We’ve all learned what you get if you multiply any number by zero. What’s not in the 3rd grade math curriculum, though, is that you also get the exact number of minutes I slept last night.
I’ve never slept well, or much, despite having received medical and other professional attention, but this month sleep has been to me as a snow leopard to those people who try to find snow leopards.
Because writing more about my sleep would probably put you to it, I’ll cut to the chase about what may be the true reason for sleep’s giving me the slip: The post-summer Honeymoon Is Over.
I use caps because it’s a well-recognized phenomenon: you start a smoothie-making habit, you start learning Esperanto, you take up Wing Chun, you teach a new class, you tackle a new job, you debut on FanDuel, you resolve to fold the laundry as soon as it’s dry–and the fire blazes, then crackles, then fizzles. This can happen whether the thing is undertaken for sheer pleasure, like reading in a target language, or the thing is your job, like teaching a target language.
I slingshotted from summer to fall with the updraft of a fresh flurry of workshops to develop, a publishing project, new and returning clients, and an exhilarating rate of Spanish and French novella-reading. Now it’s October 8th and I’m beat.
Thankfully, though, I’m not beaten, and I have a hunch why. There’s this saying about a mysterious way vows can work: “It’s not the person who keeps the vows; it’s the vows that keep the person.” In other words, it’s not always our sheer strength that keeps us committed, but the fact of having created, outside ourselves, a record of a commitment that serves as both a reference and a stimulus.
Yesterday, in the midst of exhaustion and dejection, I made this encouraging realization: Somehow, since mid-August, without trying too hard or worrying too much, I had drafted a manuscript, revived a recording project, and read a bunch of Spanish and French novellas at the rate of about one per day. (That’s me paddleboarding on Labor Day while retelling La Vampirata to the wind in Spanish.) I even wrote a blog post or two. How could this be, when I felt so crappy? Well, I had made some formal commitments and built some key habits, and these had apparently held, for the most part, in spite of my exhaustion.
I know this won’t always be the case. If it’s not the case for you right now, rejoice that there are lots of things more important than learning a language or creating a lesson, and consider treating yourself to something utterly unrelated to your teaching and learning, if you have the option. (I also know that there are Honeymoon-ending reasons that don’t depend on us or can’t be remedied by us. I’m not talking mainly about these, but you can get some ideas about dealing with them from the “5 Ways of Coping” article linked below.)
There are clear signs that it’s not just me who’s dragging: Posts to teacher email lists are at a low. Everyone seems to be apologizing for not having blogged recently, for being behind, for being swamped. The Web is awash with #DEVOLSON, the label coined by teacher-blogger Love, Teach (@loveteachblog) to concretize the effects, especially on teachers, of the “Dark, Evil VOrtex of Late September, October, and November.”
If your language-learning honeymoon has come and gone, if you’re a teacher whose new students have just ceased being the ones you thought were the smartest, best-behaved group you’ve ever had, if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or are otherwise someone hoping to rediscover joy and encouragement, I recommend that you check out the following, from people other than me:
-“Creating habits” (posted by my good friend and frequent colleague, Jason Slanga [@ArgusMagister], with special reference to the Latin Reading Challenge, but with great advice for anyone–especially the point about short-term rewards)
-This heart-warmer from #WorldTeachersDay:
I still feel kind of crappy, by the way. But pulling for you helps!