The extent to which teaching is a publicly-lived profession is startling. Everyone has an opinion on teaching, and a significant portion of the nation believes they could be teachers. Those (fake) lists of job requirements for teachers from the 1800s (requiring church-going, etc.) were believable because there are vague moral constraints placed upon teachers' lives even today. This is part of why Teach for America works as a lauded organization. Shiny, young and idealistic youth with no training provide both moral certainty and artless excellence.
Part of what comes out of this is the focus on being "relentless" in pursuit of success. This is an unyielding moral ground of rigor. Relentlessness requires teachers to keep pushing themselves and their students without regard for any obstacle. Relentlessness requires extended work hours and weeks. Relentlessness requires absolute dedication to academics.
Relentlessness is bunk.
Relentlessness is a smokescreen.
Relentlessness is a corrupt moral posture.
Relentlessness is characterized by a lack of reflection (Just keep going! Don't look back!).
I am an excellent teacher. I want my students to absolutely shred the Kindergarten content standards. I want each and every one of them to go to first grade above grade level with pride and confidence.
I also want them to roll around on the floor a lot.
When they go to first grade, I want them happy and excited about it. Relentlessness does not require happy children, self-motivated children, children who don't stress out about a little fingerpaint in the hair.
So what I'm realizing is: I'm not relentless. I am Michelle Rhee's nightmare. This hasn't been easy, since it is difficult not to accept truisms as truth, and because I have a tendency to try to reconcile good intentions (all children can succeed) with bad foundations (and social justice is not the answer).
But the thing is, if I demand my students overcome every obstacle while ignoring those obstacles, I am morally corrupt. I'm not teaching, I'm passing out bootstraps. If I push myself into exhaustion with seventy-hour weeks and leave the profession, I'm literally not teaching. If I push academics alone, I am accepting the dichotomy between academic content and
play. It all boils down to sterility: a world without context. Students don't observe reality and synthesize it with academic content. Learning and pleasure are separated; education is a period of one's life, not a lifelong process.
Sadly, all this grandiose posturing comes out of a very simple realization this week. It rained every day, and my students got not one minute of outdoor recess. Needless to say, they were more than a little squirrelly come...oh, come Wednesday morning. The human body, particularly when five, is not well-suited for rainy-day recess.
What I realized this week is that I can keep pushing through my RELENTLESS schedule or face reality. I can do heavy-duty academic content in the afternoon and get irritated when my students mess around. They won't learn anything, but hey: it's relentless.
Or I can fiddle with my schedule, hit the academic high points in the morning and reserve the afternoons for experiential learning and indoor play. The kids will be happier and I'll be happier. The students might not hit so many content standards, but the ones they do, they'll master. They'll also get a little boost for future learning, since the mind-body connection is a strong one. I will read several favorite ridiculous children's stories to great laughter and enjoy the pleasure of an indoor snowball fight.
Relentlessness can go hang, man. It's time for a little Tomi Ungerer and a few cooking projects.