One of the important things that I understand about learning and teaching is that one must love learning in order to teach well. In that spirit, the state of North Carolina set up the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching. At these facilities, teachers, who must be selected for the program, become learners again and, for a few days, are secluded away from the hustle and bustle of the world and take classes on various subjects. The teachers, who attend free of charge, stay in the hotel-like facilities and have access to walking trails, exercise rooms, musical instruments, a library, and a world-class dining room with meals prepared by gourmet chefs. In this environment, teachers get re-infused with the passion and excitement of learning. In the renewal courses, they are encouraged to take courses that are not related to what they do or teach back at home. Math teachers learn the intricacies of soaring in a glider, history teachers may learn art, while others learn about crime scene investigation. The curriculum changes each semester. Teachers go home rededicated to teaching.
Keeping this in mind, I have, for the last 10 years or so, done this on a personal level, taking on one special discipline each year on which to work. For that one year, all my discretionary time and money go toward my "become an expert" goal. Although one cannot become a true expert on any topic in one year, one can gain a strong level of competence and appreciation for it. In addition, the effort revitalizes one's love for learning and for our chosen profession. In fact, the more challenging the effort, the easier "work" gets. It also keeps life exciting for me because my interests change from year to year and I can change my area of study each year. Some topics stretch over several years as my interest continues beyond the one-year mark. During the last 15 years, I've learned:
- HTML and how to create and maintain web sites
- How to play acoustic guitar
- How to play the bass guitar
- How to play mandolin
- How to play the Irish and Low Whistles
- Gourmet cooking
- Chess (to the level of competing in tournaments)
- Backgammon (to a master's level)
- Shagging (the dance...get your mind out of the gutter -- My wife and I did this one together)
This year, I'm a little ambitious and I've chosen two things to do. First, I made a move to a different aspect of my job where I'm working with a more diverse clientele, so I'm beginning to learn Spanish. Then, I've decided to pursue a dream I've always had. So last week, I called my local flight school and arranged flying lessons to work toward a private pilot certificate. Today, I begin my lessons. It takes a minimum of 40 hours to achieve this so my goal is to have it within a year. Next year: Skydiving!
My point is that each of these things, except learning Spanish, has nothing to do with what I do professionally as an educational administrator. They keep life exciting and fun. They keep me young. Above and beyond that, I find that I'm more productive at work when I engage in these activities. It's almost like I don't want to take work home because it would interfere with my life, so I "get it done"! Hey...I have a life to get home to!
Everyone should be doing something that does this for them. What things that are unrelated to what you do make you more productive at work? What gives you the "juice of life", that keeps your life exciting?