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On Surviving a Stressful School Year

This school year has been…suboptimal. It was an inauspicious beginning when the school year began on “demo day.” Last spring, water damage in our home led to an unplanned remodeling project that encountered constant delays despite my best efforts. The time allocated to prepare for the year was chiseled away by communicating with contractors and the constant interruptions to choose paint colors or a profile for the countertop edge. For the first several weeks of school, workmen arrived daily at 7:45 am. When the work finished, the illness began. We were sick more this fall than in the previous several years combined. The term ended with a literal bang when the trunk of my SUV slammed on my head, and I sustained a concussion. The problem, however, was none of these things: not the noisy workmen or vomit in the carpet or the 5:00 am nebulizer treatments. The problem was me.  

As my children grow, so does the complexity of simultaneously teaching multiple grades, and my good desire to educate well easily slips into worry and anxiety. The ceaseless life disruptions were frustrating, but ultimately, they served to distract me from the fact that a significant part of my teaching was motivated by worry. The state of a teacher’s soul has ripple effects that extend into every aspect of her students’ education. If we are driven by anxiety, the humanity of our students suddenly becomes the obstacle rather than the job.  Anxiety orients away from wisdom and virtue towards measurable outcomes such as finishing the math book. I like to finish things: finish the math lesson, check it off. How else can I consider the day’s labor and know if it is good? 

In seasons like these, I return to Sarah MacKenzie’s Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakeable Peace. She lovingly reminds us that what God calls us to is faithfulness, not success. She writes, “When she doesn’t understand the day’s lesson, it isn’t a setback; it’s just God showing us our marching orders for the day.”1 It is my job to teach well, but I cannot control the outcome. God gives us grace not for potential outcomes but for daily faithfulness. MacKenzie explains, 

We only receive grace for reality. God does not bestow grace on us for all of the things that we think might go wrong in the future – for the possibility that a child will fail the SAT, will not have the tools he needs for a college education or a bright future, or even, more immediately, for the likelihood that this math lesson will end in tears. 

No, we are given grace for right this moment – for reality. We must operate within that reality and within the laws of nature as we steward our garden. We can fret all we want that God will not turn our tomato seeds into cucumbers, but to what end?2 

God gave us a pattern for doing a good day’s work: His work of creation was through the logos, and it was good. We grow in peace by looking to the logos. The logos of the lesson is what matters. The logos of the lesson is what we strive to imitate. The logos of the lesson is beautiful, good, and true, and looking to the logos is the path away from burnout. If you begin to ask yourself, “What is the logos?”, you are not just reading a poem or looking at a painting because it is the next thing on the list today. What is the logos of “The Raven?” What is the logos of The Adoration of the Lamb from the Ghent Altarpiece? What is the logos of math lesson #67? What is the logos of Act I, scene I, of Henry IV, Part I? Suddenly you are no longer “covering the material” and the day becomes much more peaceful and much more beautiful. 

Considering the logos is a helpful means to gauge how faithfully you are inhabiting the principle of multum non multa. Is there too much work for you to consider the logos? Then it’s too much. Is something you are doing not important enough to spend time determining the logos? Then it should not be part of the day’s lessons.  

A year ago, I would have considered these guidelines idealistic and unreasonable. But students are smart: if you are doing something to check a box, they will know. Then, they will develop contempt for the material or contempt for you (or both). With logo-centric education, the telos of the lesson is clear – you are leading them somewhere. Assessing the day’s work is also clear. Did they apprehend the logos? If not, why? Shall we try again tomorrow? Or is this a small seed sown for future learning?  

1.Sarah Mackenzie, Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace (Camp Hill, PA: Classical Academic Press, 2015), 6     

2. Ibid, 13-14.

 

 

 

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