My to-do list takes the form of a sticky-note wall in my home.
These post-it notes remind me--every time I pass my kitchen table--of the many tasks I must complete, and never, not ever, do they diminish throughout the whole school year. When two notes come down, another five go up. Eventually though, summer does arrive; piles of paper get recycled, wall coverings fade, the notes unstick and drift off the wall like yellow leaves in autumn.
But this doesn’t happen automatically. We have to stop adding to the lists and piles. How does this work?
In physical science class we learned about the law of motion that says momentum is affected by the mass and speed of a moving object. That’s why a train takes longer to stop than a car, for example. I wonder: do these laws apply to the teaching life? Must the metaphysics of teaching dictate that the heavier the year or the more abrupt the arrival of school’s last day, the longer it takes a teacher to slow down? We must slow down.
Every educator knows that in the business of teaching, there is no such thing as a quiet day. We never fritter away hours or take leisurely breaks. In a world of bells and meetings and paperwork and expectations, nothing simple happens. Every snack time is a bite with a list; every stroll is a “walk and talk.” We learn to match multiple tasks to destinations and retrieve many items at once to save time and steps. It is a frenetic dance from August to June, and when we finally do sit down, our legs still hum.
All year long, we teachers give other people permission: permission to use the bathroom, permission to grab something from a locker, permission to turn in a paper late with no penalty.
I have a proposition. On the last day of school, we need to give a different kind of permission: permission to ourselves to observe another part of Newton’s law which states that an object at rest stays at rest. Try that, teachers. No piles and no post-its. Go on vacation. Read all the books. Sit in your yard.
Just take your rest, and make that stick.
Anna E. Baldwin is the 2014 Montana State Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. She teaches English at Arlee High School in Arlee, Montana.
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