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7 Life Lessons: A Letter to My Students

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Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Summer Freedom!


Today is the last day of this academic year. As the summer stretches out ahead of me, I feel tremendous excitement and relief.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my job, and I’m a big proponent of hard work, schoolwork, homework, and all kinds of work. But by the end of the academic year, I’m totally and completely worn out. Schools are possibly the most structured and disciplined places on our planet. During the school year, faculty and students alike are governed by schedules, timetables, and syllabi. We think in terms of hour-long blocks that end with a loud bell. Our thoughts are always, necessarily, fragmented. Just as we’re working through a particularly difficult piece of poetry, the bell rings. All of a sudden, students have to march to a Chemistry class and wrestle with the periodic table, while I have to run to another class and teach a totally different text. And then, all year long, students and faculty alike march from one set of assignments to another, from one set of assessments to another, from one reporting period to another. Much as I love school, I do find the degree of structure overwhelming.

So, summer is a welcome break. As I contemplate two months of freedom, I realize how important unstructured time is for all of us: faculty and students alike. While structured learning is very important, a whole different kind of learning takes place in the summer. We can spend a morning immersed in a book, with no bell to interrupt the experience. We can immerse ourselves in a particular project or learning experience without the constraints and demands of school.  We can play! Play with ideas, play with words, play in the sand and play at the beach. We can engage in an activity for the pure pleasure of it, without worrying about external assessments and judgments. We can do what we love, what we want, instead of being forced to do what everyone else (administrators, exam boards, parents, teachers) tell us to do. Oh, the joy of summer!

Unstructured time is, I think, critical for deep thinking and creativity. All people, teachers and students alike, need long stretches of unstructured time to imagine, dream, and think. It is this mental space and time that allows us to be reflective and creative. Additionally, we all need downtime to recharge our batteries. And, very importantly, we all need time outdoors, time to connect with nature and our physical environment. The beauty of the academic year is that we have this time built into every year. Every academic year begins anew in August, with renewed vigor and intensity. And then every academic year winds down in June, giving way to the luxury and freedom of summer.

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