(32) Cease the Struggle

This morning I thought I knew what this blog would be about. But as of this moment, I am still not sure.

I had pulled out one of my favorite books: When Things Fall Apart by Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron, and had read through and studied the chapter “Three Methods for Working With Chaos.” The first method is to “cease to struggle.”  I had decided earlier I’d be writing about that.

I had looked forward to this weekend.  I had not one plan, not one appointment, nothing to do but relax and enjoy.

Did I?  Not really.  Because I got caught up in hours of trying to figure out how I am going to teach my students — prepare my students — for a test coming their way in a month.

A test NOT ONE PERSON IN THIS STATE knows exactly what it will be.

A test NOT ONE PERSON IN THIS STATE can explain how it will be scored.

A test NOT ONE PERSON IN THIS STATE can provide results until next FALL.  You read that right.  Next October.

Yet, there goes my weekend.  Because, NOT ONE PERSON IN THIS STATE has provided ideas or teaching materials for us.  All they have provided are prompts we are required to give our students, spend ungodly amounts of time double scoring (much of it not paid), and then input into the computer system.

But — no one knows if we are scoring correctly with our made up rubric.  Can you say WASTED TIME?

I spent three hours yesterday trying to find materials; specifically, pieces of writing that I can put together and then teach my students how to think it through and write about it.  It means I also have to come up with a question, which as you may have already gathered, I really don’t have any idea how to phrase — except, from what I’ve seen, I have to include words my students are sure not to know.

I finally told myself yesterday that the best thing to do is to teach my kids how to think about the writings.  How to find like elements that they can then compare or contrast or write about in some way. I felt relieved.

But, this morning it started again. I’m reading the frustrations of other teachers going through the same thing.  I’m reading about students who write their essays explaining they simply do not know what to do.  Meanwhile, I’m also reading about fantastic teaching ideas that I would love to implement right now!  Specifically, an NPR report about improvisation in the classroom.  I see that I already had a taste of this last week and it was a huge hit.  (see post “When Love Takes Flight)

There ARE great teaching ideas out there.  The bad news for teachers is our few months of time to do those things is now basically gone.  Testing season is on in earnest now.

A civilian might say, “But why teach to the test?”  Because I have a conscious.  I cannot send my peeps in there without preparation. How is that fair?  And even with all the prep I do, I have NO IDEA if the test will even match up.  None. Nada. Zip.

This frustration has ruled my weekend. Stolen my time. My books sit. My mandolin sits.

Not only my time, but my energy.

My friend Laurie wrote a blog earlier today where she said this: “If school…is to prepare us for life, shouldn’t there be more focus on living?”  I’m thinking to myself, YES! And then maybe I wouldn’t spend my weekend caught up in a battle I cannot win.

Which leads me back, of course, to Pema Chodron.

Cease the struggle.  Whatever arises, look at it with nonjudgmental attitude.

I have some judgments, you can see. I’m caught up in helping my kids win a game that is rigged to make them lose. There. I just hit the heart of the matter.

Pema also says, “Things arise and things dissolve forever and ever. That’s just the way it is.”

And this: “We can stop struggling with what occurs and see its true face without calling it the enemy.  It helps to remember that our practice is not about accomplishing anything — not about winning and losing — but about ceasing to struggle and relaxing as it is.”

I cannot give any more time and energy to this, it is clear.  It is going on 4 p.m.  My weekend is nearly over.  I will make a roast and sip some wine and get around to reading the New York Times and enjoy my time that is left. I will cease to struggle. It only hurts me.  And let’s face it — if it is hurting me, it will eventually hurt my students.

I’m going back to my plan. Teach them how to think. Give them something that will make their life worth living. I cannot rely on anyone else to do that in my classroom but me. I have to keep in mind that education is about living — and that includes way more than just a job.

Cease the struggle.  Stop looking for fixed answers.  Opt for aliveness.

Improvise.

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