This post will be short because Tuesday is almost over and homeboy be sleep deprived. A few things:
1. When work schedules meet recovery schedules
Since the last post, Crystal’s path to recovery has become clearer and longer. It looks like she will be on bed rest for at least a few weeks, and this means that my work schedule needs significant modifications; it may also mean further postponement of the release of Never Finished.
Here’s why: while I’m overly blessed to have family and friends willing to 1) watch the kids during the school day while Crystal rests, and 2) bring amazing meals so that my daughters don’t have to develop a frozen pizza allergy from eating it so much (I’m not a science teacher; that may not make biology sense) — these people make life possible right now — for The Duration it looks like I’ll be coming home from school right after my final class, taking care of the girls until bed time, doing what work I can before I go to bed, and then taking care of any toddler or infant needs during the night.
What writing I can do, I will do, yet times like these truly prove one’s priorities. I can say that my priorities are in this order:
- My students
But now I will show that with my life. We always show our priorities with our lives, but in times like this I think the veneer gets rubbed off much more quickly.
2. Against perfectionism
“What writing I can do, I will” must not become an excuse for not doing the work. If we wait for perfect conditions to begin doing something we feel we need to be doing — teaching a certain way, trying a new technique, writing, exercising, reading that PD book on your shelf — then this is true: we will find that we rarely do the things we were born for. As Jim Burke told me while I wrote my first book: Dave, you’re never ready. (That’s a paraphrase.) These words live with me now.
So you know what? Some blog posts in the weeks to come might be less developed than I would like.
But my hunch is that there is great power in doing the work, even when it’s not perfect. My hunch is that my colleague and work-sister Erica Beaton is right — “Perfect is the enemy of good.”
There is a Grand Canyon-esque chasm between doing the work consistently and letting our perfectionism live in peace within us. I’m not writing this until late Tuesday night because last night, when I sat down at this exact same hour and felt this exact same fatigue and self-doubt, I didn’t do the work because I didn’t feel it would be good enough. I was proud of this past Saturday’s post on gratitude. That one felt good to get out; those comments you left felt amazing — gosh, amazing.
Yet we cannot allow our devilish perfectionism, our propensity for a soul-sucking obsession with success, to keep us from doing our work!
From Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life:
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft [i.e., just doing the work with a mind to keep improving it]. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”
3. Within constraints we discover autonomy
In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Dan Pink says there are three ingredients for highly motivating working conditions: autonomy (we have some say in what we do), mastery (we’re in pursuit of excellence), and purpose (we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves). We teachers often feel that our autonomy is being ripped from us — and, in far too many schools, this looks to be true; teacher autonomy is or has been largely diminished.
Yet here is what is and what will always be true, regardless of how things look: there are some things of which control cannot be wrested from us, no matter the standards or the tests or the evaluation rubrics or class sizes.
Even with my wife sick, my schedule shot, and much of my life feeling out of control, only one person on the planet controls how I will treat my teenage students tomorrow; one person controls how I’ll love my own children when I rush home from work after school; one person controls whether I’ll opt for anxiousness or contentment, workaholism or sanity; one person controls whether I’ll hit publish on a post that doesn’t meet my standards because it’s Tuesday, after all, and there’s value in doing the work, especially when it’s not perfect. That person is me.
Tomorrow morning I can greet kids with a smile and love; I can look for the student who needs the hard truth, or the gentle word of encouragement; I can be an encouraging colleague. Those are all things I can do, even now.
I so appreciate you, Teaching the Core family. Thank you for your kind comments on the last post, and thank you for thinking of and praying for my wife.