‘Twas two weeks before the state test and my fifth graders were in the midst of finishing up their literary essays. I had been out that morning and left a lesson I recorded about rereading your short story with your thesis statement in mind in order to gather more evidence. When I walked into the room, students greeted me with the words: “Ms. Senatore, can you help me with my essay?” and “I am not sure where to add this to my draft.” and “Does this quote make sense?” It was as if all their independence as writers flew out the window! I took a breath, looked at their worried faces and felt my shoulders tense up. I realized at that moment that I could spend the next hour bouncing around helping students or we could put the essays away and return to them later when we were in a better state of mind.
So I turned to these writers and said: “You know what? Sometimes writers need to walk away from their writing. They need a break so when they go back to it, they can view it clearly. So this is what I want you to do, everyone place your fingers on the top of your Chromebooks.” They looked a bit confused but then did as I asked. “Now close them.” What satisfaction to hear the resounding click of 16 Chromebooks closing! With that, I grabbed a picture book and read to the class. Sure enough, it worked! When we returned to our essays the next day, students felt a renewed sense of confidence.
This experience made me think about quitting. In episode 16 of the podcast We Can Do Hard Things, writer and activist Glennon Doyle exclaimed: “I love quitting. I quit everyday!” With those words she rejected our pervasive “never quit, never give up” culture and described circumstances when quitting is a good thing. It’s not just about quitting the obvious harmful habits, but it is also about taking time each day to stop and walk away. Simone Biles and Megan Merkle serve as excellent examples of women who have quit something in service of their own well being. What if we view quitting in a new light? What if it became an act of self care?
So if you are a teacher feeling the pressure of wrapping up a writing unit or preparing students for a state test (I’m thinking of my colleagues in New York State here), give yourself and your students permission to quit. Afterall, this may be the best lesson we teach our students.