The Examined Life

At his trial for corrupting youth and refusing to acknowledge the Athenian pantheon, Socrates supposedly said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” While that last bit – “not worth living” – is a little stronger than I agree with, I do believe that examining your life makes it more worthwhile. Thinking about the things that we experience, how those experiences shape us, and how we shape our experiences – all of that makes life more interesting and more meaningful. And that’s important.

The same principle has come to guide my teaching philosophy and strategies. I want to encourage my students to examine the things we study, to consider them curiously. I want them to be engaged and even passionate, but not to cling to any one idea too stubbornly. I want them to be open to the possibility of change, but also to be willing to seize that change and follow it through, to do something with it.

I’ve been teaching now for more than a decade. Some aspects of it have gotten smoother. I’m excellent at keeping up with my paperwork and at getting parents on my side. I know how to identify and guide the tone of a class. I can identify and redirect small infractions before they escalate, and I’ve gotten better at doing so without coming across as a drill sergeant.

There’s still a lot that’s difficult. Work/home balance always seems to be at the top of the list. No matter how much you do, it never seems to be enough. There is always more that you could be doing if you had better skills, or if you gave more time, or if you put in more effort, or if you had more resources. If, if, if. I know that you can’t be everything that your students need. I know that trying to do everything never results in success, and yet, deciding how much I should be satisfied with, how far short of the unattainable perfection I should set my goal… yeah, I can’t seem to figure that out.

So as I approach the end of another school year, I’m hoping to make some connections with others who are similarly reflective – whether or not they’re teachers. I’m hoping that we can learn from each other, and through this process, develop a deeper, more vivid life.

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