The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Readier Than You Might Think

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Last week alone, 2,314 people asked me if I’m ready to go back to school.  Yes, I am.  But it’s complicated.

First, know that I have to be back at school in two days.  By then, I will have had 80 straight days off.  That obscene amount of vacation time is one of the perks of the job.  In fact, time off is one of the biggest perks of teaching.  As most everybody knows, we don’t work on major national holidays, we don’t work on weekends, we have 2 weeks off over Christmas, and another week off in the spring.  Teachers at year-around schools schools also have a lot of time off, but it’s not necessarily so heavily situated during the summer.

Second, know that some of those 80 days are automatically lost.  The first week of summer vacation is typically sacrificed to things you were too busy to worry about at the end of the school year:  cleaning the bathroom, changing the oil, taking the cat to the vet, and sanding down whatever other jagged edges are poking out of the wreckage of your life that results from end-of-the-year chaos and calamity.  And let’s not forget that you’re recovering from all-out exhaustion born from dealing with students who gave up in April (or earlier), administering and grading final exams, clearing your classroom and / or office, and dealing with upset students and angry parents of upset students who for whatever reason aren’t going to graduate.

Local teachers at the end of last school year

Other days at the end of the summer are given to preparing for the coming year, because you learned early in your career that a few days back at school before you absolutely have to be there can make a huge difference.  If well-spent, they help prepare you once students swarm the building.  You’ll hit the ground running, and that will create a solid start to the year.

Ask any teacher: The first few days of the school year are just like this.

Even when you take those “lost” days into consideration, we still have an obscene amount of time off at the best time of the year.  That’s great, but it’s not all that so many people think it is.

You’re given a free pass to do nothing, pretty much for as long as you want to do nothing (or until late August).  There are days when all of us do just that–nothing.  Not a damn thing.  We rediscover the pleasures of sitting on the back porch and reading a book for two hours.  We stay up until 3AM watching movies we missed out on during the school year.  We cram our weekends from Friday morning until Sunday night with an ungodly amount of stuff we wouldn’t dare schedule during the school year because we have papers to grade, we need to be up at 5:30 Monday morning, we have lessons to plan, or we’re just too tired.

But therein lies the problem:  We don’t have to do anything, and that’s a bit like enriched uranium.  It’s mighty powerful, but you want to be very careful how you handle it.

Beware the toxic effects of teaching...

The thing is that regardless of who we are or what we do, our minds crave structure and discipline.  Our lives thrive with the right amounts of it, no different than a regularly-watered plant or a dog that is fed, pet, and played with regularly.  It’s just as important to sometimes break from that structure and discipline, but you don’t want to make the breaks in the routines the norm.  You lose your focus, your goals diminish in importance, and pretty soon you’ll be no better than the Lotus Eaters from The Odyssey, lazing about interminably with no motivation or urgency to do anything.  When you have a finite amount of time to write or exercise or rebuild the toilet in your spare bathroom instead of doing those things whenever the hell you feel like it, you suddenly find time to do a lot more stuff.  Your time becomes a lot more precious, and you find a balance in your life that you maintain for as long as you can.  As a teacher, you hold fast to that balance most of the year, but most likely lose your grip around Thanksgiving and Christmas, and at the end of March and May.  Each time, you’ve got some time to regroup before the cycle starts again.

I’m at the end of my cycle of doingnothingness.  I need structure.  I need order.  I need a reason to go to bed early.  Plus, my summer pay is dwindling, so I need a paycheck.  I’m ready to go back to school.


Written by seeker70

August 20, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. My heart goes out to teachers these first weeks of school. It’s like the retail world’s Black Friday and food service’s Customer Free Drink Appreciation Day rolled into a single atom bomb. It’s the first weeks of school that I believe I’m not fit to be a teacher. I’m sure that, come May, I’d start doing something I long wanted to devote my time to, and come August, that thing wouldn’t be done because I underestimated how long it would take. Then, I’d have to drag myself back to school and not give the students anywhere near my full attention.

    Props to you for looking forward to the school year. I suppose that’s why you’re a teacher.

    Stranger Danger

    August 21, 2011 at 1:37 am

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