Category Archives: Articles of Note

Thoughts on attention

This is psychologist Gloria Mark talking on Ezra Klein’s show:

We’ve created a culture where to pull ourselves away signals that we’re not working. I think that managers and decision-makers need to be educated that it’s really important to give people permission to be able to take long breaks when they need them, to take walks outside, to have social interactions with other people, to create a culture where people are not penalized for not answering electronic communications after work hours and before work hours, to give people a chance to really detach from work, to restore themselves. Managers are delegating work to us without considering that people might be exhausted. And they need to understand that sometimes less can be more.

It got me thinking about how organizations, even when the leader is doing their best, allow this kind of culture to exist. Much of school life now seems to be predicated on making sure that detaching or pulling away never happens.

Long breaks? Let’s make sure teachers have two, three, four classes in a row. Let’s ensure that they have multiple preps. Let’s make sure that there are never enough subs so their breaks are consumed covering other classes.

Here’s the story I tell about this: at my old school, for two years, we had a nurse once a month. A kid’d come and say, “I’m not feeling well” and we’d say, “Come back next Tuesday.”

The school district doesn’t have enough and relies on everyone in the building tending to everything. So the kind of extended time and space necessary to do anything creative does not exist.

Walk outside? Even if that was possible — usually the times when that might be possible get consumed early in the week — we’re not supposed to leave the building without clocking in or out. Remember Laverne and Shirley? Or Charlie Chaplin? That’s teaching in 2024.

Kronos waits. Kronos watches. Kronos knows.

Social interactions? When is that supposed to happen? During my preps, here’s what I’m usually doing:

40-50% of the time: trying to have enough headspace to offer timely feedback on powerful assessments kids have submitted.

20-30% of the time: trying to make sure that my plan for the next hour, day, or week, builds on what we did yesterday and on the interesting tangents that occurred today.

10-30% of the time: consulting with students around various things, sometimes academic, sometimes personal, sometimes fun. If I am talking with a colleague, more than likely it’s about another student.

10-30% of the time: operating clubs because our particular roster makes after-school programming difficult.

10-30% of the time: answering emails and Canvas comments.

I’m failing to complete most of these tasks. I’m failing. So I’m filled with anxiety about what’s left undone.

So when’s that fun, water-cooler, how are your kids, what’d you do this weekend going to happen?

To create a culture where people are not penalized for not answering electronic communications after work hours and before work hours.

Ha. The only way this is possible is if you elect not to look at your email knowing two things: either your principal is going to have to defend you from a parent wondering why you didn’t write them back OR you’re doing to have to use that same prep time that’s already committed to ten other things to answer email.

The third option, which a number of teachers now employ, is the Ford Pinto option. Never answer your email. The two to three percent of situations that blow up are better than addressing the fact that you get thirty to fifty emails a day. And you’re free to not worry about email.

To give people a chance to really detach from work, to restore themselves.

There’s one school of thought that teachers have two months to do this. As a result, they should be expected to run in fifth gear from September until December. This might be possible if school didn’t consist of intense emotional work a good portion of the time. If it were only intellectual work I was doing each day, then sure, I could recover.

But I have 140+ kids each day as well as the other 360+ kids I know and care about. If each kid has a tough time once a school year, that’s me managing a tough time every day. And there’s all manner of hidden work that just isn’t accounted for. Here’s a chart I made about special education requirements, which are legal and I do my best to meet:

I could have done the same with a number of other tasks that will require similar numbers of hours — recommendation letters — and you can go back to a fifty-year old book, Horace’s Compromise, for some of the best math around grading.

Managers are delegating work to us without considering that people might be exhausted. This is a little tricky in schools. A good portion of the crud work — work that doesn’t move the school along — is assigned from central office folks whose one goal in life seems to be having a computer work station where they can watch every teacher every day (again see Charlie Chaplin, Modern Times).

But not all of it. Does every administrator truly understand the categories above when they send an email or deliver a new task? Do they know and understand how stretched their staff is?

Irony: as I was writing this, I was also working on my plan for this week in history and posted multiple times on our school chat, creating one more thing for my colleagues to deal with.

Here’s a link to Mark’s book.

Article on Bayard Rustin

Here.

Two great quotes:

All this was part of Rustin’s central understanding: pragmatism and principle intertwine to make progress.

The principles that Rustin held steadfast, though they may seem unexciting in a political culture that loves romantic extremists, are nonetheless time-tested: Work within a coalition as broad as you can make it. Emphasize logistic efficiency. Relish the metaphoric imagination, but don’t let it run away with your judgment. Accept that perseverance is the best friend of freedom. Although utopianism and visionary overreach may be necessary beacons of freedom, they can, left to their own devices, become its betrayers.

James Baldwin

The children are always ours, every single one of them, all over the globe; and I am beginning to suspect that whoever is incapable of recognizing this may be incapable of morality. Or, I am saying, in other words, that we, the elders, are the only models children have. What we see in the children is what they have seen in us–or, more accurately perhaps, what they see in us.

Here.

Got the Baldwin reference from Lydia Polgreen.

Who I found via Kathleen Kingsbury’s column.

Thought from one city priest

This memorial is powerful.

This line stuck with me:

What he understood is the difference between charity and community — a difference founded in kinship, in recognizing that we all fall down, that sometimes it takes another hand to pull us up again. “All you have to do,” he once told the novelist Ann Patchett, “is give a little bit of understanding to the possibility that life might not have been fair.”

Renkl, Margaret. “Opinion | Proof That One Life Can Change the World.” The New York Times, August 14, 2023, sec. Opinion.

A.O. Scott on Reading

This is a great article, one I’ll certainly use with my students.

If I had the time or the talent, I’d write the follow up:

Why are we so afraid of writing?

I’d talk about how Chat GPT feels like even more of a threat to writing as humans figure out how to cut out key intellectual components from the writing process. I’d talk about how I don’t want my students to grow up to be literary critics but how I do want them to always feel that sitting down to work at a piece of writing can help them figure out the world. I’d talk about the joy one can take from early bits of writing — throwing paint at a canvas — through the later bits — when you’re carefully re-shaping things.

Neil Gaiman Interview

Here.

No mention of The Graveyard Book.

Gaiman recites a Rudyard Kipling poem, a poem rooted in this quote from the Odyssey, I think:

“Oh for shame, how the mortals put the blame on us gods, for they say evils come from us, but it is they, rather, who by their own recklessness win sorrow beyond what is given…”

Oh, and The Sandman is that good. I thought it’d be hard to top the audiobook version, one I listened across a series of winter long walks, but this Netflix production is awesome.