I was at the high school during student drop-off in the morning recently, and I stepped up to a car dropping off a student for a five-second conversation. The parent in the car behind us honked and flipped me off as he sped off, almost hitting another car and a student walking in the parking lot. Clearly, this parent needs to manage his anger better. I also believe we are all so busy and stressed that we behave in ways that we wouldn’t if we got more sleep and felt more relaxed.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to help students, staff and myself find a better balance between achieving all the goals we set for ourselves and finding time to recharge our emotional and physical batteries.
At the Exploratorium in San Francisco, there’s an exhibit that demonstrates how long it used to take to do things in the 1980s—ordering a gift from a catalog that took two weeks to arrive, going home and listening to the answering machine messages before calling to respond to an invitation, and watching the evening news to catch up on the day’s events because news was only updated once a day.
Today, technology has revolutionized how quickly and efficiently we can do things. We have instant access to information and a 24-hour news cycle. We can have products and services delivered within 24 hours. We can get in touch with people anytime, anywhere.
But there’s a dark side.
Just because we can respond instantly, doesn’t mean we should. Sometimes, we need time to consider how we feel about an issue. Sometimes, we need to cool down before we say something we’ll regret. Sometimes, we need to prioritize other activities before getting in touch.
But people want information instantly; they seem to feel it is their right. Students tell me it’s rude not to respond instantly to a text; they don’t want to be perceived as “ghosting” someone. Parents who do not hear back instantly from a teacher or administrator get angry, apparently forgetting that a teacher may work with 180 students a day or that the school may be dealing with an emergency that requires us to safeguard students before communicating about a situation.
We are all burning out. We can’t be everywhere all the time. We can’t seem to do enough even though we’re doing so much.
At home, you’d think that as a school district superintendent I’d know how to help my high school-aged daughter, but I’m not always sure how to answer her questions. How many advanced placement classes are enough? How hard does she need to study for the SAT? How much community service will look good on a college application? Should she participate in sports or other extracurriculars if it means her grades drop a little? In this hyper-competitive world, how much is enough?
I feel like college-bound students are drowning in a sea of expectations, made worse by sleep-deprivation. It isn’t healthy, but I don’t think we, as adults, are modeling better behavior. Many of us have blurred the line between work time and personal time, allowing work to encroach on time we should reserve for family and friends, checking emails and sending texts instead of staying present in the moment.
Some people are setting limits the only way they know how—they’re leaving to find less stressful jobs, volunteering less, and generally disengaging. We will soon be losing an amazing director because he does not want to deal with the stress of being constantly understaffed and having to do the work of five people. One of the class advisors just told me he won’t be taking this role on again, not because of the students, but because of some rude and demanding parents.
I certainly don’t have the answers, but I’m looking for them for myself, for UUSD staff, and for our children who are growing up in a world where expectations seem to have gotten out of hand. I think we need to start by redefining expectations. I’m trying to turn off the constant communication and be present in the moment, to be clear about priorities, and to support people when they say, “Enough is enough.”