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Fresh Start/Being Absent

This week was the first week back to school for most of my colleagues, but as an occasional teacher, it was one extra week of summer for me. But since I spent the first half of summer teaching and the second half mostly not home, this was a week of rest and reflection for me, a chance to reset for the new year. I got my house back in order, started working out consistently again, and did a lot of reading for fun. I’m almost back to routine. More importantly, I have given some thought into how I would like my year to go and I feel ready to start. Here are some of my reflections from the last week (and month before that).

  1.  I really love that feeling when I exercise in the morning. Not the exercise itself so much as when Apple Watch tells me that I’ve hit my 30 minutes and says, “Way to seize the morning, Melanie.” This idea of seizing the morning really stuck with me. I read an article about how if you make your bed, it sets you up to be more productive all day. I tried it, and it works for me. If the bed is made, I can’t crawl back in quite so easily. I also noticed that if I lay out my workout clothes before going to bed, I do a much better job at following through. Most importantly, I recognized these patterns! (I should probably give credit to the podcast Happier for helping me to pay attention and recognize that these things are making me, well, happier.)
  2. As much as I LOVE teaching, I need to take breaks and not spend every minute of every day thinking about students and how to improve their experience. In the same way that you need to put on your oxygen mask first on an airplane, so too, I need to take care of me first so that I can be the calm, patient person that I need to be when teaching. With this in mind, I am reading more for fun (something that I love and wasn’t making enough time for before) and getting in more exercise, and most importantly, limiting the number of hours I spend on work when I have the ability to do so.
  3. Stress really is lethal. It makes me less likely to work out and more likely to eat sugary garbage food. Therefore, #1 and #2 above are extremely important. I have taken steps to work on this. I signed up for an online class that has nothing to do with teaching through my alma mater, Colgate University. I am trying out for a hockey team.
  4. I am very privileged in life. I have a job that I love and that has given me a break. There are so many people out there who do not have such luxury. I need to try to hold on to that as I jump back into the day-to-day life.

In the last week, my reading material was The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection by Michael Harris. While the book was far too self-reflective for my taste, something about it struck a chord. I have been “always on” for too long, and this break was what I needed. The book argues the value of being absent. On Cape Breton Island, Wi-Fi was often not an option and service was often not an option, so all that was left was the beautiful view and the awesome person right next to me. I was absent, and it was glorious.

Then I think about all of the students going back to school this week. In what ways do they need some absence in their lives? For how many of them is school their opportunity to be absent from the stress that is their home life? How can we make sure that students have an opportunity to be absent from academics for at least part of their lives? I’m not sure, but I think that a lot of our kids suffer from being “always on.” What can I do to help alleviate that? That is what I wonder today.

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