Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How to Endure: Work Around or Break Through

If teaching in world of "perpetual beta" isn't enough, as I reach the midpoint of my career (inshallah) with "sixteen years down, sixteen to go" my sciatic nerve, damaged in an accident years ago, is acting up. I'm moving slower, having to ask for help to move boxes, not able to make the mad-dash to the copy machine as I used to. As one of my doctors told me a couple of years ago, "Welcome to middle age, Mr. Youngs."

Far from burnout (I hope, I would know), it is daunting to think of the road ahead. It's a thought I've started the year with and so I was struck by a comment made by author Philip Roth, speaking with consummate interviewer Terry Gross on her show Fresh Air, which was aired yesterday. Referring to the character of his new book Exit Ghost, Roth notes that he has come to a point in his life when he has to figure out how to endure.

How to endure. Hmmm. I am a different teacher than I was when I started. Sure I have more tricks in my bag, multiple intelligences, authentic assessment, process drama, narrative inquiry, web technology. But because of the oxymoronic constant change, I'm not sure if I am any better equipped. What will I be --have to be, get to be--in another sixteen years?

No matter how much I learn about teaching--so much is changing! Do I teach the old stuff to give context or the new stuff to be relevant? Finding time to teach into the future while still teaching the background, the classics, the histories, the foundations can be very frustrating. And finding ways to explain it to parents, administrators, colleagues, and students is another great challenge.

Now, don't get me wrong: I believe the alternative--i.e. to stop trying new things and keeping up with the kids and the world--is a nonstarter. Call the engraver and put no hopeful verse on my tombstone.

But how to endure? I can remember in my first year of teaching my principal, Ralph Packard, said "have a hobby." In many ways I've tried to wrap my hobbies into my teaching. Perhaps this blog is a hobby. (I'm an amateur, I don't get paid, It's at my whim, right?)

I've always been a teacher with bundles to and from school. I don't know whether I am more in admiration, disbelief, or frightened by my colleagues who can walk in and out of the school parking lot with nothing in their hands. If the paper load weren't enough, there's the artifacts, the foods, the music, the art, the books that I use to teach literature. Tomorrow I am going to have to make few trips with all the India stuff I'm going to be using in our wrap up of reading Siddhartha.

As I age as a teacher, I suppose I am going to have to lighten my load. Maybe find tricks that don't require a bag.

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