Things I Know 180 of 365: 5 PM is everyone else’s summer vacation

I was thinking that we all learn by experience, but some of us have to go to summer school.

– Peter De Vries

I’m out in Long Beach, CA for the month working with the Freedom Writers Foundation. While I’ll be helping to pull together a few exciting projects in my time here, today concluded with data entry.

A bit mundane, the data I’m entering is a necessary component of a project I’m working on. The project will end up being interesting, helpful and important. For now, though, I’m entering the addresses of 200 teachers into a spreadsheet.

I’ve entered data before. The data entry, in and of itself, didn’t stand out to me.

What stood out, what absolutely blew my mind was the fact that I stood up at 5:00 PM and walked away from my spreadsheet.

Alright, it was 5:13, but the point stands.

Between now and tomorrow morning, when I show up at the office, I’ll not need to, nor will I tempted to open that spreadsheet and continue working.

This is a foreign concept after 8 years of walking home, manilla folders of essays to grade in my bag or documents waiting when I logged in to Google Apps from my home computer.

In my first year of teaching, my friend Sarah, who had been in the game for a few years mocked me for taking student work home to grade.

“I’ve decided not to do that anymore,” she told me, explaining she kept her school and home lives separate where work was concerned. Grading was what her planning period was for. Anything that didn’t get done Monday could wait for Tuesday.

I attempted this tactic a few times throughout the years.

It never took.

To be the kind of teacher I needed to be and that my kids deserved meant sitting in my room or local coffee shop in my free time underlining, circling and commenting in margins.

I don’t have the exact math on this next claim. If I did, it would prove the claim false. So, from pure conjecture, let me suggest that my time grading, answering questions, reviewing drafts, planning units and lessons of study and collaborating with other teachers done outside of the school day throughout the school year would come close to the days I’d spend in the classroom during the 10-week break that has become summer vacation.

Though it was overwhelming at times, the teaching and learning I did outside of the classroom were always worth it. Writing narrative report cards at 2 AM turned out to be incredibly satisfying.

Having met hundreds of teachers around the country, I can say with an elevated degree of certainty, this is the life of a teacher.

It is not, I learned today, the life of many others. That kind of drive and dedication in most other fields evidences and intention to move up a corporate ladder. In teaching, it evidences an intention not to bury ourselves alive.

Turns out not everyone brings their work home with them. Feel free to raise your hand and bring this up the next time you hear someone justify homework as preparation for the “real world.”

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