My Best Self

Discovering the Difference Between Crucial and Critical

The first month of school is often the hardest month in the life of a teacher, if you don’t count the last month of school, December, and testing months. This has been particularly true in 2020, as teachers scramble to figure out new procedures for in person and virtual instruction. Honestly, the best part of teaching from home is my cats and dog coming in and out of my office.

The lesson that I am continually learning is how to differentiate between what is crucial and what is critical. It is an important distinction that is sometimes difficult to make because the definitions are so similar. For the sake of this exercise, I am defining crucial as “of great importance.” Critical on the other hand is having the potential to become disastrous or at the point of a crisis. Crucial things need to be done, but the system won’t break down if they are put off for a little while. Critical things need to take priority.

Coffee is crucial because you don’t NEED it to continue existing; Everett would disagree with me. Basic hydration is critical; you literally need water to survive. My student grades are crucial, however sleep is critical and if I need to take off a night of working late to catch up, that is perfectly acceptable; especially if it means the quality of my output improves due to my being more alert. Regular student feedback is crucial, it helps my students get better at what I’m teaching them. Mid and end of term grades are critical in that there is a district wide deadline and keeping your job means you continue buying groceries and paying your mortgage.

Crucial vs critical can be as broad or granular as you want or need it to be. Cooking dinner is crucial to our budget and to our general well being, but eating healthy foods in general is critical. If getting dinner out helps preserve my sanity or allows me to accomplish a pressing critical matter, so be it. Even household chores can be categorized based on what is important to you and your home. Crucial chores are like dusting, decluttering, deep cleaning appliances; important to be sure, but unlikely to make you sick or start to smell bad. Critical chores like washing dishes, cleaning the toilet, and litter box are imperative to your wellbeing because those items can harbor disease.

This isn’t a question of procrastination, but rather identifying the things that need immediate attention. Crucial things can become critical if left on the to do pile too long. Managing crucial items as they come up can prevent things from going critical or help alleviate the anxiety of critical things. Be mindful that people coming to you with tasks will often try to label them as critical. It is going to take you, stepping back and analyzing to decide where to fit them into your priorities.

Don’t forget to take time to make yourself a priority. If you get to the point of breaking down then no task, crucial or critical, will be done.

Your wellbeing, mental and physical, is always critical.

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