Living and Teaching in the Slow Lane

Around the start of this year, 2017, I noticed some unusual things happening. I began to frequently drop things like full cups of coffee, bowls of spaghetti, and most alarmingly glasses of French vodka. I also began running into things, or more precisely not taking a wide enough berth around objects like door jams and kitchen benches, particularly island kitchen benches became more difficult to circumnavigate. This coincided with problems with memory, or more particularly memory of things I had been asked to do. (My wife believes this was not a new development).

After much protesting, snarling and gnashing of teeth, I relented and we went to our local GP. He performed a battery of tests and promptly announced that he was very concerned and that I needed a CT brain scan quite urgently. Within hours I was at hospital and the scan was done. During the scan I actually fell asleep despite the farcical cacophony of sounds these machines make. While I was deeply anxious, this also made me very tired and so I nodded off. My doctor rang an hour or so later, and in between grumbling about his new Porsche SUV managed to convey that he would ring as soon as he got the results.

I was awoken around 10 hours later by the unmistakeable opening guitar riffs to Dire Straits’ ‘Money for Nothing’ echoing in my ears. It was the doc with the happy news that there indeed was something on my brain that shouldn’t be there, and this would explain the changes I had been witnessing. He then verbally delivered two dot points that don’t marry well. Don’t panic and it doesn’t look good.

To move the story along the neurologists etc did their tests and 2 months later proudly announced that while things earlier appeared grim, the general feeling was that this intruder in my brain would not pose a threat to my life and limb. In fact the hitchhiker in my cerebellum was already starting to lose interest. Unusually my uninvited guest now started to have a profoundly positive impact on my life simply by making me slow down. My strategies to overcome dropping things and running into things was too simply do everything at a more sedate pace.

I now pick up coffee and vodka slowly, I drink it slowly. I walk around the house and out and about in public, slowly. I speak more slowly, after spending extra time to think. I spend a lot of time just sitting, musing, and looking around. Not daydreaming, just thinking, slowly. I’ve brought my new snail philosophy into the classroom. I speak more slowly; I have long pauses while I wait to see if everyone is on board. While I’ve always done this, now it’s far more noticeable. While it at first seemed a bit awkward, it now feels natural and I think it’s been a help to the students. My feedback is concise and considered and simple. Together we know that we will take our time and get the job done. Yes there is a lot to get through, but we will get to it when we are good and ready and not before. I used to stay in class at breaks and help students who were struggling a bit. Now I know that I need a break and so does the student. At playtime we play, no work. Oddly enough by slowing down, we seem to get more done.

I’ve changed the way I go about the endless distractions that go along with teaching. I’ve culled my email system to the bare bones. Student and parent email are answered, and any others are culled depending on my new rating system. The new system is basically lots of deleting while I say, “Computer says no.” I never spend more than an hour after school working. When the alarm on my phone goes off, I leave. Slowly yes, but I leave. I take zero work home. This was difficult for me to do at the start but now I find it perfectly fine to leave things unfinished. I have simplified everything about my teaching and savagely culled what I regard as all but the most important elements. So my new mantra is ‘Slow”. I say it to myself a dozen times a day. I’m a better teacher and person for it. My family get more of me and I get more of myself.

If others want to be superhero, champion teachers, who are answering their life’s calling, so be it. Good luck to them. For those who see being last out of the car park as a real achievement, again, good luck to them. And for those who hate being last to leave but have little option because of their workload, slow down.

A wise friend said to me the other night. Teaching is a job. It’s a good job, an important job. But it’s just a job. My advice, do it slowly.