Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Addiction to Crisis

I wrote this a few weeks back.  In light of the learning and thinking I did during the Teacher Leadership Institute Preconference this week regarding teaching conditions for teachers, and the reflective practice tool developed by the AZK12 Center, it seems particularly relevant...  just a little cleaned up from the original writing I did at a Southern Arizona Writing Project salon night.


I’m moving, moving, moving.  Thoreau and others would say I’m frittering my time away.
The lifestyle of crisis is really getting to me.  Minor or major, the adrenaline of each successive crisis spurs me forward through the desire to rest, to retreat, to stop moving, to simply be and observe.  I find myself at the end of the day sitting on the edge of my bed thinking.  No television, no book, no iPod games, no children calling me… but when their little urgencies interrupt my thoughts I become a crank.  When I start and realize what I am doing, I want to think that my mind has gone blank during those moments, that I have allowed myself to, for once, just be. 
But that is a lie.  Sitting still on the edge of my bed, my mind has wandered over into its obsessions, tumbled and taken up the emotional chew-toys it will not let go.  I may tuck them under the edge of the couch for a time, but I tug them out and gnaw at them the moment I have time to myself.  And really, our lives are not any more difficult than any other generation’s, and right now nobody in my immediate family is sick or dying.  The things I spend time worrying about are, for the most part, a waste of my time.  A source of anxiety, which is its own weird kind of fuel.
In our culture, nothing seems worthy of attention anymore unless it is in crisis:  raising reading scores, automobile maintenance, the economy, health care, the right to unionize, obesity.  I mean, why weren’t we worried about the availability of fresh produce and turning off the television once in a while when, instead of an obesity epidemic, we were, as a nation, only mildly plump?  
On a personal level, these crises must serve a real purpose, or I wouldn’t constantly describe myself as overwhelmed.  Wouldn’t there be at least some days that I would feel well-rested, calm, at peace?  What do they give me that I am not getting elsewhere?  The anxiety really does propel me, drive me, to be my best, achieve what I can. When is it all enough?  When am I enough? 
The truly frightening possible reality is that one thing that addicts me to my job, besides my awesome students and the creativity it allows me, plus summer vacation, is that no matter how much I give, no matter how much I am, and no matter how smart I am, really, it will never be enough.  I will never be able to give optimum feedback in an ultra-timely manner to 180 students who I know as well as I know my own children, in addition to crafting finely sequenced, engaging and highly relevant lessons that meet every person’s needs.  And so we teachers are always chasing the elusive racetrack rabbit as we make thousands of decisions every day.  We can always do better, be more, meet more needs.  Always.  And so, we are always challenged.  And some of us thrive on challenge. 
The moment I become bored, a death knell tolls and all is still… and I move on to the next chew toy.  So essays sit in piles half-graded and stacks of potential filing sit unsorted, and my room doesn’t get arranged back to the way it goes at the end of the day.   I am setting myself booby traps of future frustrations.  Frustrations, minor crises which fuel the next onslaught of papers to grade, the next unit to plan, the next technology issue to be overcome, the next student interaction…
So, one question is, what is the difference between a challenge and a crisis?  Certainly, I must be confusing the two.  Certainly, my habits cannot be healthy.  I see my students dancing from one drama to the next… it is not healthy, and they often haven’t chosen the dramas that cause them to become more educated, more insightful, more analytical or more literate.  Many of them have chosen the dramas that undermine all of this, that undermine their potential, that sidetrack them.  So far, for the most part, I seem to have chosen the dramas that improve my life and my teaching… but how long can this go on?

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