Happy first week of August! For a lot of my teacher friends, we’re gearing up to go back to school; the first day for teachers in my district is next Thursday, and students come back the Wednesday after that. If you’re headed back soon, best of luck!
As I say farewell to my summer, I’m thinking a lot about all my wonderful adventures this summer. I got to spend a lot of time hiking, biking, camping, and swimming in mountains all over the western half of the US, more than I have in quite a while. And in doing so, I’m getting reacquainted with a personality trait that can go by many different names. I say I’m stubborn. Tactful people tell me I’m persistent, and my brother sometimes tells me I’m being dumb (he’s usually right).
My whole family can be stubborn at times, including all four of my grandparents! I could tell you stories for days. I learned not only from them, but also from an entire childhood of keeping up. I spent a significant amount of time running around with the kids on my ski team, where the social currency was based on pulling off crazy physical stunts. I was nowhere near as crazy as some of the boys – some of them are lucky they aren’t permanently injured. But whether we were biking, skiing, playing soccer, running, or lifting, the name of the game was to push the edge.
Being stubborn served me very well in my athletic endeavors. It helped me keep going during races and get stronger during training. Even when I had a bad run or a tired day, I knew I had to get up and keep going. I know when I can push my body just a little further and when I’m really at the end of my rope.
But being stubborn isn’t only applicable to athletics. Every once in a while I find it in myself to get stubborn about a class. When I was in college, I struggled in chemistry. Especially my first semester, I took Chem 1 with a very brilliant professor who was not very good at understanding why I didn’t understand. Chem 2 wasn’t really any better. I thoroughly enjoyed organic chemistry, but still found it challenging, and then truly met my nemesis when I took physical chemistry. The last chemistry class I took was biochemistry, and at this point, I had had enough.
I decided that I was – finally – going to get an A in a chemistry class at CU. I did everything I was supposed to do; I read the textbook before I went to lecture. I did all the homework sets. I printed the slides before I went to class and took diligent notes. I drew molecular mechanisms for hours in the engineering center lobby. The more nervous I got about graduation, the more I poured all that energy into that class. Even when I was tired, or my brain felt fried, or I had a million other projects, I pushed through.
I aced that class. It was one of the more satisfying moments of my college career.
But being stubborn is, like many traits, a two-sided coin, and there have definitely been moments when I’ve clung to goals or ideas long past where I should have let them go. When I was twelve, I continued to run on a hyper-extended left knee and compressed the meniscus. When I was eighteen, I partially tore my MCL in the same knee and proceed to race on it all season. My left knee likes to remind me of this with increasing frequency these days, particularly when I’m walking downhill with any kind of heavy pack.
I also find myself doing this in my teaching. I’ll set goals for what I can get done in a day (grade these papers, write this lesson, prep this lab) and I’ll want to stay until I get it all done. What ends up happening is me, staring at the wall, not willing to walk away but too tired to really be thoughtful. I end up wasting time rather than taking a break so I could come back refreshed. This kind of stubborn is not at all helpful.
When I was ski racing I came up with a pain scale to figure out when I could push through and when I needed to slow down and take care of myself. I will fully admit that during both of the left knee incidents I described, I knew I was pushing too hard! And as I got reacquainted with my adventuring this summer, it didn’t take me long to start feeling that out again. I don’t, however, have any kind of related scale for my intellectual and emotional energy. What was it about my situation with biochemistry that helped make me successful, and when do I need to set my grading aside and do something different for a while?
Your homework is simply a more generalized version of the question I asked myself; how do you know when to push yourself and when to take a break?