I found some old university notes recently. Reading through some of the things a much younger me had written, I couldn’t help but sit back in awe at the intelligence I once had. One paper in particular stood out: a critique of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s work from the 1820’s. Emerson was part of the Transcendentalist movement which, it seemed to me, attempted to remove all traces of their former colonial masters. Britain that is. Writers sought to start all again, to begin an American literature from square one, without any nod to the past. Well, that was my take, anyway.
Like Emerson, sitting naked in the middle of the forest, I often wonder what that might feel like. That attempt to wipe out everything you’ve done in the past and start again. What if everything you thought you knew about teaching and what goes on in your classroom was wrong and you had the opportunity to start again? What if you had an opportunity to erase all of the bad habits you have developed, all of the poor decisions which still cause you to wake up in a cold sweat, all of the dreadful lessons which haunt you? Would you take it?
Think about it. It could be the opportunity to really address a workload problem. Perhaps we can erase all of things which are irrelevant but we find difficult to kick because we’ve always done them. Perhaps we could focus on all of the truly effective practices we’ve developed instead of holding on to old ones like comfort blankets. Very often when I start to feel the pressure of workload – more often than not November and February are particularly bad – then it is the new strategies which slip off the table for a while. What if I concentrated solely on those instead?
In fifteen years of teaching English I’ve learned so much about reading and writing, much of it wrong, but no more so than in the last two or three years. If I could erase all that went before I may be able to work more intelligently on things that had more impact without considering it a huge shift in my practice; and it is that perception which I think deters us from change. The fear of the increased workload, the fear of trying something new, the fear of getting in too deep. It is a perceived fear which is hand-cuffing our progress.
I suppose the bottom line is that I’d like to tackle my workload issues not by working less but by working smarter. Removing the things which, ultimately, have little impact on my teaching but I convince myself are impossible to give up might be a start. I’ve waited long enough for management to help me with my workload. It isn’t going to happen. So it’s time to do it myself. Life is too short too wait for permission. As old Emerson said ‘Nobody can bring you peace but yourself.’ I’m off to sit down in the forest and find some peace.