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Sphere of Sustainability

May 7, 2009

Teacher musings:
Like some other teachers I have met, I have a tendency to ride an emotional roller coaster through the school year. I have been struggling this year to get used to a new school, and I am still adapting to a new city after living in California for 25 years. So, with that in mind, I have experienced moments of extreme frustration and feelings of intense discouragement at various points throughout this school year. It should be noted that I have also had feelings of elation and excitement – I have always said that teaching means having both the highest highs and the lowest lows – they are a packaged deal. But the subject of today’s post is those lows, especially the ones that leave me feeling totally overwhelmed by work and witht the feeling that I am not “good enough” when compared to other people in my school.

When I was venting to one of my colleagues (who was kind enough to put up with me on a Friday afternoon) he was helping me sort out why I was feeling so overwhelmed and frustrated. In our discussion he described something he called a “sphere of sustainability” – essentially the roles, responsibilities, etc. that one could take on and still be able to be “sustained.” I appreciated this comment especially at a time when I felt that I should be taking on roles that I wasn’t sure I should take on. But on my walk home later, I got to wondering about not only what that sphere of sustainability looked like, but how a teacher like me could become aware of what her/his sphere’s limits were.

This brings me to a topic that is much discussed among people I interact with since many of my friends are teachers who are at the point of deciding if teaching is a career or stepping stone in their lives. The question is this: How can teaching be sustainable for the long term? While I have many, many ideas for what could be changed systematically to making teaching more sustainable (for interesting ideas on this, see the issue of Educational Leadership from February 2009) I have recently had to take on the task of figuring out what I can do and still have a life outside of school. This is not the first time I have done this. During my first year teaching I remember leaving papers ungraded and planning not fully done just so that I could get at least five hours of sleep. At that point in my life, that was my idea of sustainability – without sleep I would most certainly not get through the week, but with some sleep I might make it to Friday. As I have gotten older, and been teaching longer, my idea of what is reasonable and sustainable has changed. I am currently pursuing a master’s degree, and I am finding ways to deal with the extra work-load by finding creative ways to grade, combining my work-out with my commute (a la bike) and otherwise open up time for classes. While my definition of a reasonable amount of work to do and my husband’s differ, I am at least able to make time to be home 3 nights out of the week so that we can have dinner together. This has become a non-negotiable.

Part of the definition of sustainability is that something is lasting over a period of time. I am at the point in my life where I want to stay in teaching for the long haul. But staying in teaching for the long haul means not ever being the perfect teacher or teacher leader, because the amount of work that would require would drive me out of the profession. This, to me, is the paradox of teaching – spending the time required to reach the ideal of a Jamie Escalante or Erin Gruwell model almost certainly means early burn out by people who might be pretty decent teachers if they stuck around. However, in order to be fulfilled in this profession, I also have to be at some level of peace with the fact that I have to let go of somethings that might make me a better teacher, but that drain me of time and emotional energy. Ultimately I’m not looking for a solution. Making teaching sustainable is a delicate dance in which the teacher is constantly negotiating between relationships with others both personally and professionally and with a sense of self that is constantly changing and adapting – or at least this is how it is for me.

Yummy Stuff:
Go G-man! He has been rockin’ the side dishes from Tropical Vegan this week, making Avocado and Mango Salad with Spinach and Red Onion to go with fajitas, and then making Hawaiian Sesame-Cabbage Salad to go with our black bean and tomato soup tonight. We also had a night of Black Bean Burgers where I finally got a chance to try out my mom’s “veggie” burger recipe – and it was great!! So, here is the low-down:

Black Bean and Veggie Burgers

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups cooked black beans
1/2 green bell pepper, cut into 2 in. pieces
1/2 onion cut into wedges
3 cloves of garlic peeled
1/2 cup silken tofu (my mom uses eggs – my parents veganism is a work in progress)
1 TB of chili powder (I would use more next time to give it a kick!)
1 TB of ground cumin (more cumin too!!)
1 tsp Thai chili sauce or hot sauce
1/2 cup bread crumbs
about 2 cups cooked brown rice

Directions:
In a medium bowl, mash black beans with a fork or potato masher until thick and pasty.

In a food processor, finely chop (don’t liquefy) bell pepper, onion and garlic. Strain to get rid of excess liquid and then stir the veggies into the mashed beans.

In the food processor blend the silken tofu wit the chili powder, cumin and chili sauce. Stir that mixture into the mixed beans and veggies. Mix in bread crumbs.

(here is where you know its a family recipe) Throw in about 3 handfuls of brown rice and mix really, really, really well until the mixture is sticky and holds together.

Divide mixture into patties (about 6). When the patties are really solid (freezing them helps) bake them on a baking sheet in a 375 oven for about 15 minutes on each side.

Avocado and Mango Salad with Spinach and Red Onion:

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp garlic salt
1 large mango peeled, pitted and chopped
1 ripe avocado, chopped
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion, soaked in cold water to cover for 10 minutes, well drained.
2 TB EVOO
2 TB fresh lime juice
4 cups of baby spinach

Directions:
In a small bowl, combine the cumin, chili powder, and garlic salt. Mix with a fork until blended and set aside. In a medium bowl, toss together the mango, avocado, onion, oil and lime juice until combined and set aside.

Divide the spinach (or arugula) among four salad bowls (or 2 in our case). Top with equal amounts of the avocado mixture. Drop pinches of the spice mixture on top to taste.

Hawaiian Sesame-Cabbage Salad

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:
1/2 head of cabbage shredded
6 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
1 cup frozen green peas (we left this out because Gary is a pea hater. You could use edamame with yummy results)
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/4 canola oil
3 TB cider vinegar
2 TB sugar (we use agave)
1 TB sesame seeds, toasted if desired
1/2 TB of sesame oil
1 cup egg-free fried chow mein noodles

Directions:
Mix all ingredients (except chow mein noodles) until well combined. Cover and refrigerate a minimum of 3 hours or up to 1 day. Just before serving, toss with the chow mein noodles.

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