An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).
Updated August 2022
One of the massive perks about being a schoolteacher is that we get loads and loads of holidays. In fact, in my particular case, I’m only actually in school for around 180 days per year. That’s a lot of free time to deal with.
So, with this in mind, I find myself asking a rather controversial question: Are we using this free time productively?
I’ve been lambasted quite viciously in the past for expressing my views on this particular issue. My views haven’t changed, however, so if you’re one of those snowflakes who gets easily triggered, easily offended or who has a nervous breakdown when someone has a different opinion than you, then you might want to stop reading now.
The laziness of it all?
With all of this free time in-hand, I often wonder why more teachers aren’t starting their own businesses, writing books, setting up podcasts, starting up blogs, doing online marketing or anything to better themselves or improve their quality of life.
What would Elon Musk, one of the world’s most successful businessmen, do with 185 free days each year? Perhaps this quote from an interview he did (video embedded below) will shed some light on things:
Did you ever consider retiring?
No, not really. I did take a bit of time off. I did reasonably well from Paypal. I was the largest shareholder in the company and we were acquired for about a billion and a half in stock and then the stock doubled. So yeah, I did reasonably well, but the idea of lying on a beach as my main thing, just sounds like the worst – it sounds horrible to me. I would go bonkers. I would have to be on serious drugs. I’d be super-duper bored. I like high intensity – I mean, I like going to the beach for a short period of time, but not much longer than a few days or something like that.
So what can we conclude that this formidable titan? Some would say that he is an example of what we should all aspire to become, and that he would use 185 days productively. He’d take some short-bursts of time-off, but mostly he’d be working on new projects and new ideas, or furthering current ones.
An ancient Chinese proverb that keeps me striving and moving ‘forward’ when I have free time is this:
An inch of time is an inch of gold, but an inch of time cannot be purchased for an inch of gold.
Mediocrity breeds more mediocrity?
One core philosophy that I think all teachers agree with is that with enough hard work and effort, our students can become anything they want to become (notwithstanding significant physical and psychological hindrances).
Surely then, as teachers, we also need to be at the top our game if we are to truly live that message: that a human really can become anything with enough effort.
Why then do so many teachers fall short of this principle? So many of us are one-timers: we got a university degree, trained to be a teacher and that was it. Zero significant achievements since then.
And yet, we expect our students to be excellent. We expect them to make excellent progress. We expect them to use their free time productively. We expect them to aspire, push themselves, have goals and achieve big.
Maybe it’s about time that we modeled that process. Only then can we really know what excellence is.
As for me, I’m not perfect but I’m no hypocrite either. This Christmas vacation, for which I get three weeks off school, will be divided between a number of tasks. I’ll take a short holiday for a few days, but the rest will be spent becoming a Google Certified Educator, completing a Certificate in Data Science from Berkeley and a number of additional tasks linked to this blog, my books, a new business and things to get me ready for my classes in January (including a rigorous gym schedule).
If we’re not advancing personally, then how can we encourage our students to advance?
I’ll post an update at the end of my Christmas vacation, to let you know how I’ve managed. After all, if I’m going to preach the ‘be useful and be productive’ mantra to you, my readers, then I absolutely need to lead by example and practice what I preach.
Update: August 2022
This update has come a lot later than promised (sorry), but here it is anyway:
- A LOT happened since this blog post was published (i.e. the pandemic). However, I was able to make some progress towards my goals.
- I became a Google Certified Educator (Level 1), and I’m now working towards my level 2 certificate. I wrote a blog post all about becoming a Google Certified Educator here.
- I stopped pursuing the Professional Certificate in Data Science with Berkeley, and opted instead for the Professional Certificate in FinTech with the University of Hong Kong. I completed this in December 2021. You can view my credential here.
Overall, I would say that I was only partly successful in achieving the goals I had set for myself. The lessons I have learned from this process are as follows:
- Set realistic goals – sometimes we can have very high aspirations, which is good, but our personal deadlines are unrealistic
- It takes a lot of self-discipline to achieve challenging goals. That’s why there are only a very small number of titans and tycoons in the world – these people relentlessly go after what they want, and set up systems and routines to make that happen.