Choice and poetry

Karakoram_Highway__by_pakistan_tourisam_7Despite the fact that over the years I have learnt about how choice, far from freeing us, adds to our feelings of stress and anxiety, I can’t help falling into the trap of thinking that more choice equals better decisions. When I lived abroad in the mountains of the Karakorum there was very little choice. There were two modes of transport, jeep or foot, unless you had an army pass to use the helicopter (I didn’t.) The local shops offered fresh fruit and vegetables, determined by the seasons and live chickens or hanging beef. There were also sacks of rice, tea and flour, but basically that was it. One little grocery shop did sometimes sell western goods like pasta and processed cheese. When my granny used to speak of enjoying the challenge of cooking in the war, I thought she was romanticising her youth. But I did enjoy the challenge of cooking from scratch without an oven, without electricity – just a two ring gas burner and my ingenuity. There was a real sense of satisfaction with my achievements which is harder to achieve with ‘shop bought’ pasta and pesto.

supermarket-shelvesSo coming back to the UK, albeit many years ago now, I found the choice over-whelming. Row upon row of foods I had lived without for two years. Food so far from ‘real’ food in layers of branded packaging. I lost most of my interest in cooking and resorted to a toast based diet. Now once again I find myself back in the territory of too many choices. I am at a cross-roads and far from being exciting it is terrifying. the fear of making the ‘wrong’ choice is all consuming.

I need to make some decisions over the next few weeks and they feel pretty significant. I have taught for the best part of two decades mainly in busy mixed comprehensive schools. Now I feel as if I can’t do it any more. The thought of the noise and the constant low level confrontation with students: asking them to sort out their uniform; hand in their homework; stop talking, is quite frankly exhausting. This coupled with the fact that my own children are now on the cusp of adolescence means I will have absolutely no emotional energy left. These are high quality problems, but when you live with recurrent mental health worries (in fact maybe even if you don’t) it is important to protect yourself from running yourself into the ground.

Tough Young Teachers: Charles, Chloe, Claudenia, Nicholas, Meryl and OliverI used to love  the banter, of the students. They made me laugh and they rewarded me with fabulous work and genuinely engaging human interaction. That is not to say they were my friends but I really liked most of them and cared about their woes. Right now I feel, however, that enough is enough. I am meeting with the deputy head today. I am not really sure of the agenda because I don’t feel in a position to make a decision yet but I realise that time is fast approaching. I know what I don’t want.

  • I don’t want to be back in the classroom
  • I don’t even want to go into the school (we are meeting off-site)
  • In fact I can’t even watch Tough Teachers or read about education in the papers
  • I can’t stand people talking about pedagogy around me AfL, plenaries, student voice, observations – it makes me start sweating

introSo I find myself in a situation where I have good degree from a respected university, 18 years (on and off – two children etc) of classroom experience, the bills still to pay and no direction. There seems to be a sense that it is okay to hurry through our day jobs to be rewarded by our weekends and two weeks of a All Inclusive holiday in Turkey every summer. The problem with this is that it leads to the very thing I am trying to avoid, NOT living in the moment. Remembering the past and planning for the future, racing mentally towards the weekend, counting the weeks of the term out from week one. I am not so idealistic that I think that everyday is going to be a beautifully rewarding experience, but I think that there are things which are more important than money and status. (Although I have to keep reminding my self of this.)

To help myself make a sensible choice I am going to do some thinking tasks with a piece of paper. These are the two practical tasks I am going to do: write a list of everything which I find life-enhancing and calculate (look I am still a teacher Literacy and Numeracy based tasks) exactly how much money we need to keep the wheels of our life turning without too much stress.

Totteridge_FieldsBut first I am going to meditate on the following poem. I am going to read it through and then choose a short phrase to repeat over and over to myself in a state of meditation- it might even work!

William Henry Davies

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare

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