What follows is the second in a planned 10-part series of posts on some insights I’ve taken away from the first decade of my career as an English teacher. If you haven’t read Part 1, you can find it here.
Number 2 – Sleep matters. And so does nutrition.
There are three things that generally make me intolerable:
Never am I less patient and more combative than when I’m over-tired, underfed, and/or inadequately hydrated. My two-year-old is the same way. I don’t know if that’s a product of nature or nurture – or if it says more about her or me – and I don’t care. When she hasn’t gotten enough sleep, enough to eat, or enough to drink, she’s impossible to be around.
First-world problems, right?
We all know people that are hard to put up with. We have a myriad of names for them: Crank, crankpot, grump, grouch, fuss, fussbudget, fussbutt, butt, butthead, butthole, buttmunch, jerkbutt, jerk, jerkoff, jerkass, jackass, jackhole, jackwagon, asswagon, asshole, dillhole, dickhole, dickhead, dick, cock, cocksucker, fucker, fuckhead, fuckwad, motherfucker, bitch… Need I go on?
When I have to deal with a son-of-a-bitch who routinely pisses me off, I often ask myself if he’s really that bad of a person or if it’s just that he routinely fails to sleep enough, eat appropriately, and/or hydrate sufficiently. Any of these things on its own is enough to turn a person into a grade-A diva – we’ve all seen the Snickers commercials to prove it – but when suffered in correlation, they compound each other exponentially. So, is the son-of-a-bitch in your office (or down the street, or standing in front of you in the local Starbucks, or wherever) really that big of a dickwad? Or is it just that his default mode is tired, hungry, and/or dehydrated so, by extension, his default mode is surly, impatient, and downright pugnacious?
Granted, I’m probably letting a lot of prodigious assholes off the hook here, but I hope you see my point.
Now, with all that said, imagine thirty clones of your favorite Snickers diva locked in a cinderblock room for an hour being forced to discuss the implications of social justice as it’s portrayed in The Scarlet Letter and whether such punishments are still inflicted on American citizens in the modern day.
Welcome to my life.
A student who’s tired, who’s hungry, and who hasn’t had enough water (WATER!) is a student who can’t stay awake, who can’t focus, and who can’t participate meaningfully in class activities. In short, students who aren’t taking care of themselves are students who can’t learn.
There’s no denying that you never in your life have more energy than when you’re a teenager. But what we often lose sight of is the fact that there’s no other time in our lives when we need more energy because there’s no other time that we burn more energy.
Think about how much work goes into the average car in order to keep it running right over the long haul: Regular refuelings, oil changes, fluid-level checks, tire rotations and replacements, brake repairs and replacements, suspension and alignment services, even washings and waxings. And how often do you simply throw the car in park, take out the key, and let it cool down and rest? The more mileage you tend to put on your car, the more frequently and diligently you have to do all of these things. You know what happens if you don’t: Blowouts, overheating, engine trouble, transmission failure, and eventually total breakdown.
The human body’s no different.
Now think about the care and maintenance going into the most heavily driven body in your home. Is it any surprise that so many parents complain of knocks, pings, and engine noise?
So, give your kids a bedtime. Yes, even the seniors in high school. Take the TV, the video games, the computer, the tablet, and the cell phone out of their bedroom and give them a quiet place to unplug, rest, and recharge. Make sure they eat breakfast and make sure it’s something other than Hot Pockets and Mountain Dew. And send them to school with a healthy lunch. You’ll be amazed what it does for their energy levels and, by extension, their attitude. You’ll see it in how much easier they are to wake up in the morning and how much happier they are when they get home in the evening. And I’ll bet you’ll be blown away by how much more they’ll be able to focus and how much more they’ll accomplish during the typical day.
As far as you’re concerned, future Chris, don’t lose sight of the importance of modeling, both as an educator and as a parent. I told you in my previous post that when it seems like there aren’t enough hours in your child’s day and something’s got to give, you can’t let it be school work. Please don’t let it be a good night’s sleep or a good meal, either. Don’t become that guy who lets his kids live on fast food as they shuttle between activities. And don’t become that guy who can’t convince his kids to eat breakfast because all they ever see him have in the morning is a pot of coffee.
And, Chris….you may need to start getting more than 5-6 hours of sleep a night.