September 1, 2015

Why I’m Not Teaching My 7th Graders About Balance This Term.

"Torsten, math teacher," Blondinrikard Fröberg, FlickrAnother summer winds down, and I tumble into a new school year.

As I do, I notice how out of whack everything feels after seven weeks of mostly unstructured time.

I’m struck by how good it would be to have some life balance about now.

Balance: a state of equilibrium, equal distribution of something, symmetry.

Sounds divine! Yet balance also implies that there are two opposing forces, and that we can somehow find a middle ground between them.

That sounds so structured, and life isn’t.

I’ve come to believe attaining balance in life is an impossible quest. Instead I realize by acknowledging the power of our choices we can up the level of harmony we have in our lives.

Harmony: agreement, cooperation, a pleasing arrangement of parts; a relationship in which various components exist together without destroying one another.

Now that’s more like it.

No competing sides, no symmetry—just life in all its complicated yet agreeable pieces. Harmony is something we can actually attain. I’m betting this notion is something a 12-year-old can wrap his head around, too. So I’m giving up on life balance, and I’m taking the seventh graders with me.

As the school counselor, I give a presentation to them during the first couple of weeks of classes. My topic over the years has been a big one: balancing your time as you transition to middle school.

The students always listen respectfully. Their reactions run the gamut from curiosity, to stress, to utter terror.

(No surprise. How on earth does anyone balance time? Or life? Just what have I been thinking all these years?)

Regardless, I start by doing the math, students’ unanimously least favorite subject. And I wonder why they look stressed.

We all have the same 24 hours a day, including Beyoncé. We sleep for nine hours (you actually need more if you’re 12). We’re in school for seven hours. Our free time is now eight hours or fewer, during which we must eat, play, hang out with our families, and, well, do everything else.

(Here’s where we all pause to breathe because they probably aren’t at this point.)

I’m a big proponent of breathing, so this Fall I’ll take a different approach.

As a fan of harmony over balance, here’s what I’ll share:

Almost everything we do is a choice.

“I have to do this!” is a story I was too often telling myself, and one I wasn’t always happy about.

Most life activities aren’t really required. (Death and taxes are the apparent exceptions, and one of those is arguable.) However, we choose to do certain things because we want certain results.

Most of us work, for example, to live comfortably in this society. We need money for those comforts. We are, nonetheless, choosing this lifestyle versus, say, living off the grid and fishing for our meals.

Children choose to come to school. (Just ask the parent of a child who chooses not to come to school if this is true.) This choice keeps parents from paying a legal price and allows for a peaceful home and no negative consequences.

Those examples have a pleasing arrangement of parts: doing work in exchange for money, going to school because the alternatives are unpleasant (and, for most kids, because they do like school).

Harmony is alive and well when we accept that we are at choice about our decisions.

Since we’re making the choices, be at peace with them.

Because I’m the one deciding in the first place, I don’t beat myself (or others) up for those decisions. That only causes me stress.

I try not to hold a grudge against myself for the choices I make. I want to avoid falling into the pit of “should-ing” myself or careening into the ditch of “if only.”

I chose what I chose, however things unfold.

In seventh grade language, that means if you play video games instead of finish your history project, no whining is allowed when you have to report to your teacher during lunchtime to complete it. (And no blaming the teacher for your predicament.)

Choices sit side by side with results. We don’t attack ourselves (or others) for the decisions we’ve made. We feel how it feels, and we go on from there.

Equality is impossible when it comes to dividing up our time.

Time is a weird concept anyway.

Sometimes it drags on, like the 45-minute lunch supervision duty (the longest three quarters of an hour in human history!) Sometimes it flies, like on most Sunday afternoons. And sometimes it stands still, like during a sunset over the mountains.

I may someday have equal time to give to my husband, my friends and my work. Eventually I may balance the time I devote to my other passions. But if I do the seventh grade math, so far that seems like wishful thinking.

Instead I seek a harmonious co-existence among these things—more of one thing on one day, maybe less of it the next. As a seventh grader, that could mean If I spend this time on my math homework, I will not have time to ride my skateboard. Or countless other if/then’s.

The time we spend on the things we choose to do will probably never be equal. I choose based on the result I want.

I ultimately learn to understand how the parts can fit together—how my life works, how life can work in my favor and how much I favor a peaceful life.

Who says you don’t learn profound life lessons in middle school?

Life feels easier when I embrace harmony than it did when I was chasing balance. I see so clearly how my choices contribute to (or detract from) that easy feeling.

I hope my seventh graders somehow find a payoff, too.

And that they can do the math.



Aliza & the Mind Jar: How a School in NYC Teaches Mindfulness to Kids. {Short Film}


Author: Marcia Smalley

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

Image: Blondinrikard Fröberg/ Flickr

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