Sometimes I can’t believe I’m a teacher. I was not a little girl who dreamed of being an educator, who played classroom, who thought about leading a class of students. I was not even an education major in college! But I love my job, and I love what I do.
One of my favorite moments of every day is walking down the hall during my prep. I’m always on my way to gab with this one or gossip with that one, copy this or file that. And I walk past rows of open doors. Although it’s not by design, the hallways around my classroom are all filled with other English teachers or Social Studies teachers. I love walking down the hall and watching my colleagues engaged in meaningful work with students. I love seeing conferences or students reading or discussions. I love seeing students I have in my class in other classrooms: how they sit the same way, how they react to questions differently, how they talk to new friends. I love the snippets I overhear.
“No, I don’t know if Atticus would think that . . . ”
“I found some evidence, it’s on page 45 . . . ”
“But how does the yuan stand up to the Euro?”
These moments, when I walk past open doors and hear my students learning, see them engaged, I am most glad of my job. And on this, the day before Spring Break, when I am burned out and cranky and have a headache and am ready for that vacation to begin, that’s a nice reminder to have.
I’ve never actually been in quicksand. Although I’ve done some traveling in my day, I stay true to my city girl roots and don’t swap the urban jungle for an actual jungle. So I can’t be sure that what I went through today was quicksand, but man it sure felt like it.
When I woke up this morning my head felt fuzzy. I showered without really thinking about what I was doing (and only shaved one leg! Yikes!). I didn’t have energy to do my hair, so a bun it was. At school I found myself looking for words I knew but could not place. I couldn’t concentrate while reading. Forget grading.
After school I went for a run: 3 miles on leaden legs. Usually I know why I’m slow. A lot of my running game is mental, and I’m being lazy, or it’s the end of a long run and I’m hurting. But today I was swimming. I couldn’t move my legs any faster than they were going, and my lethargy knew no bounds. If the park wasn’t a 3 mile loop I would have quit halfway through. (Full disclosure: I weighed the idea of quitting but realized I was just as far from my car if I turned around than if I kept going so I kept going.)
I grocery shopped. I wandered down aisles without knowing why. I couldn’t name the thing I needed for dinner (eggplant. For eggplant parmesan.). I turned the wrong way out of the parking lot.
At home the baby and I just didn’t connect. Usually she’s all smiles when I come home. Today she frowned and reached away from me. There were no giggles, no smiles.
I struggled through dinner, losing my place several times as I cooked. There’s even water in my ear from my shower, making me feel like I’m underwater.
It was a quicksand kind of day. Maybe it’s because today is Spring Break Eve Eve. Maybe because it’s Wednesday. Maybe because I’m tired. I don’t know why. But it was a quicksand kind of day, and I’m hoping to emerge clearer tomorrow.
Today I came home from school, packed up the baby, and took her to a local cafe to meet my husband. My husband is also a teacher, and a coach, and he often works late hours. Because of his coaching obligations (soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, baseball in the summer), he has little time to spend with students after school. Rather than say, “Sorry, kid. You’re out of luck,” my husband spend his precious free time meeting students at the library, at the bookstore, at cafes to try to help them with their work. With organizing themselves. With getting themselves back on track. He does this even though he’s already put in an almost 12 hour day. He does this even though he’d rather be home with the baby and me.
So today we met him at the cafe. We played while he helped a student. When she worked on her own, he came over and sat with our girl, who lit up like a Christmas tree at the sight of him. It’s easy to complain about how busy I am, to say I don’t have enough time in the day to do all of the things I need to do. But then I look at my husband, and I admire him so much for all that he’s able to accomplish. He is a thoughtful coach, a loving husband, an adoring father. And he still manages to be an amazing teacher who makes time for his students. I’m thankful to have such an amazing partner, I’m thankful my daughter has such an amazing father, and I’m thankful my students have such an amazing teacher.
We start Spring Break on Friday. I have only been back to work for two months, so I don’t feel the all-consuming need to run out of my classroom as soon as that last bell rings. I’m just getting into a groove with my students, and I’m actually a little annoyed that I’ll be losing them for a week (which really means at least a week and a half between students taking off and checking out). There are other ways I’m approaching Spring Break differently this year, too.
I usually use Spring Break as my week to do a million things. I grade; I plan; I take measure of the year so far. I’m usually a busy bee during Spring Break, spending at least one full day at Barnes and Noble or the library. In fact, the week before Break is usually my easiest because I know I’m saving everything for my time off.
This year, however, I’m trying to get as much as possible accomplished before Friday. I want to spend time with my girl, and I don’t want grading or planning or emailing hanging over my head. I want to relish our daytime together, going on walks, the zoo, the park. I want to just relax and spend time with her.
I’m also hoping to get some work done on my dissertation, which I’ve let languish for the better part of a year. I have a meeting on Saturday that I’m hoping will energize me and focus me with a plan of attack. I’m hoping to finish it in the next six to ten months, so I need to get moving.
All of this to say that this week I’ll be working my butt off trying to get ready to do nothing. I think it will be worth it.
I am beginning a new writing project with my juniors tomorrow. They are going to be looking at maps of places they love and using them to tell a story. We’ve been doing writing in preparation for it for the last week, and I’m excited to see what my students come up with; they’ve impressed me so much in the last few weeks.
But I’m nervous too. Not because I don’t think they can do it (I do). Not because I don’t think they’ll like it (they won’t, at first, then they will). I’m nervous because I’m committed to doing the writing with them. So I, too, have to choose a place I love. I, too, have to find maps of that place. I, too, have to do all of the drafting and planning and revision that they do. Usually I don’t mind writing with my students; I can churn out a literary essay or a memoir in my sleep. But in this case I feel my students’ anxiety of limiting my choices, of choosing the wrong thing, of regretting my decisions.
I will stress tomorrow that the decision they make tomorrow is not final. They will begin their planning and writing tomorrow, but they may realize the place they’ve chosen isn’t the right one for them. I will model my thought process, talk about my fears, let them see my vulnerability.
If I’ve gained nothing else from the Slice of Life Challenge (and I think I’ve gained a lot of things, but more on that later), I’ve realized that writing is really all about being vulnerable. I’ve written about things I was unsure of sharing, things I wasn’t sure how to say. And nothing bad happened. The world didn’t explode and people even reacted positively. That’s something I want to be sure to model to my students during this process, more than grammar or organization or figurative language. Writing is about taking risks and making mistakes. That might be the most valuable lesson I give them this year.
I am about to leave for a birthday dinner. My daughter is asleep and my husband and I are traveling to Staten Island to have dinner with my parents, sister, and grandmother; we are celebrating my parents’ birthdays.
My parents were born 14 days apart and are turning 60 this year. It is hard for me to imagine my parents at 60 because they are so vibrant, so jovial, so in love with life. They don’t seem 60. They seem more like peers.
I like going to dinner with my family. We are going to a restaurant but no matter where we are there is something so comfortable, so warm, so familiar about it. I know what they will order. I know what they will drink. I know what jokes they will make. I am looking forward to it.
It is so easy to lose oneself in taking care of others. It is not easy to take care of others. It is not easy to lose oneself. But it is easy to lose oneself in taking care of others.
I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, because I’m not. I didn’t even particularly care for others all that much today–I attended a workshop for part of the day, then ran errands while my mother-in-law watched the baby. My husband and I didn’t even have dinner together (he’s watching March Madness with friends, I’m eating Oreos on the couch).
But maybe it was the NOT caring for people today that made me realize how easy it is to get caught up in it. I saw a picture on Instagram (of all places) about taking a Saturday morning yoga class and I thought, My God, how wonderful it would be to wake up on Saturday morning and take a yoga class. But that’s just not how my life works right now. My husband has baseball practice in the morning and is following that up with helping students at the library; the earliest I could get to yoga is 2:00 but we have a family birthday dinner tomorrow night that I still need to finish preparing for. Yoga is not in my cards tomorrow. That doesn’t mean it’s never in my cards, but I can’t help but think about how . . . lost I can get when I spend my days taking care of others. How I can get so caught up in caring for others that I don’t think about taking care of myself.
And it’s not like I’m being FORCED to care for others. (Well, maybe my daughter is forcing me to take care of her as much as a 5 1/2 month old can force anything.) I choose to do it. Do I do it to avoid taking care of myself? Maybe. But reflecting on how out of reach that yoga class is made me think about self care. I don’t think I do enough of it. Writing is a form of self care, and I’ve made time for that this month. So is reading. So is running. I have to remember as I race around taking care of others (make this dinner buy that present write those thank yous) that I’m a person who needs taking care of too.