In her book Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, travels to three countries to find herself once again. The first place she travels to is Italy – in an attempt to seek and experience pure pleasure. The Italians she comes across have no problem with this idea, in fact they applaud and encourage it. However, her American acquaintances have a different view, thinking this journey self indulgent, luxurious and irresponsible. I can relate to this. It does seem that we Americans put so much emphasis on purpose instead of pleasure. And of course, I can’t help but wonder what this means for us as teachers, educators and students.
Gilbert commented on how at first she “wanted to take on pleasure like a homework assignment or a giant science fair project. I pondered such questions as, ‘How is pleasure most efficiently maximized?’ I wondered if maybe I should spend all my time in Italy in the library, doing research on the history of pleasure. Or maybe I should interview Italians who’ve experienced a lot of pleasure in their lives…”
When summer approaches, I feel like I’m supposed to justify it with all the work I intend on doing. Even this month’s blog series is about the purposeful things teachers do during the summer months… why??
Why can’t teachers take a break without feeling guilt or getting backlash from those in other professions? Even the most well intended comment I get from someone as I start my summer is seen as a slap in the face.
And what does this say for our students? As we teach, are we supposed to make sure everything we do is headed toward an end result (a test? an assessment?) Or can we do things for pure pleasure? And learn from them too??
This past school year, I took a chance and gave my students a studio day: a day where we spent nearly four hours in the art room creating individual pieces of artwork to be given for Mothers’ Day. It was an exercise in the creative process and in working in and being in the present. There was no assessment, just reflection. And so many students commented on the sheer enjoyment they got out of our time.
I guess what I’m saying is that it’s OK to do things for pure pleasure – as teachers, as students, as humans! We need to have the balance of responsibility and pleasure… or we can just burn out! Sometimes this might mean we have to work at it, fight for it, make time for it, SEEK it!
Do you (attempt) to seek pleasure in life?
This post reminds me of a book I am reading currently reading for my summer course. The book is called The Essential Don Murray and in it he talks extensively about how we as teachers tend to teach writing incorrectly. For him, writing is a process where we explore and daydream and discover and play with language constantly until we are able to reveal our own voice and give voice to the truth we are writing for what is actually is, not what we want it to be or thought it was. For me, seeking an experience for the pure pleasure of it is a lot like what Murray is saying about writing: we teach the process of writing for the pleasure in the process, not the end result because for Murray, all writing is experimental. And teaching for me is always experimental and always evolving- even over the summer.
I think for many of us as teachers, the learning only continues over the summer. Some of us take classes, others read “teacher books” and lead book groups, but very rarely do we shut down from teaching entirely. And should we? I personally get pleasure from taking a summer class that inspires me to write or to read and especially inspires me to plan for next year. It makes me question- what am I going to experiment with next year? How am I going to play with this lesson? What worked this year and how can I repeat it and most importantly, what failed and how can I fix it? But I also get pleasure in having the leisure to do this at my own pace- without worrying about the end of marking periods, or whether or not a snow day is going to utterly destroy the reading schedule I just spent hours perfecting. Teaching, for me, is like the process of writing: I rehearse what I hope to do, I try it, and then reflect on how it went. The sad part is that this reflection, arguably the most important part, usually happens during the summer, for nothing else then lack of time during the school year.