Last semester I was teaching three classes — three different classes. I loved it. I interacted with students almost every day. I was teaching writing, literature, and even a methods class — a class of future writing teachers. I was steeped in theory and practice and I was loving every minute of it.
I had agreed to teach the methods class first. I considered it a great honor to work with students who would one day be teaching others how to write. I had high expectations of myself for what I wanted to expose these future educators to — instructional strategies, cultural considerations, and personal practices that I feel are important to instruction. From the moment I agreed to teach the class I was fully committed to creating a high quality experience.
I had cleared the month of August to prepare for this class when I received a request to also teach one section each of composition and literature. I opened the envelope and instinctively said, “You’ve got to be kidding me! Three preps?! That’s too much!” But, instead of saying, “Thank you so much, but I think it would be best if I just taught one or the other,” I signed on the dotted line saying to myself, “It’ll be fine! I’ve taught these two classes before; they shouldn’t require too much preparation.” I was then informed that the English department had adopted a new textbook for the literature class which would necessitate a new syllabus and a new plan. And, once I wrapped my head around the fact that I was going to be essentially creating two courses from scratch, I went totally rogue and decided to re-craft the composition class, too.
It just snowballed from there. As I read composition theory to prepare for the methods class, I discovered strategies that I wanted to try with my own writing students. As I tried new strategies with my writing students, I convinced myself to alter instruction in my literature class, too. That’s kind of how I am as a teacher; left to my own devices, I keep tweaking and re-tweaking. I don’t ever really find a groove to settle into.
So, as you might expect, the whole semester I was reading, thinking, planning, reworking, teaching, scoring, and conferencing. I think it’s as close as I’ve come to being fully in the classroom again. I loved the relationships I was building with students, I loved speaking into their writing, I loved leading classes, but guys, I gotta admit, it was too much.
I don’t think I even acknowledged it was too much until November, when I was asked if I would take a couple of classes for this semester and I reflexively answered, “Nah, I don’t really like that schedule.” I was only being asked to teach two classes three days a week, but I was sitting in the midst a mountain of work of my own making, and I instinctively grabbed the white flag and started waving with all my might.
Of course, three weeks later, when the semester ended, I second-guessed that decision and heard myself asking the same old question, “Well, then, what will I do?”
[Stop laughing at me!]
A weird series of events involving a car ride to Detroit, phone conversations with both of my daughters, and a few emails with a friend landed me back at Lindamood-Bell where I worked in the summer of 2015. Lindamood-Bell is a private agency where students get one-on-one intensive instruction. The incredibly rewarding work is based on brain research. It’s quite remarkable — I have watched students improve their reading and/or comprehension by several grade levels in a matter of weeks! On any given day, I might work with four to six different students, for an hour each, performing tasks that are prescribed by a learning consultant based on the Lindamood-Bell model of instruction.
You read that correctly — I implement the plan; I do not actually write the plans. Further, I do not do any grading or scoring. I punch in at the beginning of my shift, work with one student each hour, then I punch out and go home. Once home, I work on puzzles, I read books, and I find time to write.
All last semester, I found it very difficult to get to my blog. I wrote with my students, as I always do, but that is a different kind of writing. When I write with my students, I model the process and produce whatever type of writing that I am asking them to produce — a narrative, a research paper, an argument. That kind of writing builds my skill, of course, but it isn’t the kind of writing that I produce for my blog.
The kind of writing I produce for my blog is very personal and very restorative. It’s the kind of writing that grows from deep reading, purposeful thinking, and sitting. (I discuss this in an early blog post you can read here.) I can’t produce this type of writing when I am overcommitted. It’s just not possible.
When I started back at Lindamood-Bell in early January, I committed to working no more than 20-30 hours a week. Almost immediately, I found that I had space in my days, so I returned to my blog. As I began to write again, I saw, almost immediately, how God continues to work in my life.
He gave me the option last semester to commit to one, two, or three classes. I chose three. He let me see, again, what it is like to fully commit to the classroom for a season. He allowed me to run on all cylinders as I tend to do so that I could see what I exchange for that kind of pace. And then, he allowed me to have a moment of clarity last fall to say “no” to more adjunct teaching so that I could stumble back into the pace that He has been offering me since I moved into this next chapter. Finally, He nudged me toward the keys.
God works through my writing. He speaks to me. He says, when you slow yourself down long enough to put your words on a page, you finally hear what I’m trying to tell you. And what is He telling me today? I think He’s saying, settle in. Enjoy this pace. And, you know, I think I’m gonna listen.
Psalm 46: 10
Be still, and know that I am God.