~ by Christine Gough
Today marks that quintessential transition day—the school year coming to a close and stepping forward into summer vacation. As an elementary school teacher, I spend hours teaching and instructing each day, but before that happens, my lesson plan book is filled to the brim. Best laid plans for approaching new text, for writing opinion papers. Times highlighted and labeled for P.E., computers or special pull outs.
Topics and lists to cover at meetings or to ask colleagues for clarification and advice. Fluorescent post it notes sticking out, marking important information or events to remember.
Buying and creating this lesson plan book each year is like walking into a candy store for me. Which design will win out? Will it be columns or rows? A month-at-a-glance or weekly planning format? Tabs with color? Places for storing important documents or a separate binder? All this to say…I love having a useful holding place for planning. A location to go back to at the end of each day and ask myself, “Did we make it? Did we push through everything planned, or where do we need to pick up tomorrow?”
When I think of that next “season” that begins today—Summer—I often imagine a big precipice, though. Not a new lesson plan book of opportunity and lessons to be planned and learned. But rather a blank slate of fear. The school year seems like a marathon I have run and completed, crawling across the finish line as I hand out report cards and leave the clean classroom to ruminate over the break. Picking up my sons with brown bags full of projects, papers, pictures and memories, we all breathe a collective sigh, filled with so many emotions. Sadness over the end of a year of community and learning and teacher/student connections. Excitement thinking about the more “relaxed” schedules and days ahead. Anticipation for summer fun…of camping, s’mores, LEGO camp, trips to the beach, afternoons of popsicles and sprinklers, playdates and more time to read.
Wondering, though, if it’s time to see the year as a relay race or maybe a triathlon? A transition into something different that is still part of the same race. Switching from swimming to the bike leg or passing off to a new baton carrier while still moving forward. My head and body want to fall flat on the bed, letting myself sink into the cool comfort of my quilt and zone out, rest. To let PBS Kids take over the childcare and let the kids blaze their own paths for two months. “Teacher Mom is OFF duty!”
It doesn’t work that way, though. And even when it seems like that path is the best route, I know it’s not. If I come into the school day unprepared, while the students may never catch on, my inner world is wrought with angst. I play tapes through my head filled with, “you aren’t good enough…you didn’t care enough to plan….you can’t get your act together.” And really? Everyone suffers.
So this summer, I am making a plan book of sorts for our days. It won’t be nearly as full as my teacher lesson book at school, but I am blazing a pared down trail. A path for giving some structure to our days. Time for reading. Time for figuring out what to do. Time for a few fun outings. Time for s’mores. Time for trips to the library. Time for sprinklers. Time for the park and friends. And weaving it all together, just like the in the classroom, I am slogging through the process of management. When the “troops” are restless and structure-less and lacking respect, the mission is rarely accomplished. The learning and growth that happens in a well-managed classroom is exponential. This means setting behavior plans, being clear and loving in explaining and enforcing them. Firm, fair and friendly, we used to say when working at camp.
For some reason, this feels so much scarier and more challenging at home, then when facing my classroom of students during the school year. But this summer, it’s going into my Lesson Plans. This summer, I am reminding myself that parenting and faith isn’t something we just magically arrive at if we close our eyes and say, “POOF!” It can feel like, and it truly is, work. It means discipline and planning and follow through. I am convinced with a little pre-planning and mental wrestling, we can create a structure that allows for freedom and choice, but also with a mix of responsibility and fun.
At school with each new unit of study, we always begin our planning by looking at the assessment we must give at the end. What will the students need to do to show growth and learning by the time we finish?
When I am making dinner, I look at the beautifully staged picture of the finished product so I know why I have to add ingredients in a specific order. How many times have I skipped that step and then been halfway into the recipe and realized with frustration that the dough needs to rest for 3 hours, or the meat needs to marinate overnight or the tomatoes need to roast slowly for hours? Plans foiled for simply not knowing the full picture.
As a minister, my husband does this too. What is the main point he wants the congregants to leave ruminating about? If he can’t narrow down his theme enough and simplify it for a children’s message, then he hasn’t planned thoroughly and tightly enough.
So for summer, we must do the same. Look towards the end, to September, and planing for more than survival. My friends have been funneling wonderful suggestions my way and so I’m trying to cook up a soup of:
- daily reading
- exercise and outdoor time
- down time to quiet the pace while enjoying books on tape/cd
- a summer journal (planning to use the same composition notebooks I use with my students which we decorate each September)
- chores on popsicle sticks to be completed before screen time
None of these are new, groundbreaking ideas, but setting out the structure and the plan and then following through will be groundbreaking for me for sure. From the mentors and supervisors in my career, I have learned the value and importance of “setting the place”. Allowing others to arrive knowing you first were there, thinking about them, praying for them, preparing for their arrival and for what would unfold.
So here’s to Summer! To all the fun that makes it a season of rest, rejuvenation and relaxation. But also? Here’s to setting the space. Here’s to filling up the lesson plan book. Here’s to looking at the end result to see where the starting place should be.
“What we do every day
matters more than what we do
once in a while.”
~Gretchen Rubin, Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives