Ruts and Other Stuff

It's funny what will get you on a roll again. I think it's pretty natural for any of us to get into ruts. It happens in relationships. It happens to athletes. It happens emotionally. So it is only reasonable to expect it to happen professionally.

Todd Whitaker came to our district today to speak to us about being great educators. One of the lines that hit me was about what exactly makes teaching so difficult. A lot of non-teachers think it's the hours, the idea of working with (fill-in-blank-age-student-you-are-deathly-afraid-of) or the low pay. Todd said, and I think he's right, that none of that really is true. The really difficult part about teaching is the intensity of every moment; the knowledge that almost every single second you are at work is vitally important to the growth and development of a real human being. It's why the term burn-out is such a fitting term for why so many teachers quit the careers they so desperately love.

Pressure makes diamonds. Well, yeah. But pressure applied indiscriminately tends to just break things.

The funny thing about ruts that I'm discovering as I grow older is that you often don't realize that you're in one until you finally get out of one. I used to picture a rut being like a ditch. Your view of the world changed. When you're in a ditch, you know without a doubt you're in a ditch. You know you need to get out, but you just keep slipping on the sides as you try.

A better analogy than a ditch, I think, is a road where years and years of use have created indentations in the road that are small and easy to not notice. Without much attention, these indentations can start to guide where you travel and limit your ability to move around. But they're small. They're easy to not notice. And if you're in one for a while, they can start to feel normal, maybe even kind of comfortable. They don't totally restrict you like being in a ditch would. They just kind of keep you doing the same thing you did yesterday, and the day before, and the day before.

The other thing I really like about this analogy is that it is easy for everyone around you to see these marks in the road and think that if so many other people drive their tires there, then surely that's the best place to drive. That, I think, is how ruts start to feel normal and comfortable, especially in a career like teaching. Until one day you get some damn fed up with those indentations in the road that you decide to just get off the highway, because one more day in those indentations doing the same thing would just make you snap. And that, my friends, is burn-out.

I haven't been in a ditch. I may have been in some very worn and used tire tracks, though. Listening to Todd Whitaker talk about being great has given me a little wake up call, not necessarily that I've been stuck in a rut, but that I need to be wary of falling into a rut every day. This is especially true now that I have two beautiful kids to keep me really busy and generally really tired. Again, ruts can get comfortable when you're tired. And the longer you're in a rut, the more effort it takes to get out of it.

More to come. I haven't been posting much, largely because my youngest daughter still wakes up twice a night! But this needs to be a priority for me. I need to carve out an hour a week to write here, to reflect and to think. As much as I hope you, dear reader, enjoy and learn something by reading my thoughts, it is selfishly also really important to me.

Have you ever found yourself in a rut? How did you get out of it? How did you fight against becoming comfortable being average?

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Thanks for reading this blog! I hope you'll consider taking a moment to comment below and turn this into a conversation. Whether you are an educator or not, we have all had common experiences with education both good and bad. I want to hear what you think! 

About Me:

My name is Alec Chambers. I am a high school history and government teacher at a small, urban public school in Kansas City called Center High School. We regularly kick tail. Among many awards, we were named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2014. I don't just teach at Center- I also graduated from Center in 2006 after attending Center Schools K-12. I have a degree in Political Science, a second degree in International Relations, a third degree in Education and a Master's of Arts in Teaching. I have an unofficial degree is soccer. All of those degrees have led me to the high-paying teaching profession! I have two beautiful daughters, Katena and Emily and am married to the most awesome woman on the planet and fellow educator, Angela. All struggles aside, my life is flippin' awesome.  

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