Charter school teaching has been more rewarding than I could ever have asked from a job. The trade-offs, however, are significant: to truly prepare and execute with success requires an enormous amount of hours, and more importantly, a lot of head space for reflection and planning. As a guy who loves to do lots of things and wants to learn even more, this can make it difficult to truly embrace new skills and new hobbies.
At first, I thought this was purely an issue of time, but as I thought about it more, I realized the head space problem is the far more important one. As somebody who watches almost zero television and plays almost zero video games, I have free chunks of time even with an expanded work schedule, lots of fun with my wife, and blocks set aside to read and physically train. It’s not much: an hour here and there, but I still frequently find myself pointlessly scrolling through Facebook and thinking “damn, this is a waste of time.”
I’ve talked about learning to bake, learning to smoke meat, going back to art, writing more, training for a really badass sporting event, and on and on. I want to squeeze everything I can out of this one life I’ve been given, after all. A bunch of dough for bread could be gotten together in a few minutes. A true bbq cook could be done simultaneously with lots of other things. Writing can be done in a few minutes. Why don’t I just do these things?
When I really thought about this, I realized the answer: I don’t just “do” these things for the same reason I don’t just walk into my classroom every day and wing it in front of my kids. The joy, reason, and power in a pursuit is not in just doing it, but in doing it well.
I don’t want to churn out a shitty, dense loaf of brick bread every month or so, or to make a tough, chewy brisket that my friends have to endure at a cookout, or to puke up the occasional self-centered, ‘look at me’ blog post. I want an outcome that was truly worth the doing, and to contribute in a very real way to my own development or to somebody else’s enjoyment. If that’s going to happen, then just like in my classroom instruction, I need a plan.
Good teaching requires constant reflection over the year and planning for what comes next, not to mention managing rooms full of other people’s kids all day. Very often, when that’s done and I’ve hit the weights and showered, I don’t want to form a totally different plan for some other skill or hobby. What I want is a beer, conversation, and some time with a book. These are worthy pursuits, for sure, but if I already had the plan and the basic skills mastered, I could indulge in two of these things while simultaneously enjoying that other skill or hobby!
It is partly for that reason that I had my glorious six weeks off for this summer especially circled on the calendar. Summer break has always been a marvelous blessing for my teaching life. My beautiful lady and I have used it for road trips, adventures, family visits, and more. Sooner or later, however, large chunks of time are given over to what the old philosophers would have called “idle dissipation.” We vowed this summer to cut short on the traveling and driving, which can be a special drain in and of themselves, and to enjoy our break from our lovely house. As the school year came to a close, I became more and more excited: for the first time in quite awhile, I’d have a shitload of headspace to plan, and the time to get started on basics.
After about ten days of pure rest and relaxation, I’m ready!
Like I try to do with my students (and in the great tradition of what Teach for America tried to instill in me), I backwards-plan: that is, I decide what kind of concrete, measurable outcome I want, and long-term plan accordingly from that. What needs to happen on a month-month, week-to-week, and even day-to-day basis to eventually reach that outcome? I incorporate elements of how I’ve been planning my strength training routines as well, as per the great strength athlete, coach, and writer, Jim Wendler: slow and steady wins the race. Make small, attainable goals that progress on a daily or weekly basis towards the final outcome, and experience the ‘victory’ of meeting those smaller goals and you gather momentum and develop a true routine, rather than just random spurts of activity.
My “project,” as I like to call it, is really several different, smaller projects, so I have named the whole pursuit “Project: Legion.” Legion refers to the old Roman Army, and their many-pronged approach to excellence and to problem-solving. My handle is “Centurion,” after all. There’s also a literary reference in there for anybody who wants to catch it: I ain’t going to wax too poetically on my own metaphors. Project: Legion has five aspects, and I’ve begun with the concrete, measurable outcome for all five, for which I can set attainable, step-by-step goals ala Big Jim.
#1: Produce an authentic, ‘better-than-backyard-bullshit’ piece of Texas-style smoked brisket, equivalent to brisket at a quality BBQ establishment.DEADLINE: October 12th
#2: Produce a “thumbs-up, I’d definitely eat that again” loaf of home-made bread. DEADLINE: November 27th
#3: Produce a good-looking piece of wall art for the garage gym. DEADLINE: August 10th
#4:Produce a full ‘Scope and Sequence’ for a year long 8th Grade History Course, with the first two units complete. DEADLINE: August 10th
#5: Be able to complete 40 straight, four-count flutter kick repetitions, 25 straight pull-ups, 100 straight pushups, a 120 pound “Rolling Thunder” deadlift, a 50 pound “Blockbuster Pinch Grip Block” lift, and a 10 mile run in 80 minutes under a 40 pound backpack load. DEADLINE: December 18th
I could have added another goal: to write more, but since my intention is to write about my journey with this project, with a final reflection over Christmas Break, I hope that will naturally overcome the primary obstacle I’ve always had in writing: to have something worthwhile to say. My hope is to continuously update on the slow process and hopefully, amidst all of the making going on, to discover and illuminate how I’ve made a but of myself as well.
Thanks for reading!