It is in moments of illness that we are compelled to recognize that we live not alone but chained to a creature of a different kingdom, whole worlds apart, who has no knowledge of us and by whom it is impossible to make ourselves understood: our body.
I learned a little something these past few weeks.
It started with a surgeon firmly telling me it was time to do a surgical procedure I’d put off for too long. It was a surgery that could require four to six weeks of recovery time. I couldn’t imagine it. Such a long time to be away from my work! Who would run my building? “No,” I told the surgeon. “I simply can’t take that much time off.”
She laughed. “Do you know how many people tell me that? Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re not that important. All the work will wait for you, I promise.”
Well. Okay, then.
I dreaded telling my boss, but she was as always incredibly supportive. With firm compassion, she insisted I put away any guilt and go through with the surgery. She assured me everything would be fine.
As I struggled to let go of my responsibilities for an extended amount of time, there was a small glimmer of eagerness inside me, too. A tiny little voice kept telling me that after the initial week of recovery, I’d be at home alone, in a quiet house, with whole days stretching before me. I could write! I could work on my blog! Do some professional writing! Do some shared thinking with a few writing colleagues over email! I imagined myself snuggled on the couch, slippers on and blankets over my knees, and laptop open. With my husband at work and my kids working through their days at school, there would be nothing to worry about, nothing to clean, and nothing to distract me from some focused writing time.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I tried to read, but I found myself repeating entire paragraphs before realizing I hadn’t truly taken in any meaning. I mostly watched bad television and tried to keep up on the small chores I could still manage–I made the kids’ lunches, prepared a feeble dinner for my family, and did the laundry. I carried on reasonable conversations with my colleagues and friends who visited.
And that’s all I could do. I certainly couldn’t write. Not a single word. I had no desire to think creatively or to think how to put words together in a way that spoke to a reader. The whole prospect seemed too daunting.
Now that I’m back at work and coming out of the fog of those few weeks, I’ve begun to think about young readers and writers. What happens when they don’t feel good? When they don’t sleep well, or they don’t eat right? What about when their stomach, or their throat, or their head–or whatever–just hurts? What if they’re sad or depressed?
With students, when we see them lethargic or distancing themselves from learning, it’s easy to assume they are lazy or lack direction. Even the most positive and persistent of us have had those moments of frustration with our students, asking ourselves, Why can’t he just try? Can I get a little effort here?
I’ve learned that when we feel bad, we can’t create decent writing, or comprehend our reading, or find motivation to dig deeply into our learning. Effective reading and writing hinges on the mind and body feeling good. I’m going to encourage teachers to keep that in mind when they see a student struggling to get started. The fact is that these students come to us, mind and body, all in one package. If they are struggling to learn, it may be that something inside just doesn’t feel right.
This week we look at habits. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Contributor, Choice Literacy
Jennifer Schwanke is a principal in Dublin, Ohio. She also blogs about her personal pursuits at http://jengoingbig.blogspot.com/.
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Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan tie revising to building habits in students in Teaching Revision Through Talk, Routines, and Drawing:
How long does it take to form a new habit? The surprising answer is that it’s often longer than you’d predict, which is why summer is the perfect time for building new ones:
Mary Lee Hahn surveys Choice Literacy contributors about Odd Habits as they share truths and lies about their writing routines. This is a fun icebreaker for summer or fall orientation get-togethers:
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We’re beginning a new series on tutoring from Max Brand. In the first installment, Max works with Esther, a third grader who takes pride in being a rapid reader and rarely pauses to make sense of the text:
Gretchen Taylor finds Giving Up Television enables her to reconsider many habitual behaviors:
In this week’s video, Sean Moore meets with a group of second graders to remind them how to use sticky notes strategically while they are reading:
Stella Villalba writes about the importance early in the year of building habits with students that maximize time for English language learners:
That’s all for this week!