Downshifting

As a 24-year veteran of teaching, a person would think I have no trouble transitioning from the school year routines to summer. However, every year, this one included, I struggle with the change in routine? Why? This year, I finally realized what challenges me about the switch in schedule and routine.

 

I’ve done this now for 24 years. I’d love to tell you I’ve gotten better at each year. Sadly, I haven’t. This is just as big a challenge for me now as it was after my first year.

I’m talking about downshifting: transitioning from the pell-mell pace of the school year into the easier, more relaxed pace of summer. Some years have been really, really hard. The year my son was two was especially rough. I was used to constant activity and decision-making from the 5:00 AM alarm to my own bedtime at 10:00 PM. The first six hours of summer break showed me clearly that my own go-go-go pace didn’t match his two-year-old pace. It took me weeks to become comfortable with the slower speed.

Every year I feel a bit “off-kilter” the first week or two of summer break. I’m not quite sure what to do with myself. My husband will find me nervously checking my calendar to make sure I haven’t missed any important appointments or meetings. Finally, this year, I realized why I struggle so much with this transition.

I’m not having to multi-task and make decisions at the pace and level I do during the school year. Even weekends during the school year are filled with multi-tasking and quick decision-making, as I try to make the most of those “relaxed” hours during the week. My brain has been working at a fast pace, so it takes a bit of work just to relax.

This graphic explains the pace of a teacher’s mind during the school day. Making four decisions per minute sounds incredible, but at this point in my career, I don’t have a hard time believing it. I’m guessing those are decisions such as: “Should I call on this student, or that one?” or “Hmm, do I need to liven up this lesson because that student is looking a little sleepy.” Some are major instructional decisions: “So half the class didn’t understand this based on my formative assessment; how do I go about making this clearer to them?” Others are more personal in nature, such as, “Should I grade these papers now, or do it tonight when it’s quieter at home?” This decision-making aspect of teaching has been of interest to researchers for a while; Larry Cuban summarizes some research comparing jazz musicians, NBA basketball players, and teachers in this blog from 2011.

What’s also interesting and a little bit scary is that that research suggests multitasking is bad for the brain. I can believe that, too. I am usually really cranky the first week or so of summer break. The constant worry that I’m forgetting something nags at me; I’m really not forgetting anything, but because there aren’t demands of making hundreds of decisions on me, I feel a bit lost. After a week or two, I settle into the summer routine, and I do better.

I’m really curious how other teachers handle this transition. What do you do to shift yourself from the school year routine to summer?

Photo by Tilemahos Efthimiadis is licensed by CC by 2.0.

Related categories: