Last time, I shared a long and impossible list of things that teachers like us feel expected to do. Many of you wrote and shared your additions to the list (e.g., club sponsorships, lunch duty), making it even more accurate, and even longer, and even more oppressive.
Suffice it to say, the default conditions of our job produce not optimal pressure, but the soul-killing kind.
I feel this pressure, too. Every year. And when I do feel it, I have learned to erase the list and create a new one.
Here is another list of all the things I have to do as a teacher:
- Promote the long-term flourishing of young people.
Now you might notice that this list is a bit shorter. Just in case, however, I've created a figure to make the comparison clear.
For both of these, you can end by saying, “This is the work of teaching. It is never finished.”
With List 1, the never-finished nature of the work means that we'll be ground down, one day at a time, until all of a sudden all those other careers that our college friends took start to seem really interesting, and teaching is a game of countdowns: days until this break, weeks until that one, years until I retire.
With List 2, the never-finished nature is okay. Of course it's never finished, that list leads us to think, because something as deep and wide as the promotion of long-term human flourishing is always going on.
Listen: the point of school is not the minutiae. The first principle is not building and maintaining your classroom library and making sure it's organized and that no one steals a book and that kids are using it and that you've read all the books in it… that's not the foundation of our work. The foundation is the long-term flourishing of young people. That's why we teach them to read. That's why we go to meetings. That's why we make sure they understand how the scientific method looks in biology and in physics and in life. That's why we teach curricula that are as knowledge-rich and literacy-infused and mastery-oriented as we're able to teach.
The meetings aren't the point, the clubs aren't the point, the tests aren't the point, the grades aren't the point. Much of the minutiae does have to get done. Much of it can be thoroughly enmeshed with the long-term flourishing of young people. But the list isn't the point, and getting the list done isn't the point.
A lot of time, the reason List 1 starts to drive me crazy is because I'm afraid of how I'll look if I don't get it done. What will the teacher down the hall think? What will my boss do?
But List 2 comes in to help. My reputation is not the point. My ego's desire to be viewed as smart and competent and able to manage it all… not the point. Neither is my job security. Neither is my comfort. Schools exist to promote the long-term flourishing of kids.
And what this does is it starts to actually make me better at doing List 1. I discern which of the items are just my ego, just my perfectionism. Which are furthest removed from promoting the long-term flourishing of my students? And so I'm able to divvy things up better: things I'll skip, things I'll satisfice, things I'll invest 85% of my effort into because they are so freaking important. (That's what These 6 Things is about.)
So believe it or not, this way of thinking, of shifting from List 1 to List 2, isn't just pie in the sky. It's not optimism detached from reality. It's not a message from someone who used to work in a school and now opines about how it should be done.
Nope. It's the start of a way of being as a teacher, a way of viewing the work and seeing the school, a way of disciplining oneself to serve hard and deeply flourish in the hardest circumstances.
P.S. I didn't know where to put this, but sometimes I think of the plant that grows on the top of Utah's Delicate Arch. It's got to be one of the severest places for a plant to grow — and yet it does. They call it the Prince's Plume. (Here are some photos: zoomed out, zoomed in.) That plant reminds me of teachers.