Let Your Fire Burn

Let Your Fire Burn

What makes a fire burn

is space between the logs,

a breathing space.

Too much of a good thing,

too many logs

packed in too tight

can douse the flames

almost as surely

as a pail of water would….

So building fires

requires attention

to the spaces in between,

as much as to the wood.
— An excerpt from Judy Brown's “Fire” (2006). 

I love this poem. 

I know, I know, I’m an English teacher, I am supposed to love all poems--and yeah, okay, poetry is usually really cool. But this? This is amazing. This is first sip of a Route 44 Diet Coke, a lesson plan going perfectly with your toughest class, peeling off the plastic cover on your new phone screen amazing. 

I see myself in this poem. I see my colleagues, my administration, my students, my friends, and my family in this poem. Judy Brown has succinctly, and wonderfully, defined humanity in this poem. It is incredibly challenging to avoid making the mistake of smothering our personal fires with so many things to do. Believe it or not, teachers don’t have the market locked up on being busy. Everyone’s fire seems to be flickering in and out of existence these days. 

We, as a society, are tempted to do more constantly. There is always one more thing we could have done. Whether that thing be relationship related or career-focused, we continually and fervently chant, “Just one more thing” as if it will truly solve whatever large crisis that abounds.

If you’re anything like me, you might have found that you end up doing all of these one more things because you want so much. You want:

  • to be excellent at your career
     
  • to progress as a person (morally, physically, emotionally, etc…)
     
  • to help your family and loved ones
     
  • to get your money’s worth
     
  • to be healthy and well
     
  • to make sure everyone is happy
     
  • to finally get those pesky bushes cleared out
     
  • to be a bit better than you were the day before

It is our nature to want, and in response, we find ourselves doing so many one more things and not leaving space for our own personal time. The tricksy traps with one more thing is that it’s not truly avoidable. Everyone can technically do just one more thing at any point in time. That’s the trouble with this facade of one more thing; it is inescapable. There is no excuse to not have done one more thing, because, hey, it was just one more thing. We are constantly reminded that we could have completed whatever task that is on our plate: “It’ll only take a minute. Did you really have no time to do that last night? Here, I’ll do it, give me ten minutes.”

It reminds me of some professional development (PD) days for teachers. Oftentimes educators will complain that administrators or key note speakers will present incredible ideas during PD time, but there is no allotted time for teachers to actually develop and integrate these magnificent ideas into their curricula. Teachers are expected to find the time somewhere in their already packed schedules to shoehorn in these ideas into their daily lessons. It is as if you throw a bunch of different sticks at the teachers and say, “Take them and burn brightly!” but don’t give them any time to clear the area, stack the wood, and find a match. Instead, the teachers are rushed. Some parts of the fire don’t burn equally, others flare out too quickly, and, in the end, everyone is left with an unsatisfying sizzle. 

To ask anyone to do one more thing without giving them enough time or resources, teacher or not, breeds failure.

We are so good about managing this expectation in the classroom. You would never see an English teacher assign a six page research paper as the bell rings without any instruction as the kids walk out the door. “By the way, it’s due tomorrow!” the teacher would declare to the waning crowd of children. No one could expect success in this scenario. Upset children, yes. Parent emails, probably. But certainly not success. 

Yet, we continually ask of ourselves and others to do one more thing in the same amount of time, with the same materials, over and over again. It’s time to say no (sometimes) to adding just one more thing to our plates.

There are an astounding number of good ideas being welcomed into the education world at this moment, but we have to be wary of letting these good ideas bury our flames. I am a ‘yes’ person when it comes to my career. Yes, I’ll be a blended learning teacher. Yes, I’ll help out with the Writing Center. Of course, I’ll cosponsor the Writing Club. I would love to be the Assistant Debate and Forensics Coach. I am eager and proud to say ‘yes’ constantly to these educational opportunities. However, I need to make sure that when I am requested to do just one more thing, but don’t have enough time or energy, that I say no when I can. And when I can’t say no? I still need to take time for myself when possible. When I overload myself with too many one more things to do, it doesn’t benefit anyone. If I can’t relax, breathe, play some board games with my friends, write a few angsty short stories, and let my fire perk up, I will no longer be a happy and effective teacher. 

It is important to have personal time. We forget this simple truth regularly, so I’ll state it again. It is Okay and Good to have personal time. People run the education system and people deserve to have time to develop their own happiness, build their own fires, so they can light the world aflame with their great ideas. 

Every once in awhile I get so caught up in my career and goals that I tumble and fall in my daily list of things to do. Somewhere in between getting groceries and writing a minilesson on quotation integration, I get stuck on my couch, sucked into a blackhole of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. I didn’t even want to watch three seasons of The Mindy Project! I’m just overwhelmed  and avoiding all of the one more things that are waiting for me to complete. To avoid this television induced haze of procrastination, I made a list of things I actually enjoy doing. When I find myself being burnt out by the one more things looming at my door, I turn to this and take a break. I say no, for a little while, and check back in when I’m ready.

ACTIVITIES I ENJOY

  1. Watching one or two (not nineteen) episodes of a television show I like
     
  2. Reading a book
     
  3. Spending time with friends
     
  4. Taking a walk
     
  5. Taking a walk with my dogs (featuring an arm workout)
     
  6. Painting my nails poorly
     
  7. Cooking poorly
     
  8. Writing!...poorly?
     
  9. Napping un-poorly (I’m very good at this)

At the end of the day, you need to take time for you. You are allowed to ignore those one more things, to breathe, and to burn. Be a person, an individual, and a teacher. Be a fire that is so bright, you won’t be extinguished when times get tough, because you know that you are allowed to take some time for yourself, look at your list of things you like to do, and do them.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at andreamarshbank@gmail.com. You can also find me on Twitter at @msmarshbank, Instagram at @amarshybank, and Linked In at Andrea Marshbank

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