186 Days: A Self-Assessment of Learning

ZOIKS! My next 186 days are already underway, and I have yet to file a report about the last 186! 

Already firmly embedded in teacher mode again, I’ll sum up my learning through an evidence-based self-assessment of relevant academic qualities honed during the year. (All scores out of 4 possible points)

Listens attentively: 4+

I spent the year captivated by podcasts, learning about such diverse topics as creating an online business; the science of fear; and the difference between obscenity, profanity, and vulgarity. Among my favorites: TED Radio Hour, Radiolab, Hidden Brain, The Moth, and Lexicon Valley. Perfect for long dog walks and marathon baking sessions.


Participates in discussions: 4

My conversations with my parents over the last year — previously conducted on Sunday nights while simultaneously answering school-related emails, grading papers, and mentally planning the next day’s lunch — stood in delightful contrast as leisurely, focused, and meaningful. Perhaps my most improved category, and unquestionably the most important source of evidence.

Works diligently: 4 (no, seriously!)

Although I often referred to my leave of absence as a year “off,” I spent less time at rest than working industriously. In addition to working as a personal/admin assistant 10 hours a week, I also wrote résumés and web content; edited a book for prostate cancer patients about treatment options; volunteered weekly for a local non-profit; and kept the books for my husband’s business. As for all the other work–the personal and household kind–I made tidy lists spanning more than 20 pages in my notebook. (If you are a list maker, you understand the sense  of gratification I felt each time I put the point of my pen in a checkbox to proclaim that I had completed one more task.)

Follows directions: 4

With plenty of time, little extra money, and no excuse not to prepare meals at home, I practiced this foundational skill by trying out new recipes. Evidence of mastery can be found in my whole wheat sandwich bread, kombucha, Egg and Veggie Stir Fry, Lentil Bowl, Shepherd’s Pie, and Roasted Chicken Tacos with Blistered Tomatillo Salsa that are now considered specialities of the house.

These SCOBYs (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) are evidence of my prolific kombucha-brewing habits developed over the past several months.

Organizes time and effort efficiently: 4

To avoid having to readjust to an early-to-bed-and-early-to-rise routine when school started again, I maintained my schedule of pre-dawn gym workouts throughout my 14 months on leave, adding two hours to my mornings that I would have otherwise spent asleep. Those extra 840 waking hours added up to about 35 extra days of time “off!”

alarm clock

Follows rules: 3.9

Well…there was this one slip-up in northern New Mexico, but I am a chronic rule-follower, so I’ll deduct only .1 from a perfect score here. 🙂



Reads independently for enjoyment: 4+

Books. I read BOOKS. That I chose. And you’d better believe I enjoyed it!

Recommendations: Tell the Wolves I’m Home (Carol Rifka Brunt), The Silver Star (Jeannette Walls), and Icy Sparks (Gwyn Hyman Rubio). All three feature young female protagonists: June, whose uncle is dying of AIDS that her mother refuses to acknowledge; Bean, whose bipolar mother drifts in and out of her life; and Icy, a 10-year-old girl with Tourette’s Syndrome in 1950s Kentucky.

Writes independently for enjoyment: It’s complicated.

Well, now, let’s see. I saved this one for last, and not because it’s the “best.” Quite the opposite, in fact.

I did write independently (here and for my as-yet-to-be-launched new blog), but honestly? I found much of the process to be excruciating. That “no one will want to read this…I need something better, longer, cleverer, juicier, funnier, edgier, something– ANYTHING other than what I’m writing RIGHT NOW” feeling paralyzed me every time I opened my laptop. It paralyzes me still as I write tonight. So “enjoyment” is a questionable term here.

As an instructor of writing, I feel shame in admitting how not fun writing is for me a lot of the time–and how painful it is for me to offer up my insides for public scrutiny. However, this process has helped me realize more compassion and appreciation for my students’ courage in sharing their own writing.

The “Writes independently” part scores a  3; the “for enjoyment” part?  Barely a 1.5.


About a year ago when I began this blog, I wondered if this “marriage” was salvageable. Seems it’s not: You see, that I was married to teaching was the problem.

So I’m dumping that metaphor and am approaching this year with a fresh start, more realistic expectations of myself, a focus on accomplishing only the step immediately ahead of me, a commitment to allowing “good enough” to be good enough, and boundaries. Yes, boundaries.

Like no checking work email after 6pm and saying “no” to things that will not directly benefit my students. Okay, that’s just two, but they are two biggies.

I’ll also consider this advice from a colleague, a 13-year teaching veteran who seems to have it all figured out:

Before you do something, ask yourself if anyone would notice if you didn’t do it.  If the answer is ‘no,’ then don’t do it.

Thanks for reading. Here’s to the next 186 days!


13 Comments Add yours

  1. Suzy Hershey says:

    Well done! I love to read your writing. I feel a special selfish pleasure when I see a personal reference directed to me, e.g. your flexible parental phone calls and the “good enough” mantra. I’m so proud of you and what you have accomplished. ‘Nuf said or I’ll get too maudlin. Do your best but still keep a balance in your life.

    With much love and admiration and wishes that you were miles closer, M

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Our phone calls for the next 10 months will be the best indicator of whether I’m meeting the “balance” goals I’ve set! I love you even if I do multi-task on our phone calls.


  2. Cathy says:

    Elena, I have so enjoyed following you on this part of your journey. I applaud your goals toward balance. (Your colleague’s advice is wonderful.) Wishing you many adventures in the next 186 days!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Miss Hivner. Your comments and good wishes are especially meaningful since I know you “get” it!


  3. beandog9 says:

    I just love your writing. I know it’s a chore but I hope you keep doing it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Is it as excruciating for you as it is for me? You and Angie make it seem effortless.


      1. beandog9 says:

        It don’t come easy always, but sometimes I am just excited to wrote down what’s going on.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. beandog9 says:

        It was very easy when we were on the bike trip I think.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. beandog9 says:

        Oh, and I tried to change wrote to write and it posted instead!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Love this! I also read The Silver Star, great book! 🙂


    1. Have you read any other of JW’s books? I loved Half Broke Horses and The Glass Castle.


  5. Renee Shires says:

    Elena, you are a highly talented and delightful writer. I enjoy your “stream of consciousness” style as it seems you are just having a lively conversation with me. That said, I now know why I hate kombucha. The picture of whatever alien things are floating in that mason jar almost made me hurl my lunch. Gah.


  6. Soooo, are you saying I should NOT fill your plastic container with SCOBYs before returning it to you?


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