Thinking Aloud: The Importance of Being Idle

There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither.

Alan Cohen

(Dear reader: I’m aware of the irony in this post, seeing as I seem to be posting quite proficiently at the moment, but anyway…)

As a fully signed up comrade of the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire, I am a true believer in the concept that hard work breeds success. Most of the books on success – Bounce, Talent Is Overrated, Outliers – all acknowledge that it is graft that makes a difference; the 10,000 hour rule and all that.

I don’t think I’m far off 10,000 hours in teaching time. Am I the best at what I do? Hell no. Am I better than I was 10 years ago? Hell yes. Do I keep working to do even better? Bloody right I do. But am I always working to the red line, pushing and pushing myself to even further extremes? No. Not at all.

Let’s use an analogy here. We all know that exercise is good for you. When you exercise, you put your body under stress in order that it will adapt to and cope with greater and greater exertion and thus make you fitter, happier and more productive, to paraphrase Radiohead. What’s often forgotten is that physical exertion actually damages muscle tissue. It is the recovery part of the exercise after exertion that makes your muscles and ultimately you fitter and stronger. Now recovery is not just sitting still, of course, but it is a vital stage in the development of one’s fitness. If you relentlessly exercise then your body and probably your mind will break down, and it’s hello doughnuts and sofa surfing.

This obviously translates to work. In teaching many of us work at 100% of our effort for huge parts of the day, putting our bodies under mental, emotional and physical stress. That is not a sustainable situation. There are two ways of dealing with this. The first is to not work at 100% all of the time. If you can do that and get the best out of your pupils, then contact me via the ‘About’ page and I want to learn from you. For the rest of us, we’ve got to build in rest time. If this isn’t a lunch break, then it’s an hour or two after school, blocked out time at the weekends and in holidays too.

There have been times – one of them this year – where I’ve worked solidly through the six weeks holiday on projects. I never learn, because I hit the wall much earlier than other people in the first half-term back – I’m in a sort of mental burnout. For the first time in a long time I’m not going into school during this half-term, because I’ve wanted to block out some quality time for me and my family, and do you know what? I feel great.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a pile of tests to mark, lessons to plan, reports to write and presentations to script, all of which will be done by the time I’m back in on Monday. But for a couple of days this week, I’m going to kick back, put my feet up and read a book. I’ve already been out on the bike beyond 10 miles for the first time since July. I helped my 5 month old daughter feed some ducks yesterday. It’s just allowed my mind and body to breathe for just a few days before I pick up the baton again.

It’ll mean I’m more prepared to deal with the daily onslaught that is the role of a Head of Maths. As a result it’ll mean I’ll do better for my students. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

P.S. The book I’m reading will be Hattie’s Visible Learning. But don’t hold that against me…


About workedgechaos

Teacher. Critic. Geek.
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