Saturday, May 24, 2014

What! Already?

The end of May is always hard. Tests, prom, yearbook distribution, my birthday, and suddenly it's finals and summer vacation. Already? Seriously?

I know there are teachers who count down to the first day of summer vacation like it's Christmas morning. I am not one of those teachers. For me it's more like the countdown of a ticking bomb.

There has never been enough time in the year. When I started teaching, it was my own fault-- I just couldn't find the most efficient rhythm for getting through everything I wanted to teach my students. With every year, I got better, cutting away the chunks of unit that didn't really serve my students well, learning when to lean hard and when to lay back before I burned them out, discovering how to dovetail units and piggyback goals. And I became so much faster at grading, assessing, general paper turnaround.

But at the same time, more has been piled on. Testing and pre-testing and test-prepping began to eat larger and larger chunks of the school year, and no matter how hard I juggled, I had to drop some balls so that I could manage the chainsaws that our Education Leaders were throwing at me. This is part of the gig, one of those parts they don't tell you about in teacher school.

They don't tell you you'll never have enough time to do everything you know you need to do. They don't tell you just how finite are the 180 (or so) days that you have with your students. They don't tell you how summer vacation can be rejuvenating, but also disorienting.

Every June, every teacher loses his job. Most of us know we'll have a new job in the fall, but it will be a slightly different job, working with a different group of people doing work that's similar, but not exactly the same because the conditions and students will be new. My wife is going to wrap up her first full year of first grade, and I know when the day comes that she has to say goodbye to these students she's given her heart to, she's going to cry a bunch. But the job we've just spent nine months on-- it's over.

I'll fill the time. My wife and I will spend time and travel together. I'll play in our community band and do some directing for community theater; these are things I enjoy, but also things that allow me to put something back into a community that pays me. I'll read, and I'll try to figure out some new tricks for making next year's job better than this year's.

I am not complaining. Not a bit. American education's tradition of giving students the summer to help with the family farm is weirdly anachronistic, but the result is a huge blessing and benefit for me and I am grateful for it.

But still-- can't I have one more week? Even a few more days? There are so many things I wanted to do with these guys, and I crammed as much into my 178 days as I could, but -- I need more. And when this job that I've poured myself into stops, it's like setting my foot down expecting a step and finding instead nothing. Yes, I'm a bit frayed right now, but I'm also strengthened by knowing when I get up in the morning I'm heading off to do important work, work that matters, work that allows me to be my own best self. When summer comes, it's hard not to miss that a little.

We live where we are, when we are. We grab whatever is here, now, and we embrace it and live it and try to go all Thoreau on it. My heart goes out to those teachers who are teaching far harder trenches than mine; God bless them with the respite they need.

But for me, this is one of the hardest times of the year. So much to do. So little time.


  1. Exactly how I feel after each year. Thanks for expressing it so well. :)

  2. I teach high school Math in upstate NY. I totally agree with you. Here it is Memorial Day weekend and I am not done. Got a field test next week, a Common Core Algebra test the week after and the real Tests ( the Regents exams) starting the week after that. I HAVE to finish this week so I can hit the Regents review books by June 2. Graduation is June 27 this year...long year 189 days in our district but still pressed for time. (Can't complain too loud or John King's solution will be to have us go in July) Love your blog - you should write for the Daily Show - you are good.