The sin of multitasking…

I’ve been wrestling with sleep for an hour now because my brain is tormented with a decision my department and I have made. It’s not life or death. It’s not a career change. It’s merely a token, an award I’ve been designated to bestow on a worthy student at the school’s honor ceremony.

I find it ironic that after I should reflect on “True Trophies” in a previous blog post, I am now awarded the honor of bestowing such an award. As I had written in that post,  awards based on player statistics are easy for a coach; likewise, awards based solely on grades are easy for a teacher. However, statistics, like grades, are rewards in themselves. Creatively named awards, such as the English Award or the Math Award, consider other qualities as well:

At our school, the English Award, for example, is given to one rhetoric and one logic student who exemplify the best in English students. They may or may not have the best grade in their class, but they show the best effort. They come to learn, to share, to discuss. They come prepared to listen and participate. These students ask questions–not just because they might appear on a test but because they want to know. They attack each new reading, each new writing, each new assignment with vigor and determination, wanting to do their best, wanting to do it better.

Inherent in that description, to me, is a hunger to learn. When I have good students come to class and open their laptop (for no  purpose in my class) or their smart phones or their iPads or their Spanish, chemistry, math, or recreational reading book or their mouths in conversation with a classmate, I don’t see that hunger to learn. I see multitasking. I suppose I should see efficiency, but I don’t. I see it as rude.

And yet, as I look at myself (because I realize I have a beam in my eye that somehow makes the speck in my students’ eyes seem larger, not smaller), I realize that I am that multitasker. I am that rude. (I am also that efficient.)

As a college student, I had a mentor who spoke into my life this catchphrase:

“Wherever you are, be all there.”

I have tried to let that quote guide my behavior, but, increasingly, I fail. (You may remember my “Cultivating A.D.D.” post.) The antithesis of  being “all there” is multitasking, which is prevalent and accepted in our society. I find myself distracted by so many things that I fail to do each task to its fullest. I fail to be a great listener, for example, because I may appear to listen while thinking of something completely different in my head.

I’ve taught my son well. I was sharing a deep thought as we drove yesterday, and he said, “I’m listening.” But as soon as I finished talking, instead of responding in some way, he bombarded me with something a friend had tweeted, completely off topic. He listened as well as I too often do.

And so, when I find myself wrestling with sleep over student multitaskers or my son’s lack of intentional listening, my true source of aggravation is me. Wherever I am, I want to be all there. My English teachers sought to reward a student for being “all there,” humbly, hungrily seeking to learn. Honestly, I wrestled first with worrying that more grade-worthy students might feel slighted, but then I wrestled with my own multitasking and the realization that it, too, would not win any awards. As a teacher, I want my students to be “all there” in my classroom. As a parent, I want my son to be “all there” in a conversation.

I need to set a better example.

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