I wouldn’t be disappointed if I weren’t working so hard


I taught a class today that didn’t go well. Actually, it went pretty badly.

I tried to engage in a discussion with my students that required critical thinking about statistics in the media, and they mostly didn’t engage with me. It took me a long time to plan out the lesson, carefully choose my resources, and prepare everything to guide them to a deeper understanding an appreciation.

And it mostly crashed and burned. You can read the play-by-play on the class blog, if you want (link).

Each day I write a post explaining what happened during class for anyone who missed it, and for the reference of those who were there. Today I shared my frustration with their stance in the room. From that post:

You’re not here to “do school”. You’re here to develop skills and learn to think critically. Calculating medians is not a way to develop your brain. Completing tasks is not the point.

I need you to be able to analyze, interpret, draw conclusions, and make decisions based on data. Any spreadsheet can calculate medians, but Excel can’t tell you whether three minutes of exercise is enough each week or whether e-cigarettes are a good thing.

I’m fully aware that our school system tends to prioritize finishing activities over real learning. Math can be particularly vicious because of the number of discrete, technical skills required to even begin to “see the big picture” of how everything relates and works together.

But I’m trying hard to break outside of that mode. Really hard. I’m trying to make real learning the priority. And I’m not above admitting that I made a mistake here. This lesson wasn’t designed well, or I didn’t prepare my students well for this approach today, or maybe both. But here’s what I need next:

I want what’s best for each of you, and that means actual learning, not just task completion. If there’s something you need in this class to make that happen and I’m not providing it, I need you to tell me. Today didn’t work, and I don’t want a repeat performance tomorrow. None of us does, I hope. Help me out.

I really mean that. I was so much more disappointed today because of how much planning and time went into this failure. And worse: I don’t know what I’ve learned from the experience. I’m now counting on my students to tell me what they really need to meet the goals I’ve set out for them.

Off Topic On Purpose

This morning Gregory Taylor (@mathtans) tweeted to me:

We back-and-forthed once, which I hope displays properly here:

And he was right. So here I am, even though I’m tired, because I like to write. It might even relax me a little.

In a rut

I notice that my last four posts have all been about work. That can be all right, I suppose, but I try to keep this blog more varied than that. Unfortunately, when I decided to write a post tonight only work-related ideas popped into my head. Tragic. I’m living and breathing this job, and it’s consuming my entire brain.

I don’t want to be in this brainrut all the time; I don’t think it’s good for me, my brain, or my family.


My plan is to intentionally write some posts in the next while that are not related to my job in any way that I can perceive.

Therefore I’m signing off entirely for the night, even though I’m sure there are emails waiting for responses, because I’ve already worked 60 hours this week and it’s only Thursday. I’m going to escape into something I enjoy and turn off my teachermind until tomorrow morning.

Good night.

I feel guilty writing this blog post

I spent about 13 hours working on school stuff today. I planned lessons, collaborated with colleagues, taught math concepts, worked one-on-one with students, developed practice materials, communicated with online students, searched out supplementary resources, marked tests,….

It’s 12:28am. I finished the school work that my brain can safely manage a little while ago, and I’m getting ready for bed. I’ll be up again at 6 o’clock to restart the cycle, and I’ll still be tired. 

I like my job, I love my students, and I desperately want them to succeed. But I’m also exhausted already and feeling guilty for taking ten minutes to tap this into my phone. The work is so important, but letting it take precedence over everything else in my life is unhealthy and is unfair to everyone, including me. It always takes up more than its fair share of my brain’s CPU cycles, and it’s taking up too much of my personal time as well. 

If anything eludes me this year it’s balance. I need some real down time, real soon. 

This is me not keeping up

I was right to be a little nervous about starting my new job this fall. Not because I’m unskilled, or my students will devour me, or I’ve lost touch with the realities of teaching.

It’s because I have one foot in each world, and those two worlds both want to take over.

Case in point

I like to blog. I enjoy dumping my thinking and reflections here. See how many posts I’ve had since school started? Yeah. Ugh.

Finding time

There is more to do in a day than can be done in a day. My system-level e-Learning transition work officially takes just one period a day, but tends to spill over into 3+ periods a day. My online, combined ICS3C/ICS3U course is supposed to happen in another 75 minutes; that one mostly soaks up my evenings. MDM4U is the most manageable, probably because my class time is utterly sacred and untouchable. So I end up working 12-14 hour days and still have…let’s see…ah, down to 105 unread emails.

I’m not blaming

The new guys are learning the ropes (and rather well, if I can say that out loud), but it all takes time. It’s not their fault; not at all. I had years to learn, refine, and practice the eLC skills, so there is a lot that I’ll have to do for now while I teach them.

But it would be nice to focus…

…on just the teaching and department heading. Today I worked with the team and with Career Studies teachers using Blended Learning, and I felt guilty not being with my class (they had a solid math teacher with them today, which is sometimes a luxury, so it’s not a logical guilt). Right now I’m about to check on my ICS students and help them along so they can have a great Friday. And I’m thinking I should be emailing guidance counselors and I’m prepping for tomorrow’s BL session and then there’s that teleconference on Monday…. Definitely not keeping up.

I’m not doing any more work tonight

I’m the e-Learning Contact for our board, which means I’m responsible to teachers and students who are using digital tools for learning. I provide access to the virtual Learning Environment, I ensure people have their account credentials, I copy content into and between courses, I connect our classes with students from outside our board,…. It’s a pretty long list.

We don’t have a ridiculous number of students (about 10000 from K-12, or about 4500 from 9-12), so my work is different from that of eLCs in very large boards. I spent today, the first day of semester two, getting e-Learning students and Blended Learning teachers into their virtual classrooms. As these things go, it was a fairly smooth day. Between last night and this afternoon I enrolled about 900 students into new courses, emailed all of the e-Learning students and their parents/guardians/guidance counselors, and copied content for a bunch of Blended Learning classes. Objectively, it was a very successful day.

And I feel guilty.

Not because I let things slide; I didn’t. Not because I let people down; for the most part I came through on my promises.

No, I feel guilty because there are still unread and un-dealt-with emails in my inbox. There are still items on my to-do list, things that I could finish that would enable other people to move forwards. But I’m writing this blog post instead, taking 20 minutes or so for myself, and I feel guilty for doing it.

A quick peek in that other tab, the one I’m avoiding at the moment, shows 112 unread messages. About half of those are from today, and another quarter are from the weekend. That’s not a reasonable number to try to get through in a single evening. I know that. I still feel a kind of pressure to get at least some of it done.

I had this problem last year. I spent most of the school year working double time, burning up evenings and weekends with “essential” and “critical” items. I promised that I wouldn’t fall into that same pattern, that same trap, this year.

And so far it’s been pretty good, and I’ve kept the “after hours” work to a manageable level. Keeping it that way has come from making a conscious, daily decision to not let work take over my life.

I believe in the value of what I do, that the work is good work, and that it’s worth doing. But it’s not worth doing whatever the cost to me and my family, so tonight I’m leaving the rest of those messages unread. I’m sure they’ll still be there tomorrow, and I’m sure that everyone will understand if it waits a little while longer.