Thursday, May 20, 2004

Serendipity Explains It All For You 

I am sick and tired of coming home sick and tired, ready to crash; sick of halfcrying in the car on my way home; of wanting so much to leave the office all the time, except when I'm in a class.

But then Donna, a fellow teacher who attended a Learning Differences conference at Harvard Grad School of Education back in November, posted a conference session summary on the school wide information system we affectionately call swis as in "I'll swis you when I get home" or "can I swis it to her?" The summary was so stellar, I'll let Donna tell the tale; there was more in the original about how students are affected by the process described, but it was the relevance to teachers' own minds and bodies that bears repeating, and is presented here:
One session, in particular, is worth discussion: “Time deprivation disorder and stress: Impact on parent, child, and teacher resiliency, ” led by Arnold Kerzner, a physician and child psychologist who co-authored several books on child-rearing with Berry Brazelton. In his overview, Kerzner described our schools as fast-paced, where we set high expectations for teachers and students, while providing little in the way of support. In such an environment, our ability to manage stress is destroyed. Learning is impaired, and our physical and mental health are jeopardized. Kerzner used the phrase “cultural post-traumatic stress disorder syndrome” to capture the devastating effects on all aspects of our well-being.

Especially sobering was Kerzner’s observation that boarding school administrators, teachers, and students are particularly vulnerable to this disorder. It is not enough merely to use technology, he said, we are also seeking to emulate it through “multi-tasking.” Our concentration is diluted; we lose the sense of accomplishment because we never quite finish anything. Administrators, students, and teachers, moreover, are expected to excel in a number of areas, without appropriate institutional support. By taking on too much, by multi-tasking our way through the day, leaving too much undone at the end of it, we develop what Kerzner called “time deprivation disorder.”

As a physician, he mapped the effects of “the Sisyphus syndrome.” The Greek gods understood human nature when they doled out their punishments. Sisyphus, you will recall, is forever doomed to push a boulder to the top of a hill, only to have it roll down again before he completes the task. The Sisyphus syndrome describes how one feels waking up in the morning, tired, stiff, with weight on one’s shoulders. The fatigue lasts all day, as if one can’t get a second wind. One has headaches, digestive upsets. We know that stress increases cortisol, and the effect creates a particular kind of anxiety: the belief that despite our best efforts, something will go wrong. One lives with a constant sense of “consternation,” hyper-vigilance; as he put it, “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” Too busy, we begin to feel isolated—does anyone understand? We develop cognitive rigidity—we see things in black and white—“Give it to me straight, what’s the bottom line?” and make administrative decisions that reflect this.

And suddenly, it all made sense. My whole life, and everything in it. I told Donna so, and she agreed: there's a terrible logic to that, isn't there?

posted by boyhowdy | 8:31 PM |

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