Disrupt Grind Culture
I have been in school my entire life, constantly learning and moving towards my next achievement.
I went to college right after high school, as expected in my family and town. After graduating early from college, I went to grad school the next term and started teaching as soon as I earned my Master’s. Now, I am on two building leadership teams, I run a student activist club, and I say yes to any additional training I can (partially because I’m a nerd, but more so because I don’t know how to sit still).
This millennial pattern isn’t abnormal. We were taught from an early ache to word hard to gain “x” work harder to gain “y,” and ultimately, “succeed.” This same system perpetuates with my students.
Kindergarteners need to gain fundamental knowledge that’s critical for the rest of their lives. 5th graders need to develop executive functioning and responsibility to meet the demands of middle school. Somehow, over one summer 8th graders need to find maturity, drive, and focus if they want to “make it” in high school.
High school, of course, is preparation for the “real world,” as if walking off the stage invalidates those first 18 years as simply playing pretend. In reality, those years are foundational to developing who they are and how their lives will unfold. Each level builds on the last, and systems like Core 24 leave no room for failure or missteps. No wonder our teens are so stressed.
My least favorite question to ask kids of any age is “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The question presupposes we don’t have inherent value until we achieve. It normalizes worth as a job, career, or a valuable product.
Teachers are a prime example of this system at work. I am a teacher. I don’t teach for work. Being a teacher is who I am. Even, and especially because I optimistically believe I can make a difference. Click To Tweet
The pandemic forced me to take a break, the longest one of my life. I didn’t have papers to grade, lessons to plan, or classes to teach. We didn’t have friends and family to see or places to travel.
It took a while to get used to it. I felt the urge to be, work, and do, as usual.
But, eventually, the anxious spin I usually feel under the surface settled. The days melted away, one after another. I took afternoon naps, savored my lunches on the front porch, and had deep discussions with my partner about the state of the world. I went for long walks with my dogs, practiced yoga, and took out my camera for the first time in years.
My days had a soft rhythm instead of an aching grind.
The Nap Ministry
I started following The Nap Ministry on Instagram, and it was transformative. I have always loved naps, probably because sleeping is the only way to slow me down, but this account and it’s founder, Nap Bishop Tricia Hersey, is doing some really radical work around rest.
The account bio reads “We examine the liberating power of naps. We believe rest is a form of resistance and reparations.“ Her work highlights the real human harm of a capitalist society, especially for Black women and people of color who have been the most harmed. One of her most used hashtags is #restasresistence.
I don’t want to appropriate her work or explain what she already shares so beautifully, so please visit her account and learn from her resources. But, I do want to share the idea of grind culture.
In a recent post, she writes, “Grind culture has a fetish for seeing human beings more at the pace of a machine. It enjoys weary bodies and limited imagination.”
We all know we are not at our most creative, kind, or imaginative when we’re exhausted. We drink coffee, take supplements, workout, and read detailed nutrition labels to optimize our, perhaps inhuman, energy levels.
In another, she writes, “Capitalism lied. Your worth is not tied to how much you produce. We will rest.”
Her words reminded me of Sir Ken Robinson’s Do Schools Kill Creativity?, the most-watched Ted Talk of all time.
In his talk, he reminds listeners that our public school system was built to meet the needs of industrialization; to create workers for jobs. As a result, capitalism’s purpose in schools has stifled creativity in the service of productivity.
As a teacher, my worth is tied to my productivity and student success. The assignments I create, the lessons I design, and the feedback I give are all in the service of a final product: student learning. In turn, that student learning is spuriously calculated into another product: grades.
From March to September, my products were on pause, so I could breathe. I could rest.
Now Back to the Grindstone
But, it’s now October, and we’re back at it. Everyone is stressed and naps, in all their resisting glory, are already part of a distant past.
This forced new format, online for our district, has students scrambling, teachers grading and planning well into every night, and parents unsure how to help. This chaos makes me want to rethink our entire school system, starting with the grind culture I unknowingly perpetuate in my own digital classroom.
Does it show up in due dates, Zoom calls, and color-coded weekly schedules? How much is too much? Why do my students have multiple missing assignments? Are they drowning on the other side of that screen?
How do I prioritize learning over-grinding? Self-care over burnout? Do my students know how to rest and take care of themselves? Do I?
Maybe, we feel like everything isn’t working now because, really, they weren’t working before. Can we use the catastrophe that is 2020 to reimagine school and fix the system as we know it?
When I’m optimistic, I think we can. When I’m tired from the grind and overwhelmed by what’s outside my control, I just want to take a nap.
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