Being Good

3 hours.

Three hours is the approximate amount of time I had spent being responsible for children prior to starting as a teaching assistant. I accepted the job with a lump of uncertainty in my gut – was I even remotely good with kids? Would I enjoy working with them at all?

Just like I have with every role I’ve taken on, I worked hard to become competent at the work. But unlike the other work I’ve done, I find myself questioning whether the work is something I want to be good at. Daily, my fundamental beliefs about what is best for children are challenged. Daily, I am asked to interact with kids in a way that I believe limits their ability to be good citizens. Daily, I have to grapple with whether I am now part of the system I despise.

Early on, I came to terms with the idea that I was not actually doing harm to the children I teach, but that was a hurdle. My instinctual response to the constant discipline and the unnecessary rules was values turmoil and a gut check as to whether I could continue the work. But, I was reminded that millions have survived our school systems with little permanent damage (short of a distaste for learning) and that even if I might have a better way, the traditional way still produces capable humans.

As the school year went on, I stifled most of my disquiet in the routine of each week. But, in my school April brings showers of questions from colleagues about whether you will return in August. As I’ve struggled to nail down concrete plans to earn my Montessori teaching certification, colleagues and supervisors have urged me to stay in my current role, or to obtain my traditional teaching credential. With each piece of praise I receive, I am struck by the question looming in the back of my mind:

Is this something it’s good for me to be good at?

On the one hand, I’ve strived to incorporate as much of my own teaching philosophy as possible into my work with students. I try to respect their humanity, be patient beyond my perceived limits, give them choices as much as possible, and make learning as engaging as I can.

On the other, I have enforced rules that I find asinine, been frustrated with students reacting to their stifling environment, and voluntarily implemented learning systems that are terribly boring.

I want to believe that the former is what has helped me earn respect at my school, but I fear my willingness and skill for the later may be the biggest contributor. I am proud of my ability to deal with an exceptionally challenging group of students day after day, and my ability to do so with patience and kindness for them more often than not. But I’m less proud of my willingness to mold to the demands of the traditional environment, even when it challenges what I believe to be right.

Lessons from Stay-cation

This week, I’ve been on a stay-cation, hoping to give myself a mental break before beginning a brand new routine with my new job. It’s been a successful week of relaxing and getting some things done to help me feel more prepared for this life adjustment; and just like the last time I had a real stay-cation (right before I started my last job), I found myself a bit overwhelmed with all of the options.

This sense of numerous options is something that hits me hardest whenever I’m short on responsibilities. We live in a world where there is constantly more to fill our time: cleaning, cooking, reading, watching television, spending time with friends, practicing hobbies, completing projects, etc; it’s never-ending. The first summer I spent in my last job, I found myself cleaning my house every weekend (usually a rarity prompted only by impending company), cooking myself more food than I could eat, and reading like a fiend. Until my responsibilities at work increased, these things topped my list of things to do. And then, as my inclination toward the busy wars kicked in, those pieces fell quickly down the priority list. I often lamented the state of cleanliness in my house, chose going out over cooking, and set my book aside in favor of work or mindless television. I forgot what it was like to actually have to prioritize how I spend my time, because in my head, my priorities were clear and there wasn’t a lot of extra time to fill.

This week, I found myself back in the mindset of “what in the world do I do next?” I realize that these choices represent my values, but so many of them feel so very similar I find it hard to distinguish which is best. What I’ve learned, is that perhaps more than anything, I value some sort of productivity. I’ve spent my week mapping out a detailed GRE study plan, cleaning, cooking, reading, and overall making progress towards spoken and unspoken goals. This flies directly in the face of what many have advised me to do with my week (aka spend it in pajamas in front of the TV). And while I’ve done a bit of that too, I find that more than anything I feel relaxed and happy when I feel accomplished and have a clear course of action to get (almost) everything done.

Reflecting on this, I’m realizing that I may need to devote a bit more of my time to organizing my day-to-day life plan when work is in session. While I pride myself on having the skills to prioritize the important things and make them happen, perhaps the stress I often believed stemmed from extensive work responsibilities actually came from allowing those responsibilities to impinge on planning (and, in turn, doing) life, instead of the responsibilities themselves.