Dear students. Today I wanted to write a mini-essay about a sense I have had recently about the space between the inspirational feeling when an ambition is conceived, and the arduous senselessness in its difficult/impossible completion. Even just in that focus, I do not sense clarity in my thoughts. But that’s not a problem.

I decided to use this as an example of my students of how to structure 15-5-1 planning.

Firstly I devised 15 ideas, arguments or notions that I (might) want to include in my essay.

Ambitions Boredom Mastery Difficulty of completion Arduous to continue 
Ambitions from yourself Boredom of lacking purpose Boredom of something being difficult Requiring the affirmation of others Ensuring that tasks are completed 
Being a perfectionist Being sovereign over the things by which you define yourself No point of completion Competing things against the whim of others Completing things in the space left by others

As you can see from above, I begin with concepts: ambitions; boredom; mastery. Those concepts then become more elucidated points: boredom becomes either lacking purpose, or finding something difficult. From this I desire to find five key points.

Boredom Completing things in the space left by others Ensuring completion Ambitions from yourself or otherwise Aiming for mastery

 

Of these five points, I find the one that I would like to build towards is the:

Completing things in the space left by others

 

From this I would order my focus as follows:

1) Ambitions from yourself or otherwise.
2) Aiming for mastery.
3) Boredom: purpose vs ardour.
4) Ensuring completion.
5) Completing things in the space left by others.

My links between the points are now written in italics:

1) Ambitions from yourself or otherwise.
Leads to the experience of mastery, of completing something for the sakes of its own completion. Impossible in a people-job.
2) Aiming for mastery.
10,000 hours leads to mastery. Boredom is inevitable.
3) Boredom: purpose vs ardour.

One approach to procrastination is to avoid completion. Another is to realise that there is no such thing as failure, only the stopping to the point of failing.
4) Ensuring completion.
Rather than trying to battle others to create meaning, seek the spaces that they leave or neglect.
5) Completing things in the space left by others.

From these 15 points, I would seek to fill out the other points:

Ambitions from yourself or otherwise Requiring the affirmation of others Being sovereign over the things by which you define yourself Aiming for mastery Being a perfectionist BoredomBoredom of lacking purpose Ensuring completionNo point of completionArduous to continue Completing things in the space left by othersCompeting things against the whim of others

 

From this now, I have my plan in one place, and I begin to write. I start my introduction, which sets the tone and statement of my premise: that entrepreneurial risk-taking is needed to sustain the inspirational ideas of a teacher, and that grinding task-completion can, at worst, destroy such ambition.

Introduction – first attempt
Teaching is an inspirational job, but it can be a grinding vocation. The government may wish to pay more money to more motivate some teachers (such as giving maths trainees £20k), but this won’t necessary motivate them to mark more books in the cold nights when more imaginative endeavours beckon. Mastery motivates more than money (although only when enough money is paid so that it is not an issue)! Yet mastery is not always possible in a people-job; there are too many variables to do so. Instead, true competency is to be found in the spaces defined by the teacher themselves.

I could tell by the second sentence that this introduction was not going anywhere. My first sentence doesn’t state my focus. While each sentence follows the previous one with an authoritative statement, they have already missed the point entirely. The focus is, at best, implicit.

Introduction – second attempt

Teaching inspires teachers when they can operate in the creative spaces between both curriculum and pastoral demands.

Rewriting this sentence, I try the following:

Teachers can teach inspirationally when their lessons operate in the critical space between both curriculum and pastoral demands.

I like how I have made clear the implication that teachers should be responsible for their teaching. I need to make clearer, though, what I mean about ‘critical space’ and ‘curriculum and pastoral demands’.

Teachers can teach inspirationally when they not only satisfy pastoral and curriculum demands, but when they teach with their own purpose.

Although not a simple sentence the subordinate clause allows the punchline: that teachers need a purpose to teach beyond that given to them in order to teach inspirationally. As ‘their own’ is somewhat of a tautology, I seek, now, to refine that sentence further with some inference:

Teachers can teach inspirationally when their teaching not only satisfies the demands of the curriculum, but also defines their purpose for teaching in the first place.


The almost-oxford comma here is for clarity. I now seek to touch onto my points in the rest of my introduction:

Teachers can teach inspirationally when their teaching not only satisfies the demands of the curriculum, but also defines their purpose for teaching in the first place. Having a purpose to teach beyond that given to you makes outstanding teaching possible. Of course, the government may wish to pay more money to more motivate some teachers (such as giving maths trainees £20k), but this won’t necessary motivate anyone to mark more books in the cold nights, not least when more imaginative endeavours beckon. Normally, the feeling of mastering a job motivates more than money (although only when enough money is paid so that it is not an issue)! Yet mastery is not always possible in a people-based profession; there are too many variables to achieve this. Instead, it is up to the teacher to define the purpose of their teaching, and what it wants to encourage and achieve.

 This is ‘good enough’ for the time being. It expresses how motivation and mastery are linked, and how they can’t be given. It hints at the need to complete tasks in the ‘space left by others’ but it allow me to build towards this idea/point. I will now write the essay. Note that when I say, ‘a man’, I mean any thinking person of any gender: as a man, I write this essay for myself, and apologise for avoiding the turgid ‘man or woman’

Being a teacher is a strange ambition. Many students see teachers, like all public servants and many parents, denigrated in the eyes of the media. Yet most teachers are universally liked by the parents and students that know them. Some teachers work incredible hours (and many of these naively so, often completing grinding work, or creating ‘fun’ tasks). Some teachers have expertise enough to work just-above-average hours and still survive. Between these two types are those who see ambition as looking to manage a school (with all its implications about being promoted to a level of incompetency), or become a ‘careerist’. Others, though, seek other ambitions less definable than a shiny car and kudos in the middle page of the weekly paper.

Teachers are judged on a daily basis by the students they teach. Being a good teacher requires organisation. Charisma is a useful trait, although not entirely necessary. Good hygiene is essential. Without thinking too much about ambition, though, a teacher can quickly grow to crave the affirmation of others. In some ways, this isn’t a bad thing: affirmation is wonderful. But affirmation is a fickle mistress. By prizing the affirmation of others above your developing judgement of your practice, a teacher attracts the albatross of attaching all their kudos to the words of others. Like a football fan whose week hinges upon the success of their team, a teacher who defines themselves upon the judgement of others – good, bad, or indifferent – puts themselves in a dangerous position.

Fortunately, your writer has had many excellent affirmations. However, he knows the danger of prizing the judgement of others other the sovereign possibilities of being your own judge.

One example of the possibilities of sovereign self-rule was articulated by Montaigne in the 1700s. He likened free-will to a dog following a car while attached to a lead. The dog is free to walk away from the path of the cart within the confines of the lead. However, should the dog stray too far from the confines of the lead, it will be painfully yanked with inexorable path of the cart. Similarly, a man is able to exercise free-will in many minor ways (what he eats, who he speaks to, where he goes on holiday), but must follow the cart of purpose (what job he chooses, whether he pays his bills, where he lives, if he dies). So far, so good: so what?

If the dog never moves too far from the purpose of the cart, it never suffers the painful realisation of the cart’s path. It forgets that it is attached to the cart at all. Instead, it feels free. Likewise, if a man fulfils his purpose by following the cart of his determinism (living as if he will die, seeking to define himself by that which benefits himself and others, seeking to sustain the world around him the best he can), he is unlikely to feel the pain and angst that stems from subverted his perceived purpose. Of course, if a man is able to suffer that angst easily, then they can engage in wilful activities easily enough. But the pain of purpose will always return. It cannot be escaped, and it cannot be mastered.

Boredom is, for students I think, a painful thing. You can see it in their faces and in their body. Boredom is one expression of when a man feels that they are not fulfilling their purpose. However, there are two broad types of boredom. The first is the boredom of a task that is difficult or arduous. Marking is tedious for an English teacher, and occasionally difficult. The second type of boredom is that of completing a task that does not fulfil your purpose: that is the worst type of boredom, and veritable strangulation by the aforementioned cart! Marking that doesn’t lead to planning, or marks for everything without focus instigates this kind of boredom.

It must be said, of course, that the boredom of some students and teachers is instigated from not knowing or thinking (let alone living!) their purpose. The purpose of passing an exam might be to have extra pocket money, or to avoid a sanction, or to gain the approval of the teacher or parents. These purposes are flimsy. Worse still, though, are the students whose purpose is to play games, or football, or chase girls. Those students feel boredom in all work, because their work slowly strangles them from their errant purposes. Whether a student is aware that they can choose their purpose, and whether they want to, is not something a teacher can affect (even though this is one of the apparent purposes of high literature).

Completing a task so that it aligns with your purpose is not simple in a thinking profession, let alone a thinking-and-people-profession. Many tasks in teaching have definitive point of completion. An essay can always be marked more, and lessons can be planned intensely. Whenever I attempt to crush my to-do list, I am defeated by the sheer arduousness of many tasks. My day is filled by many tasks that require an extraordinary amount of attention (order study-guides, for example, with money, forms, teachers, ordering, delivering, confirming all taking up inordinate amounts of time).  Many of these tasks do not fulfil my prime purpose to live out of my imagination: but they are completed as they need to be. But they are not completed to the detriment of the things that nourish or sustain me, and they are not completed to the detriment of the task itself not being done. A half-job or delegation (sometimes the same thing!) on many tasks is a professional response to many of the tasks that drown teachers, I think.

But now, even as I drown in administrative tasks, I ask myself, what is it that I should aim to do today? I can complete tasks in a way that I feel others might want them done for second-guessed notions that might appeal to them, or not. I might sacrifice my fitness and my imagination in order to grinding the administration of many tasks into the dusty ground of my desk. Or, rather, I could seek to complete tasks in the spaces left by others.

I find that such as dusty statement – ‘the spaces left by others’. What I mean by that is this: sometimes when socialising you might find that to express a statement requires you to combat a point made by someone else, or to simply frame something that has been said already. At other times, you might find that no-one asserts form or meaning onto a conversation, and there is an uncomfortably undefined space left to hang between you all. It is this space that I am speaking about; it is this space in which ambition and endeavour and purpose can be found.

The actions of this space might very well spill into combating the will of others: that is not its purpose, though. The actions instigated from sovereign purpose find strength and momentum unfettered, as they rely not upon others to be framed, or even just for meaning. However, others can nourish such ambitions, and affirm them (if they want!) But such affirmation of your purpose is not the purpose itself: that affirmation becomes vindication! And in such vindication is, I think, ambition truly realised.

So ambition – the purpose of this essay – does not have to be the received ambitions that I have been given throughout my young life. I do not have to be a salesman, a marketing man, or a recruitment consultant. I do not need to spend £250 a month on a car, nor do I need to spend £1000s more on clothes. I do not need to watch TV incessantly each night, nor do I need to drink to oblivion each weekend. Instead my ambitions do not need to material, or even definable. They just need to drive me, and to give me purpose.

Eastern philosophy and thought can often serve to frame western thought. When understood, though, it is an ambition in itself. I will therefore leave you with this idea: if you can’t find the meaning of life in doing the dishes, you won’t find it anywhere else. If your ambition stems from material possession, or relies upon the whim of others for completion, then it risks being a debilitating purpose that will yank you painfully along. However, should material possession and receiving the affirmation of others be things you chance upon, then they might be vindication of your ambition.

But that isn’t for me to decide, my reader. That is the purpose of you.

And, so having written this essay, I hope my students are able to determine how it has followed its initial plan, and how it has aimed to build towards its initial assertion. The final assertion is deliberately inferential: that the purpose of the reader is to fulfil the ambitions of the writer (which may just be to exist as the possibility of someone understanding the musings of a young, busy thinker).