Teaching is one of the best jobs in the world because of its large impact potential in two areas:
- Externally, teaching affords us the unmatched privilege of contributing to the education of human beings. Few endeavors are as wrought with possibility as the teaching of people. And each day, we're paid to participate in this ages-old tradition.
- Internally, teaching is so difficult — emotionally, socially, intellectually, spiritually, physically — that it affords us rich soil within which to cultivate the inner life. While working behind the counter at a slow Starbucks appeals to all of us when teaching is especially hard, there's a potential for inner growth in education that is special.
Each day, we have the chance in our work to improve the world and improve ourselves. Each day.
What a shining truth!
This reality was clear to us when we began, wasn't it? So what changed? What happened to the bright, burning fire within us that brought us to each day with vim and vigor? When did it lose its shine?
What happened was difficulty that we hadn't bargained for. We knew it would be hard — but 2020 hard? Poor administrator hard? Initiative fatigue hard? Cameras off hard? Endless paperwork hard?
This we hadn't planned on.
And yet, there are those teachers who seem unfazed by such things, aren't there? Colleagues we teach alongside, teachers we once had when we were students, people who educate for ten, twenty, thirty, forty years… and still they love it.
What in the world gives? Is there some kind of genetic trait at play here? Some attribute that some of us have and the rest of us don't? Is it just that they've not experienced circumstances as hard as ours — that they've had it easier somehow?
I've long pondered this question — in my continuing work as a classroom teacher and in my work with good people like you all around the world. What is it that allows a teacher to retain the fire, to keep the will to teach, to view teaching on the whole as a get-to versus a have-to?
After years of research trails and personal experiments and professional conversations, I've arrived at a theory that's helped me make a lot of sense of teaching these past few months.
The difference is skilled and thoughtful inner work, in two particular areas: depressurization and workload modification. Folks who are good at these two things tend to love and be good at their jobs and their lives.
First, depressurization. These people are on the path of understanding themselves, their lives, and the things that work to keep themselves running. “Self-care” isn't necessarily a term that I love, but the dizzying cornucopia of tips and tricks that I've see peddled beneath this term are tools with which these people are well-acquainted. But let it be clear: these aren't just people who do tips and tricks for depressurization — these are people who do these things intelligently, experimentally, and with increasing ease and thoughtlessness. Depressurization becomes a thing that they do as a matter of course because they come to intuit that this is what it takes to lead a good life and do good work. And so, they do it.
But if you're only good at depressurization, you're not necessarily going to be a good teacher. Being good at your job and a generally depressurized person takes another skill: workload modification.
Workload modification is the second piece of the puzzle. Consistently motivated teachers understand that contemporary education doesn't make sense on paper. If you do everything you're “supposed” to do, just as you're “supposed” to do it, they know you'll work eighty-plus hours per week and you won't last very long. These people aren't playing a short game, though. This is their life's work. And so they learn to question the popular assumptions of education and become obsessed with questions about the work that matters most. And as they learn, their abilities improve: they can focus better, streamline better, satisfice better, skip better. Things that used to cost them lost sleep become simply parts of the job, pieces of the puzzle they're still working out.
More to come!
I'm making a course on these two areas of the inner work. It'll launch in early 2021, with limited spots. Be the first to hear by signing up for the waitlist.