The Plan to Not Plan

One of my strengths as both a teacher and a mother is my power of forethought. As a mother, my diaper bag always had snacks, plenty of diapers, spare clothes, spare clothes for the spare clothes, bags to hold the messy clothes… you name it, I had it. As a teacher, I thought through my lesson plans with painful precision. Where might the kids need help? How might they need me to modify or adapt? I thought of logistics- where might they bottle neck in the classroom when I told them to do a task, or who might get in a fight if paired together? My whole life has been a mental game of planning, thinking, and trying to figure out what the next best move was.

This way of thinking has proven to work for me. While I know this way of life isn’t for everyone, and for some just reading it might make them feel exhausted, this sense of planning has brought about a strong sense of calm for me. A well thought out plan, and a well executed plan, brings me peace.

As 2020 rolled in, it became clear this wasn’t going to be the Year of the Planners. People like me- who thrive on a well thought out plan, who have excelled in life by always being one step ahead of the next roadblock- are now finding themselves in a new reality: the unplannable. I can truly say I have never struggled more mentally than I have in the past few weeks, because for the first time I feel I don’t know how to do my job as a mother or a teacher.

In the Spring when we moved to remote learning, I tried to apply the same fortitude that I’ve used when I met other obstacles: Get ahead by being ahead. Look at my units, and plan. So I spent hours creating plans. I had lessons, Hyperdocs, videos… I was ready. But every plan I made met a new challenge- the district had a new schedule, we were changing the structure of our day, we were changing the plan… and here I was, ready…. Because isn’t a well thought out plan the best plan? Well, it wasn’t then. In fact my great plans were often just a waste of time.

Over the summer I spent a lot of time focusing on staying in the moment. I really felt minimal back to school stress because I stayed in the present moment and focused on the present day. As districts around the state changed their plans, I stayed calm. I believed it would all work out. Somehow, the Queen of the Plan was accepting that maybe the best plan was no plan. However, as all control freaks know… the plan to not plan is still a plan (did you follow that?)- and that’s not always a good idea.

As the last days of August loom, districts are rolling out their schedules. They are pushing forward with hybrid, or going remote, always with the disease as the backdrop letting us know who really calls the shots here- Covid. So I planned. I made lesson plans and documents. I spent hours diving in. And do you know what the result was? MORE angst. 

I can’t plan how this year is going to go. I can’t plan who is going to help my own children with their virtual learning while I am “live” all day with my students online. I can’t envision my life next week, and for a planner like me, that is a horrifying reality. Even trying to find childcare during a pandemic is proving to be near impossible unless you have endless funds, so the plan for this year is to survive- one day at a time.

As the child of two  recovering addicts, the phrase “one day at a time” was repeated in my home often. Yet, to a planner this phrase is completely foreign. HOW can you only focus on one day, when there are so many days to figure out? How can you only focus on today, when tomorrow will eventually come, and then you’re not ready? But did any of us see this coming- this set of tomorrow? I know I never saw my rising kindergartener starting her academic life on Zoom… that’s for sure.

For the first time I’m seeing why it might be ok to not be two weeks ahead with my lesson plans. I’m seeing why it might be ok to truly not know who is watching my kids (ok honestly, this part doesn’t feel remotely ok, but… deep breaths… deep breaths) or to be able to envision the finish line of this race. 

I have struggled the past few days and it’s not just about school- it’s about giving up the illusion of control. I can’t control this. I can’t control if I am called back to work in my classroom full time in October, or not. I can’t control if my kids’ school decides to stick with their current hybrid plan. I can’t even control what I’ll teach or how I’ll teach this year. It’s humbling to think the truth is I never really could. It was all just a little bit of luck that allowed a well-crafted plan to play out. 

So here’s to the year of no plan… for people like me, this is not comfortable. It’s downright horrifying. Perhaps releasing the pressure I self-impose upon myself to have it all figured out, to know what I’m teaching next Thursday on this Tuesday, and to release the pressure to figure this out in a world that is truly spiraling in all directions, will teach me a little more about myself than I expected. 

Perhaps I have a plan after all- the plan is to not plan. To try my hardest to stay in the present moment. To be where I currently am and focus where my feet are currently planted. Every moment that has derailed me recently has been a moment where my mind was weeks ahead of the current day. So here’s to the mental strength it will take to get the Queen of the Plan to accept that this is 2020- The year of taking it one day at a time.


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