Busy Day vs. Full Day

Busy days stress me out. Full days don’t. Twelve hours into my day, I have had one short break after school between the first shift (teaching) and the second shift (parenting). Every block of the day including lunch was scheduled for me today. But now at the end of the day, I feel good not exhausted, content not stressed. I’m not done yet, but I’m okay with that today.

As I was walking my dog, I thought about the fact that I was “busy” all day but I had none of the physical and emotional effects I usually suffer from busy days. I thought about my day and realized that while I was scheduled all day, I was not especially rushed as I moved from place to place. Every activity felt like it had purpose and meaning. Not everything was smooth sailing. In fact, some of my class plans were derailed. Some activities ran over time. I just moved through the day embracing what came next.

I am starting to think that pace and purpose are key to the distinction I feel between a full day and a busy day. To some degree, I can control these things. I can rush or I can accept that occasionally something may hold me up and make me a few minutes late. I cannot change the time, but I can control my reaction. Doing my best to hold the purpose up in the front of my mind can help me embrace the different activities I have scheduled.

When I feel too busy, I think I should take that as a sign to check my pace and purpose. As much as I can maximize the purpose and ease the pace, I should. My goal is to lead a less busy life, but not a less full one.

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What’s Essential: Part I – Writing in History

Ottoman Empire paragraphs, globalization paragraphs, annotated bibliographies – all were on my grading agenda today. Topic sentences, accurate and detailed evidence, clear and logical paragraph development, and correct grammar remain the goal for each student. The grades I assigned are less important than the comments, since students will have a chance to revise the paragraphs; stronger bibliographies will enable better research papers. So much of my workload has become reading student writing, providing feedback, conferencing about research and writing, and rereading writing. It. Is. Exhausting.

It was all so much easier when my main focus was on content. Now that content and skills are intimately tied together in my assessments, there is so much more to attend to with each one. In my heart, I truly believe that this is the way the teaching and learning of history should be. Clear writing is evidence of clear thinking. Clear but complex thinking is evidence of understanding. Memorizing discrete bits of information is of no use if there is not meaning, context, connection. There is no magical formula I have discovered for how to do this easily. It is hard on the students, and it is hard on me. I found myself at the end of the day wondering if it is worth it.

While one can craft guidesheets and spreadsheets, and provide some structure, the students are ultimately all on their own journeys requiring personalized attention. I have set aside one class per cycle with my Modern World History students to focus on writing – Writing Workshop Day. What we do on those days varies from working on a new assignment or a specific skill to revision of previous work. Some days I have students look at the spreadsheet I use for tracking their skills to reflect on what they are doing well, not so well, and inconsistently. I end up having a lot of conversations, in person and through Google Docs.

We have been talking in our school about what we think is essential. Working with students on their historical analysis and writing feels essential. I just have to figure out how to keep up with the volume. I wish I believed in magic.