 18, excatly a month off from* the day which I now realize I was supposed to be at a professional book group on creativity, be meeting with parents, and posting a blog entry about how policy meets practice. This after a weekend of nine hours writing multiple choice questions for extra pay, and earning much more per hour producing educational materials than I earn after 17 years of teaching those materials.
I did not find the research I sought, but I found a slew of articles from last spring saying that teacher morale was at an all time low. Perhaps I can wrangle this wayward reflection back to the idea that one contributing factor to low teacher morale is that so many of us are frustrated on a creative level. We need time to sharpen the saw, read a book, write poetry, observe our own Waldens, and figure out what we really think. Many of us are killing ourselves reaching for that. And the fact that I ignored my own children’s bickering and bedtime resistance to write this only adds the last touch of evidence to my meandering argument tonight.
*We started school earlier, so I’m chalking my early visit to low-morale land up to that.