Facebook
Edutopia on Facebook
Twitter
Edutopia on Twitter
Google+
Edutopia on Google+
Pinterest
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

When people ask me if I'm taking some time off while school is out, I respond, "a little," being intentionally vague. I'm embarrassed, actually, that I'm taking so few days off this summer (a total of eight, really).

"It's my choice," I add. "This is self-imposed." But is it, I wonder?

My "choice" to work straight through the summer conflicts with some of my core values: that people should prioritize down time, vacation, rest, fun and play and non-cerebral activities, with loved ones or alone. I believe in time-off. I have never felt guilty about time off. I wasn't indoctrinated into a Puritan work ethic; my family valued summers on the beach, happy hours, dancing, and planting tomatoes.

Recently I read Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer. He explores what happens in the brain when insight and imagination are sparked and what kinds of external conditions foster creativity. This was a good read with interesting applications for education. What stuck in my mind most was how critical rest, sleep, vacation, and down-time is for creativity. I know this already -- I know that in order to be creative I need to do things like take long walks alone and disconnect from the audiobooks that I obsessively consume. But I seem to need validation from New York Times best-selling authors. I also like knowing what's happening in my brain -- the neuroscience -- when I spend hours sitting on my deck staring at the sky.

In this opinion essay in the New York Times called "The 'Busy' Trap," Tim Kreider writes,

"Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration -- it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done."

style="margin-left: 20px;">

Here we go again with why we need to rest in order to work. But maybe that's exactly the dilemma I'm trying to find a way out of: the argument that we rest so that we can work or be creative -- not rest for its own sake. What would that be?

The summer after my first year teaching, I did a four-day training and took the remaining two and a half months off. Although I was completely broke and in debt, I knew I desperately needed a rest -- that first teaching year had consumed me. And it was a lot of fun and when school started again, I was reenergized.

The Reality

Something has happened since then and I'm not sure I like it. My summertime has dwindled every year and now I'm down to eight days off. This is my choice, I keep telling myself: I've been on an 11-month work contract for a few years, I'm finishing my book on instructional/school coaching, preparing to take on a new role next year, picking up a little work on the side, and there are books that I'm committed to reading this summer (like Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys, by Victor Rios, which is an extremely important book). But when I'm lying in bed on a Saturday morning, highlighter and sticky notes in hand, and my husband wakes up and looks at what I'm reading, even though he refrains from commenting, I know what he's thinking. I know he wishes I would read trashy Chic Lit. Or that I'd just sleep in.

Why can't I stop? Here's what I tell myself:

#1. I need the money. There's the mortgage and kid expenses, I should have a savings account, I would love a vacation next year, I like my iPhone and kitchen appliances and I like to buy lots of books and organic fruit. I live in the expensive San Francisco Bay area, my husband is a teacher, and I have chosen a lifestyle with a certain price tag.

Last week I thought: If I could forego the money I'm making this summer, if I didn't need it, would I be working? Easy answer: No. So do I really need the money? Or is this my choice? It's both, but this year the "need" feels like it outweighs the choice.

#2. I'm ambitious. I want to share my work, what I've experienced and learned and the conclusions I've drawn and the ideas that I have about how we can transform education. Writing the book is about this commitment -- the financial reward is pathetic -- I am writing it because I think it could help, it could be a contribution.

I scan myself for ego involvement, but really what I keep ending up at is that I think I do have some test-driven, effective strategies for making our schools more humane places, for impacting the lives of young people, for helping adults find happier ways of working together in schools -- and I yearn to share those ideas. In fact, I've often been tempted by the idea of publishing under a pseudonym -- and not because I want to publish stuff that a school teacher shouldn't be associated with, but because I don't really need to be personally associated with my ideas. "Ambition" is a term I don't like; maybe I'll find another frame to use like "commitment" or something else.

#3. I'm insatiably curious. I can't stop reading. I go on vacation with triple the number of books I can reasonably read. I've always been this way.

But I need a break. I do. I can feel the fatigue spreading inside my being like invisible mold. Ew. That's a gross metaphor.

The Goal

Here's what I can do this summer: I can make my eight days (two, four-day chunks) really count. I can be really off for those days -- no reading about anything related to education or social justice, or about children, no email or blog reading or tweeting. And I can plan for a full two weeks off in December. And I can continue reflecting on the choices I've made and the way I spend my time.

I guess right now that's all I can do aside from quitting my job, selling my house, and moving to an artist's colony in southern France. Or maybe Costa Rica where at least I have family and speak the language. Actually, that doesn't sound so bad.




Comments (6)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Sign in and Join the Discussion! Not a member? Register to join the discussion.