The day before vacation, a school-supply company paid to “promote” a post that showed up in my Facebook feed, with an adorable quasi-ironic graphic and a witty observation:
I wasn’t entirely sure about that. Throughout the day, I saw dozens of children barely unable to contain themselves with excitement about the upcoming break, and after the kids went home, I noticed many of my colleagues hanging around, still doing Teachery Things (including squirreling a number of official looking teacher materials into cars for perusal over the break.)
Still and all, I savored my vacation–that second, leisurely cup of coffee, the idle flipping through silly magazines, long walks with good friends and hours upon hours spent with two adorable children who are connected to me by family rather than legally binding educational document. And through Facebook, I lived vicariously the vacations of my friends and colleagues. The speech pathologist hit Disneyland; Hawaii beckoned to the occupational therapist. My teacher friends, grinning in the sun, in the snow. The days unfolded, one by one, until only a scant handful remained. And one by one, the oh-no-it’s-almost-over posts, the “oh crud–here we go again”s, the lamenting over all the ways in which we should have been working, the realizations of all the things undone. The blessing of a teaching schedule is also, in some ways, the curse–so many pendulum swings between exhaustion and bliss.
I lay in bed this morning, trying to wake up enough to motivate my way across a dark room to the light switch and my work clothes. Scanning though status updates on my smart phone as I did so, coming across Ms. Bo’s:
I felt her pain. I shared her pain. I realized that a part of it is honestly that we have to be so utterly on when we’re working with children that, when we’re able on vacation to settle ourselves down into normal human rhythms, it’s almost impossible to resist staying off. For me, the pain came hardest after breaks of a week or more, because spending that much time away from the expectations people have of us makes those expectations just seem that much more ludicrous, when we’re able to see them from enough of a distance. Two weeks without worrying about whether Yosef could socialize appropriately, how Juan Carlos was doing with regrouping, what’s best to plan for for middle school for those other two. Two weeks not needing to craft the system designed to build empathy in a six year old who currently engages in repeated, deliberate peer-directed aggression when he gets upset, such that his classroom teacher has to get everyone else out of the room because that’s the safest response. Two weeks without planning lunch groups, or writing in communication notebooks, or trying to figure out why that second grader simply can’t master quantitative comparison. Two weeks without feeling like I need to do all of that, at once.
The expectations people have of us–I am, myself, the worst of this. There is nothing even the most out-of-line parent or administrator has requested of me that I haven’t, on some level, demanded of myself. My biggest challenge, in the work I do right now, is in not serving one child at the expense of the rest of them, because I am constantly seeing for each of them a way to do more.
A friend and colleague offered her thoughts on the perfect teacher last week; I read them as I stood in line with Art Club snacks after coming in for three hours on the last day of vacation. I’d gone in with the hope of getting ahead, finishing lesson plans, making materials to use in a couple weeks: I found myself barely able to manage the backlog of stuff that had accumulated while I celebrated Christmas with my nephews. I opened my Facebook to complain about how overwhelmed I already felt, three days before school was even due to start, and read this:
No matter how hard I worked, no matter how talented, or kind, or creative I was – I was not perfect…I realized that to expect perfection, of anyone, is not realistic.
…There is no perfect teacher. Say it with me. There IS no perfect person – and that includes teachers. People are wonderful works in progress. You are. I am. Your child – his friends – they are too. And your child’s teacher – that includes them too.
I needed this more than Art Club needed kettle corn, more than the people on the other side of my inbox needed prompt replies and pro-active reminders about upcoming IEP meetings and the FM System that does nothing for anyone except piss us all off. It felt like a hug, this gentle reminder that perfection, far from the baseline that I needed to operate from, was and is a pure fiction.
It’s a reminder that I need, almost daily–a reminder that I’m putting in this blog so that future me, tomorrow, can look at it again, so that Ms. Bo and I can both look at it, as Spring Break winds down. As teachers, I think we feel like the stakes are so incredibly high–there is so very much that we need to accomplish. And yet, the flip side of expecting ourselves to be perfect at work is that we honestly and understandably start dreading our jobs–we set the bar so high that we simply don’t want to jump it. Theresa’s comment on why she, herself, is no longer a classroom teacher speaks to a path that I can see myself taking:
..The more distance I get from my old profession, the more I have been able to crystallize why I left teaching. It is simply this – I cracked under the pressure. I internalized all these expectations that I felt daily having little faces looking up at me and parents peering through my classroom door window. I wanted to do all those things – I wanted to be a perfect teacher for those wonderful people and their amazing children. And then reality hit.
Reality often hits me with the force of a Mack truck–that, no matter how much I want to do for any one child, I simply have to pace things to reach multiple children. The fact that no school, however strong, can ever fully counterbalance the other factors at play in the life of a child, be they environmental, neurological, or a mix of both, or neither. The inevitable truth that I’m good at some things, and I’m less good at others, and the dawning realization that this has to be okay.
I got out of bed Monday morning, and I did my damndest with what was in front of me. And I’m holding on to that, at least until the weekend comes.