Friday, May 25, 2012

The End of the Line

IMG_3243 School let out a week ago, but with classes filling my schedule this week I am just now feeling the sigh of relief. After four days of sitting for eight hours of learning from current teachers and college professors, I felt like I was going to go a little crazy. Teaching is a lot of things, but it rarely involves sitting in one spot for an eight-hour day.

“Highlight something that makes you sing,” a teacher told me this morning as she handed out an article about the newest school standards. Normally a kindergarten instructor, she actually did a pretty good job of not speaking to our class as if we were five—a typical problem with teachers-as-instructors. I’ll be the first to admit that I have accidentally brought my teacher voice home on occasion, but being spoken to as if I’m in elementary school for hours on end makes me want to bang my head on my desk.

When I finally was released from the classroom late this afternoon, the relief of summer break finally spilled over me. With that relief was the surge of productivity I count on to catch up on all-things-neglected: depositing pay checks, mailing off bills, cleaning the dirtiest bathroom I have ever been the owner of, and cleaning out leftovers that have been in the fridge for longer than I’d like to admit.

One event that wrapped up this week as well was a race I signed up for months ago, in an attempt to bolster my fitness in the midst of the coaching-and-teaching-chaos that comes at the end of the year. Last year it inspired me to workout after practices and in the midst of exhaustion, capping off the school year and marking a beginning to summer fun. This year my training wasn’t quite as consistent, but the race still was a great experience. Several friends competed in the same event, and since starts were staggered I was able to spend hours outside cheering and socializing and embracing my role as someone that didn’t have to go home and grade papers.

Perhaps that is what I’m looking forward to most as summer officially begins: being a person other than teacher. So here is to being a reader, a cook, a housekeeper, a runner and biker, a sister and a daughter and a friend. I am excited to embrace them.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Best Laid Plans

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Visions of summer...
One of my favorite poems to teach when I taught British Literature was by Robert Burns. While many are familiar with a line referring to mice and men, the poem speaks to the futile plans and preparations that can be made and then destroyed, without anything to show for it. This is an obvious point of contention with high school seniors, many of whom are making endless plans for the future: moves, colleges, loans, degrees, careers. Yet what should we tell them? "Make your plans, choose your route, but never forget it may all end up in ruin."

There have been a lot of recession stories over the past few years. I ended up just ahead of the curve it turns out, graduating from college and securing a position in my chosen career path before Lehman Brothers and the American economy fell. I still remember driving home after teaching, listening to NPR when the announcement came that the financial firm declared bankruptcy; I had no idea who they were or how significant that domino falling would be.

This week I found out that "ahead of the curve" doesn't mean as much as I want it to when the school district starts making cuts. Given that I recently moved I have no tenure, my name is bouncing on and off of pink slips, leaving Curtis and I to shrug our shoulders in our financial budgeting. All the lesson plans, summer classes, forms for various school items--for next year--all of the sudden seem to be momentarily quite audacious. How dare I assume that I'll have a classroom of my own next year? A school to commute to? A pay check?

I am a planner deep in my bones. While this week shocked me a bit, it is by no means the most rattling your-plans-aren't-going-to-work-like-you-thought situation I've found myself in this year. And perhaps that why I was able to shrug it off a bit more easily than I would have before. Life will proceed, and my plans for the future may or may not match up with reality in the end.

Summer is here, and the plans are made: classes, travel, friends near and far, books, trails, mountains. I am not so naive to think it will all work out as I have envisioned, but I think it's just as important to not fear the unexpected and unexplained. And I suppose that leaves me craving balance between what I expect and what is; here's to a summer of seeking it.

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Jury of Peers

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Every year my school puts on a talent show, and it doesn't disappoint. While teenage perception is not always in line with reality, one thing always impresses me: they get up and try. As student after student parades on stage, unafraid of performing in front of several hundred peers, I am nothing short of amazed. Sometimes their piano concertos are flawless. Other times their vocal performance comes out wavering and off key. One dance number might be perfectly choreographed while another silently confesses the shallow desire for the limelight.

As the show progresses it feels like an endless, unpredictable bag of tricks: a unicycle rider in a cow costume, an 80's tune lipsynced by characters in black hoods embelished with unicorn horns, a teacher singing a children's song while playing the ukulele. Inevitably you end up with predictable vocal performances of "Someone Like You" while a wavering voice seeks to duplicate a grammy winner's artistic flare, but even with such cliche song choices I am impressed by any teenage girl's audacity to play a song on the piano while singing in front a crowd full of potential critics.

At the end of the day I'm proud of the bold ones that graced the stage, the audience that was (mostly) respectful and cheered after every act, the preparation and planning of most of the students and the teachers that were willing to facilitate and organize a mess of chaos into a thematic performance that had me cheering and laughing. It was a great finale for a week that was exhausting and a testimony to the good parts of teaching that make the mess of it all worthwhile.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Satisfying Exhaustion

DSC04033 Artificial turf, finally out from the covering of snow, is a true sign of spring around here. I expect the first true showing of green next week...
 Day two of three has finished in our track championship series, and I am officially exhausted. The grand finale of the season finds me teaching in the morning, layering raincoat upon down vest upon hooded sweatshirt upon rubber boots over lunch, and standing out in thirty degree wind chill all afternoon. The sun has been shining, but it is a deceptive blue sky--the air is crisp and the snow mounds still perch in shaded corners where weeks of melting still hasn't proven to be enough. Midway through today's meet Curtis biked in for a visit when he got off of work early. I confessed my desire for a latte, and when I huddled close--hoping he'd break the wind for a few short minutes--he reminded me that public displays of affections aren't appropriate at track meets. Later, he returned--still biking--coffee in hand. One fourteen year old athlete of mine standing near me couldn't believe my luck in landing such a spouse; sometimes I can't either.

 Besides coffee delivered by good looking doctors, the last week of a season is rewarding in many ways. Most of the time the performances are often the best of the season. More importantly, after several weeks of practices and meets, I know the athletes much better than at the beginning. I have learned their typical times and distances and have gotten to know their personalities. They have gotten to know my "clear-out-the-locker-room-NOW" voice, and that I will celebrate with them whenever they perform at their best. I know which athletes always get to practice on time, and which ones constantly forget a jacket. And inevitably I know the athletes whose parents are perpetually late for practice best of all, sitting out by the curb on cement platforms while they desperately text and call for someone--anyone--to take them home.

 I know the next 24 hours will exhaust me even more than I am right now, and I know I can't uphold this pace much longer. Yet I also know there's a subtle grief that will haunt me all weekend when I realize I'll have little contact with so many of these athletes for the rest of the year--or ever again. This mourning will combine with reality of the school year coming to a close in two short weeks, when I will happily begin to fill my days with cooking and running and biking around town. All the while I will miss the daily interaction with the ever-present teenager that consumes my life for nine and a half months, a job that tests and exhausts me without fail, all the while being immensely satisfying.