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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Burning Out or Burning Up?

My wife and I received a church newsletter from "back home" a couple days ago.  In it was a long article about the death of long-time preacher acquaintance of ours.  He was in his upper 80s when he died last week.  Hundreds of people attended the visitation and funeral.  He preached for over 60 years. 

I had the privilege of hearing Larry preach several times.  Once, he preached to a group of preachers, and at the time I was one.  He made a comment that I was reminded of as I read the article: "It's better to burn up than to burn out."  I'll not go into the context at this point...maybe some other time.

In light of my previous post about missing the classroom, I am giving some time to think about what happened to me.  Did I burn up or did I burn out?  I would like to think I burned up.  I just couldn't keep going at the pace I set.  I needed the break.  I felt bad about the fact that I could not keep it up.  I questioned myself, my commitment to my students, and even my continuation in education.  I have been looking for some inspiration over the past few months, and noticed a common thread in the history of the lives of "Hollywood" teachers...Jaime Escalante (Stand and Deliver), Ron Clark (The Ron Clark Story), Joe Clark (Lean on Me), and to a lesser degree Glenn Holland (Mr. Holland's Opus). 

The common thread is that each person "burned up."  Here's what I mean.  Each teacher worked hard, devoted their lives to their students' success, and then needed a break (or time away from what they were doing).  They needed to do something else for a while.  Escalante was an engineer for a while, Ron Clark took a few years away from teaching to raise funds for his own academy (which opened this year in Atlanta), Joe Clark moved schools, Holland took many years to really get the idea that he was a teacher. 

To be gender fair, Erin Gruwell (The Freedom Writers) only lasted five or six years in the K-12 classroom, and follows the same pattern of needing the break after burning up.

You get the idea.  There are times when teachers need a break from their norm.  I wonder if one way to keep teachers in the profession would be to grant a working sabbatical.  Imagine a teacher working six years, then getting a year to work on an advanced degree, lead professional development, or work in the school library.  It could be a time to recharge the battery, contribute in a different way, and learn from other teachers as well. 

I'm ready to return to the classroom, and in my preparation I have been talking to colleagues about it.  Interestingly, the ones I have spoken with appear to be in need of a sabbatical themselves.  They are worn out at best, burned out at worst.  Teachers are counting down the years to retirement, and trying to figure out ways to do it early.  Teaching is hard work, when you do it right.

Have you ever taken a break, or needed one?  Are you burning up or burning out? 

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At 6:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sabbaticals used to be the norm. My mom had one for a year. I have had friends who've had the privilege. A few years back I took a year off (for no pay) used up my savings and went to art school. It was a great year, but the truth is... a year wasn't enough. It was barely enough to scratch the surface of my need to be out of the classroom on the other side of the desk.

My feeling now is that people should not go into teaching right out of school. Teaching should be a profession of an older person who has lived and done many self actualizing things before moving into teaching. They should have something to teach besides the canon of their curriculum (which in some subject areas is not all that well articulated to begin with).

Then, when they come into the profession, they come in with that same initial joy, but without the sense of loss that comes later when you realize that teaching stunts one part of yourself in order to let another part grow... much like motherhood.


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