It’s my first free weekend since school started this weekend. I am looking forward to it, though I know the time will fly by and fill up with activities even though my calendar says I am free. Already my teenagers are telling me what their plans are and where they need to go with my car. I am not sure what to do with my own free time when I get it. Lesson planning for me usually means the better part of a Saturday or Sunday, sometimes both days, and 1-2 hours daily outside of school day. When I am in a place of joy with it, it is a tremendous creative outlet with meaning and purpose that I devote myself to in overwhelming waves. Surfing the waves becomes part of my practice and I have great fun with it. When I am coming from a sense of duty or obligation, it produces guilt towards my family, feelings of inadequacy, resentment toward my students, and a loss of joy and interest in life in general.
The paradox of lesson planning is that if I sit down to lesson plan I usually realize there is so much more to do to fully prepare myself than I first realized. If I even give an hour toward planning, it takes a short time to see how much more I really must do to have everything ready for my students for the week ahead, or the block of study ahead. One hour turns to four pretty easily. A little planning usually translates into more detailed preparation to fully implement the plans that I made.
Good planning=more planning.
The only thing separating a well-planned week’s work of lessons from a poorly planned weeks’ worth of lessons is a tired teacher. When exhaustion sets in, (notice I didn’t say “if” exhaustion sets in but “when,”) I find lesson planning quite a bit more difficult. The need to meditate, read, rest, recuperate, exercise, spend time in nature, recreate, connect with my family meaningfully is often neglected in favor of being better prepared for my lessons. That is what makes Waldorf teaching a calling. Waldorf teachers don’t teach the same subject over and over to the same grade level of children. We develop the content out of ourselves, so that the substance we deliver to the students is ever evolving with the children and (hopefully) alive within us and in response to the what is living NOW.
Facing a week ahead with scanty plans and preparations is like getting in a car for cross country journey with an empty tank and a broken down car. What gets drawn out of me by the students will physically deplete me and I will break down. The anxiety of facing that, the stress, and guilt behind insufficient lesson preparation has caused all kinds of interesting physical effects. There have been misunderstandings, and distortions of many kinds. It is a force to be reckoned with and creates a yearly cycle, which when I reflect on it, could be given more attention and problem solving on my end. Without the ability to create thorough lesson plans, I cannot teach, and without time to devote to my health and relationships, I cannot have a healthy life and therefore cannot teach either. It is as if I have two enemies as a teacher. The problem sets in when one tries to evaluate when “enough is enough.” When have I given enough to the task of lesson planning? This is a difficult question to answer.
Thankfully, there is also the summer preparation, which if I have been disciplined, can carry me well through the fall. During most years so far I find myself decently prepared for the fall and poorly prepared for the spring, so that by the time April or May arrives I feel I am constantly behind the eight ball trying to catch up, full of anxiety and exhaustion which mounts until summer relieves it. When the end of the school year arrives, every single year, I am 100% certain that it is my last year of teaching and I begin my annual exploration for another job. April and May is like the last mile of a year-long marathon of stress, guilt and anxiety. I can at least laugh at this repeating cycle now. Add into this picture the guilt over my expensive student loan for my Waldorf training and our family of five finances, and you have the complete picture. More than once I have said, “I cannot afford the luxury of being a Waldorf teacher.”
During this transit of Jupiter over my natal Pluto in September of 2016 I had set in my mind to make the decision of whether or not I could remain a Waldorf teacher, or if I would need to find something else. For good or bad, I am not quitting now. Instead, I am going to keep exploring the question of balance in teaching, the question of self-forgiveness and perfectionism, in all its deadly forms. It is also a question of how to come from a place of joy in service regardless of how I view the value of my chalkboard drawings in comparison to the teacher next door from me. Who says every chalkboard drawing has to be a magnificent work of art? If you do, then you are welcome to be a sub for me tomorrow. My students may need a break from me more often than other teachers, so be it.
I am going to allow, forgive, and empower myself to do things poorly once in a while, so that I can remain “free to fail.” I am going to allow my students the opportunity to see this striving, so that I can find the right balance between preparation and recuperation. The beauty of Waldorf teaching is that I am creating it in the moment for the children before for me, based out of my insight into what they need and who they are right now, coming from who I am right now.
My teaching is a gift I am giving out of myself and who I am becoming that only I can give, and therefore it is already a one-of-a-kind, masterful work of art.