A startling confession: My worst fear about teaching is running out of things to say before the 50 minute period is over. This was true early in my teaching career and remains the case 10 years later. For the first 5 years or so of my career, this meant I spent a great deal of time over-planning. I would prepare five pages of material for a class and get through half of the first page. But those 5 pages of notes still seemed very important, like a kind of security blanket.
My recent realization: My best classes are the ones in which I give myself permission ahead of time to end class early if we run out of things to say. I sit down at my desk in the morning and rather than desperately scouring around for random stuff to fill the time, I say to myself, “I think I’ll end class early today.” Why not? I’m my own boss, and who ever said 50 minutes is, in fact, the ideal unit of time for optimal learning? Perhaps on some days it’s more like 35 minutes. Standardization is our enemy! Down with the man, even if it’s not really clear who the man might be.
Allow me to add: When I give myself permission to end class early, we always find plenty to talk about for the full 50 minutes. Sometimes we find so much to talk about that 50 minutes doesn’t even seem like quite enough time. Time flies, and I am struck by how very intelligent and engaged my students are. I am struck by what a pleasure this whole teaching thing really is.
Staying up late: When I was younger, I hated having to go to bed early. I pushed my bedtime back later and later as I got older. I identified myself as a late night person, as just the kind of person who liked to stay up late and sleep in. I can’t tell you what I did into the late night hours. Possibly it involved eating whole bags of chips and watching a lot of television. When I started dating my husband, I scoffed at his early bedtime, even though I would fall asleep on his couch at 8. When we got married, I dreaded the mornings when I would have to get up at 6:30 to get our step-daughter ready for school. The thought of teaching a class at 8 in the morning seemed horrendous.
Then I started getting up early on my own, mainly to create time for myself to write. I discovered that I’m in a much better mood when I get up early rather than sleeping in late. In fact, I discovered that I like getting up early. I just may a morning person, something it took me be almost 40 years to discover.
What’s that about? I could not quite let go of the idea that going to bed early and getting up early are things that someone tells you to do. They are things you have to do, and not things that you do because you actually want to. I thought that teaching for a full 50 minutes was something I had to do, not something I did because I actually wanted to. Turns out I was wrong.
What I am forced to conclude: From here on out, I’m giving myself permission to do all the things.
I give myself permission to write really bad clauses and sentences and paragraphs. I give myself permission to write a really crappy whole first draft. I give myself permission to be a lousy parent sometimes, to confess that I am really just doing the best that I can. I give myself permission to fuck up. I give myself permission to be unable to remember the lyrics when I’m singing a song. To hit the wrong note. I give myself permission to say the wrong thing. I give myself permission to laugh at inappropriate moments. I give myself permission to eat a whole bag of potato chips in one sitting and to watch bad television while I’m doing so.
From now on, I give myself permission to do whatever I want to do, and in the process, perhaps figure out exactly what that is. What might you give yourself permission to do?