If it takes two weeks to recover, your school has problems.

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All the teachers I know need at least two weeks to become “de-schooled” and relax into their holidays. They finish each semester in such a frenzy of busyness that they are desperate for a break. They depend on adrenaline and the last reserves of their immune systems so that they may get sick only when the holiday starts.

This seems to be an accepted part of our profession. But why should it be? Isn’t the fact that everyone, including students, is so exhausted and depleted by the time holidays come around that they barely have the energy to enjoy them rather an embarassment for our schools? Exactly what is it that we are doing that demands so much energy and overwhelms us all so much?

Not much, really.

Let me qualify that. We are doing lots of stuff, thousands of things, a mountain of routine tasks. Countless pointless formalities. Endless inexplicable traditions. In my school, for example, there was a whole load of things going on that nobody could rationalise. At one point, as all the classes did “transition day” and rather pointlessly went up to the next grade for 40 minutes, one teacher looked up at me with exhausted eyes and shrugged. The gesture said it all. It said this was another in a long list of things we’re doing without knowing why. It said this was turning into another experience that will have little or no impact on the students themselves. It said that we were, once again, caught in that familiar trap of doing, not being.

I suggest that all schools carry out an experiment for the next couple of years. If everyone reaches the end of each semester exhausted and ready to be out of there then consider that as a serious warning signal that there are problems with the school. Then, and this is the clever part, act on those findings! Discuss what makes the place that way. Simplify. Remove things. Rethink formalities and traditions. Try your absolute hardest to make school a place you feel sad to say goodbye to for a while, not somewhere you can’t wait to get out of!

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7 comments

  1. Desiree Finestone

    So right Sam! Bet if we actually sat down and brainstormed what we do that is always done, but might be irrevelant we’d have quite a list! We break up tomorrow! My cold couldn’t wait! 1 more day and then stay home and recover from this cold for a week. Atishoo!

  2. S. Reilly

    I also agree Sam but think the onus for feeling exhausted shouldn’t all be put on the schools themselves. Even though I am typing these words and know I am not living them at the moment I will still go ahead with my thoughts. Teachers have to strive for balance and reflect on their personal practices as well. End of term/year traditions take up so much of our time I agree and need to be reviewed however a lot of time pressure and stress on teachers comes from us continuing with practices that add no value to our teaching and learning. Becoming smarter at marking or with homework practices or with the ways we structure our day would also help relieve stress. Finding ways to look after ourselves physically and emotionally through exercise or other means I know personally makes a huge difference to the way I finish off each day!

    • sherrattsam

      Too true… it would be so interesting to explore all the factors at play. The problem is that we kind of forget about it all with the start of each new year. I started out last year with a real strong “purpose” message and tried my hardest to stick by it. Then, the tide got strong, some stuff happened and suddenly we were playing catch up again.

  3. Dan Ford

    “Let me qualify that. We are doing lots of stuff, thousands of things, a mountain of routine tasks. Countless pointless formalities. Endless inexplicable traditions.”

    I would like to see a list of the thousand things. I often wonder if there are really a mountain of routine tasks or is the culture of the school such that we fight change. Derailing initiatives that are student focused appear to be the norm. Others will say “they keep adding initiatives without removing others”. A part of bringing in new initiatives involves engaging stakeholders in the process early on. For example, as my campus is currently working on shifting our thinking about grading, and our district, much work has gone into instructing the community. We have held parent meetings, provided article studies, and developed teachers in the process. Not everyone is happy about the change coming as grading is the “one thing” teachers have to hold over the heads of students. However, the new grading initiative is not “just another thing” rather it replaces an outdated system.

    I do believe that teachers and administrators alike are completely worn out at the end of each semester. Federal and state demands on teachers are out of control. Setting up a culture within the school that allows open dialogue with parents, community members, teachers, administrators (both school and central office), and students can help maintain a healthy balance and promote positive student achievement.

    • sherrattsam

      You make a good point and some of the things that teachers complain about doing are actually incredibly positive changes and, in many cases, replace practices that were ineffective and time consuming. However, we have made lists before… Just for fun! I one school it was dubbed “The Shit List” and it contained everything that one grade level team needed to complete in the last few weeks of school. Not only was the list very long, but it was also demoralisingly full of tasks that had little or no direct connection to the improvement of student learning. It is at times like this that energy levels fall and, worse, our effectiveness as teachers suffers.

      We should be strong, in leadership, about making sure those lists are full of things that are worth doing, will have an impact and are being done at the right time.

  4. Pingback: Weekly Reflection: Inertia | Teaching the Teacher

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