This Summer, Time Spent Doing Nothing Is Time Well Spent

by Tina Beene

I come to you having failed miserably at what seems on its face to be a very simple task: to sit still, without any distractions, for five whole minutes. The first minute was fine, during the second I started a to-do list for when the time ended, and by four I gave myself permission to stop sitting as long as I started writing instead.

(Before mocking my weakness, it might be interesting to attempt this yourself, without music or a mindfulness app to keep you company. I’ll wait.) 

During the self-imposed stillness, I asked myself why I always feel compelled to “do” versus “be.” When is it okay to be still, be quiet, be enough? It can’t just be when I’m done with everything I need to do, because that list is infinite and if by some miracle I do ever get all the way to the end of it I’ll be a globe-trotting grandma with several PhDs and I doubt she’ll rest much either. 

So I’m saying this to myself as much as I am to you: There’s always going to be an action, a task, something that needs to be done. At what point do you give yourself permission to rest? 

Rest, in whatever form it takes for you, must be a priority this summer even though there will be endless other demands on your time. To be a teacher is to be a caretaker and nurturer of hearts and minds. You’ve been pouring into others, encouraging them and worrying about them for almost an entire year. And you’re going to keep thinking about them, wondering how they’re doing and hoping for the best. For now, though, you need to rest. 

Summer is a time to reconnect with the people who matter in your personal life, to remember what it feels like to eat lunch whenever and for as long as you want, to get away from your routine or travel to a place you love. This is an essential part of the year that makes it possible to return in the fall ready to confront new challenges with energy and optimism. But there are only so many days between now and the fall, and if we aren’t careful each day will fill itself with things to do and places to go and people to see, leaving no space for rest. 

There are other, less pleasant reasons to keep moving: my house has never been more clean than it was in the two weeks after my mom died, for example. Staying busy can be a distraction from pain, and sitting still can let in sadness, and boy is there plenty to be heartbroken about right now. You might be consumed with worry and fear about the future for your students, your family, and yourself. From wondering how much more all of you can handle. You’re likely hoping this summer will be enough, that the time away will allow the joy back in. That after a break you’ll remember why you started teaching in the first place and the kids will transform back into the kind, respectful, curious pupils for whom planning differentiated instruction is a pleasure. That once you’ve had a chance to catch your breath, you’ll be ready to do things like implement a new safety initiative, adjust to new campus leadership, or even mentor a new hire in addition to your usual responsibilities. 

That’s a pretty ambitious vision, don’t you think? If there’s a chance of it happening—and I’m all about manifesting this with you—you’re going to need to rest. So guard this time, and use it wisely. Plan time for nothing. Plan for being. Not doing or going, or any other “-ing” besides being. Just being. You’ve already done more than enough! 

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