Downtime In The Dead of December

If you’re reading this now, I’m already dead.

Just kidding.

Fate willing.

But if you’re reading this, Christmas is right around the corner and I’m back in the classroom.  Session 2 has begun and the trainees and I are discussing and demonstrating activities and techniques in listening and speaking methodology.

It also means I survived three weeks of prep time.

Hello, coffee my old friend. ♩ ♪ ♫ ♬

Today is December 1st.  Last week, our final School Administrator Workshop concluded.  And I stare an empty work schedule in the face.

The trainees are in England, loving life.  They’re deepening their English knowledge, practicing the art of language pedagogy, instructing hopefully-not-too-unruly British pupils, touring Scotland and France, and documenting all of it with their camera phones.

And I am in my office, staring down seemingly bottomless free time and an even deeper to-do list.

The days are shorter, the nights are colder, and seasonal affective disorder plunges its sinewy, shadowy tendrils into my soul.

I should be happy.  Isn’t this the dream?  I have three weeks of paid on-site leave.  Who wouldn’t want to be in my place?

All I know is that sometimes, I wish I wasn’t in my place.

The grass is always greener, right?  While I wade through day-after-day of full teaching days I long for a break.  But when I am on break, I want nothing more than the mindful miracle that is classroom teaching.

Great improv warm-up.  “The oracle has spoken.”

My thoughts garner mixed reviews from my co-workers.

IAN – “I miss the motion, action, and purpose I get from teaching.”

CO – “I don’t.  Embrace this downtime.  In a month, you’ll want nothing more than a break.  These periods are few and far between.  Savor it.”

IAN – “I miss the trainees.”

CO – “We need the emotional distance.  Trust me.  We both get a break from each other, and then we can resume with renewed rapport once the trainees return.”

Both of my co-workers speak from experience and wisdom.  I see their points.  I can picture a life of burnout and misery if I live solely through my classroom. All “Go” and no “Slow” makes Ian a mess.

Descending into madness. Building robot friends.

While working at Namak High School, I enjoyed a well-balanced rapport with students.  I saw every student just once a week in class and some students two more times during after-school courses along with occasional hallway “hellos” and high-fives.

But this six-month program expanded my concept of instructor-learner rapport by an order of magnitude.  A proliferation of deep-level conversations, hilariously creative project work, and inside jokes have provided a deep sense of purpose and attachment to this group of teachers.  Sometimes I miss the daily dose of connection like an alcoholic misses their daily drink.  The withdrawal is real.

But our perspective is only so broad.  As one element expands, other pieces are sure to contract in response.  It’s easy to allow myopia to set in as one descends into the rabbit hole of connection.

For me, as my connection with this class of trainees has grown, I feel the attention to my curriculum shrinking.

It doesn’t feel good at this time, but my co-workers are absolutely right.  I need this emotional distance to reflect as a teacher, to reassess my curriculum, and to allow absence to make my heart grow fonder.

We all need a break before we all lose our minds.

It’s not as if I have nothing to do.  I have eleven lessons to plan.  The classtime I crave would descend into disaster if I fail to plan.  Now is the time to assess what I want to teach from a bird’s-eye view and slowly dive into a day-to-day plan that will lead my classes to summative objectives.

We also have another teacher workshop in January and February.  I will lead three-hour sessions on grammar instruction.  As an experienced conversation instructor, I am a bit outside of my wheelhouse.  Research is a must.

Before stepping into this position, I felt excited at the prospect of digging through textbooks and academic literature with dedication and urgency – a fond nostalgic relic of my university days.

I also look forward to preparing a blog post linking improvisational games to Youtube videos or detailed instruction.  The trainees loved playing improv games as a class warm-up throughout Session 1 and hope to employ some of the activities in their own class.  They asked me to prepare a resource for them.  It would be my pleasure to provide value where I can.

In short, I’m not short of work to do.

Yet I sometimes find myself in want of motivation.  Entrepreneurship is not for me.  I wish I had the self-motivation to make order out of the chaos of a free schedule, but I don’t.  While it’s a skill I can develop, I am far from where I want to be when it comes to self-discipline.

Also a great opportunity for team-building, reflection, and professional development.

So as I descend into three weeks of cold and terrifying freedom, I have some predictions.

First, I will accomplish all of those items on my to-do list in some capacity.

Second, I will spend at least three days peeling myself away from my desk at 6:00 after long hours of Youtube and no productivity.

Third, I will watch the Seahawks host the Vikings on Monday Night Football (Hell Yeah!)

UPDATE:  Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!

Finally, I will emerge grateful for this downtime.  I will be grateful for the opportunity to plan two months of awesome lessons.  I will be grateful for the emotional distance built through classroom inactivity.  I will be grateful for the chance to develop my own self-discipline.  But most importantly, I will be grateful that it is over and I can return to doing what I love – empowering teachers and learners toward their language goals.

So into the darkness, I go.  Fate willing, I shall emerge with a greater appreciation of the light.

Catch me on my phone.  How bout’ dat?


Happy Holidays everyone!  🙂


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