Saying goodbye to summer and hello to the another school year can be sharp. Each Labor Day weekend I over plan because I don’t want to let go. I don’t want to see my freedom dissolve. So I go out to dinner, plan a date night, plan a pool date, plan a lunch out and keep adding to each day just so that I can feel like it’s not slipping away. Yet, it always does. The sun always sets and rises and time always pushes me or rather drops into reality. The reality of 6am alarm clocks and early bed times and packed lunches and pre-made breakfasts and standing for 7 and 1/2 hours and staying positive as little 7th graders push to see if you believe in boundaries and shortened/timed lunches and exhausted evenings. When I listen to my unyielding list of reality, I wonder why I still come back for more. What is it about this job that makes me stay? Am I masochistic?
My job exists in distinct phases.
Phases 1 is when I am adapting, performing, and mourning. I’m adapting to a new principal, 120 new students, and sometimes new colleagues, and this year a new classroom even. It’s hard. I get exhausted and a thought bubbles inside me; one that says just leave, quit, find something else, it’s not worth it! It’s hard. Sleeping in and luxurious breakfasts are replaced with quick and easy breakfasts and a tight morning routine reminiscent of army soldiers. I mourn the loss of my former students who already knew that I have boundaries, who love me for me. I mourn the loss of my freedom. I mourn the loss of my supportive principal. Phase 1 is hard, softened only by brief moments of laughter with colleagues and brilliant surprising hugs from my former students who squeeze in a visit between classes and before lunch.
Phase 2 is when I am celebrating and counting towards the holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, excuse me, Winter Break. I know breaks are coming which makes each day easy to make it through. I know holidays are coming which makes each a little more exciting especially with 7th graders. Watching them count down with glee is so infectious. It is easier and fun. I am connecting with students and we are laughing and learning and moving forward. Phase 2 can be easy because I am still rested and Autumn’s in the air. We are all giddy with Autumn’s infectious flavors, dreaming about love and parties and romantic experiences.
Next, Phase 3 aka winter. Phase 3 is filled with hard work. Both my students and I come to work during this time because we are used to each other and let’s face it, the weather outside allows for focus inside. It’s cold, it’s dreary but we are light, warm, and motivated. Phase 3’s difficulty comes from shortened days and piles of work. During this time, I sometimes dream about my dream jobs in education: working at a school whose philosophy is experiential education, opening an art space where teens can come to learn from experimentation, working for an organization that teaches teens how to grow emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually, getting my yoga teacher certification, becoming a life coach. I dream because I see how much I can accomplish within the strict rules of district curriculum and how freeing it would mean complete autonomy. I dream because I see what my students need and am forced to limit giving them what they need. Phase 3 frustrates and satisfies me. It reminds me that nothing is perfect and the grass will always look greener.
Then, the finale: Phase 4. Oh Phase 4! It’s hard. It comes like a thunderstorm–without warning. It includes daylight savings, state exams, extended periods with weeks of exams scheduled, longer evenings that tempt you to stay up later than you should, hyper-energized 7th graders. It’s filled with “nothing left to gives” and “I don’t cares” and “yolos”. Making it to work seems like the most challenging task in the world during Phase 4. Nothing matters, just that final date when it will finally be over. Then it comes, again without warming–the goodbyes to the 120 students who now have seen you more hours than your husband in the past ten months. It catches me off guard; all the emotions of knowing we will never laugh together or annoy each other again in this space. Students will come to visit, but it won’t ever be like it is now in Phase 4. Hugs, gentle, kind gifts, reminiscing about that time when ______ called Ms. C a bitch or that time when ______ tripped on the giant rug and almost tore down the SMART board projector or that time when Ms. C spent the period talking about the importance of styling your hair require Phase 4 to be lovely and awful and exhausting and delicious all at once.
Knowing the cycle doesn’t make it easier to begin Phase 1, but it does allow me the right to go through it in the exact way that I choose. I could choose to get dragged into the school year kicking and screaming which sometimes I allow for and completely indulge. I could choose to confidently step into the school year with patience and self care and sometimes I do that too. Most of all I choose to begin again not to repeat the endless cycle, but to try to get better at staying kind to myself and to allow myself to become a better person. I do it to see how much fun I can jam into each phase. I do it to find a little more balance. I do it to find a better idea than last year about a unit. I do it to sculpt myself into an institution that I can be proud of.
In the end, I do it to sculpt myself into an institution that I can be proud of.