A Heavy Burden

Sometimes we cannot lighten our load, but we can shift and rearrange it…

Teachers carry a heavy burden. Everyone in education carries a heavy burden. We are expected to carry the inabilities, needs, concerns, talents and futures of our pupils on our backs until they can stand on their own.

Too many teachers bear this burden completely and when they find opportunities to lighten it, many times they do not trust themselves or the method enough to try it, thus, trudging forward with the burden weighing down their days and wearing down their bodies.

This story may encourage readers to try new things – to shift the burden more toward their students, parents, fellow teachers and all of the other connections that exist to make the task of educating children less burdensome…

The summer after my first year of college was just as educational as my first year of classes. I spent those ten weeks working as a low-skilled laborer for construction company that specialized in concrete. I took part in many small jobs, some big jobs, but one in particular helps me to understand some of the difficulty I have in my career today as an educator.

The crew I was on was sent to our county seat to pour new sidewalks around the courthouse. A typical sidewalk job is easy – you just remove the first four or five inches of soil from the sidewalk path creating a furrow to pour the wet cement in, put frames alongside the edges of the furrow to keep the cement from running out, add some type of wire frame to hold the finished concrete together, have a cement truck back up to the site and let the pouring and finishing begin.

When we build momentum sometimes it's hard to make a needed changes to our load.

This job was a little different. The county judge did not want the cement trucks driving onto the courthouse yard and leaving tracks in the lawn. So, we were instructed to build a temporary sidewalk made from narrow 2×12’s that we happen to have with us. We were told to haul the wet cement in wheelbarrows from the truck to the sidewalk furrows. This trip was at least 25 yards or more.

Wet cement, with all other ingredients, weighs somewhere around 100 pounds per cubic foot. The wheelbarrows we were using had a seven cubic foot capacity. We were wheeling about 700 pounds of material 25 to 30 yards along a path that was twelve inches wide! We felt that was a bit too demanding, but we had no choice. We took to the task just as many teachers enter their classroom overwhelmed with the necessities of the day.

My first trip was a failure. I grabbed both handles of the wheelbarrow, lifted it up with my legs and back and began moving forward. My coworkers instructed me to move fast and build momentum saying that would make the trip easier. So after I raised the wheelbarrow I ran toward the end of the wooden sidewalk instead of carefully walking. Their method worked well for the first ten yards or so until I began to feel the right handle slipping from my grip. I did not want to stop and lose momentum so I quickly tried to re-grip the handle I was losing. The quick release of my grip caused a slight shift in the weight of the cement causing my wheelbarrow to veer to the right. With such a narrow path, it only took half a second for my wheel to go off the path and my entire load to spill out on the lawn.

After my reprimand from the crew boss and after I cleaned up my mess, I changed my approach a little. I put on a pair of gloves, got a deeper grip of my palms on the handles, shifted my hands further up the handles and took another trip. This time and every time after that, I was successful.

This story illustrates how teachers and other educational practitioners build such momentum within their work days. They carry a heavy load with all of the demands that comes with the job and once they figure out a process, good or bad, they are afraid to tweak it a little for the fear that all that they carry might ‘spill over’ just like my load of wet cement. So they burden themselves with teaching children in the way they are most comfortable and dealing with the heavy load of those who would seek to disrupt their momentum by being troublesome or disengaged. And when they feel themselves ‘slipping’, they are afraid to change anything because of the potential for failure.

The moral of the story is that change is necessary. You must ‘shift the load’ or become so over burdened that the load shifts you, meaning that all outcomes are negative for you and your students. For administrators, the same analogy can be made, only your pupils are the teachers that are burdened down with your momentum.

When we discover a new tool, method or device, we should try it. We may have a ‘spill’ but I learned that a spill can be cleaned up and that we are left with a new way of approaching a difficult task. New tools should center around ways that educators can ‘shift the load’ to other people. Not passing the duties on, but being a collaborator who can divide a task among peers; being a facilitator who can put the burden of learning on the learner; being a learner who is not afraid of using new technology to organize and deliver the content of the day; being a communicator who can make expectations clear to parents; and most of all, being a professional who can discern the most valuable tools and the most opportune times to use them.

In short, get a new grip!!

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