Take ‘Em Kicking and Screaming
I’m not going to lie: I love the scheduling flexibility and freedom that my writing vocation affords me. Now don’t let that concept fool you; I work my tail off, and if you don’t believe that, I suggest you try writing and editing ten thousand words a week. I put in more than my fair share of hours each week, but let’s face it, I do it when I want to do it. I may put in fifteen hour days when I get on a roll, but I am also sure to get a bike ride or run in everyday, and hey, if it snows, I am sure as hell not missing a powder day of skiing. All of this was unfamiliar territory back when I was teaching high school English for a living. I can’t imagine Peter Abuisi, my boss when I taught at Vail Mountain School, being ok with my request for a “personal day” when we got a foot of snow on the hill. In fact, for those of you who may have known him, I am pretty sure he would have fired me on the spot just for the mere suggestion, right before he fell to the floor in the midst of a rage-fueled brain aneurysm. Well, I’m sorry, Peter, but these days, I go skiing whenever I feel like it, and I’m not asking you for your permission. Yes, being a full-time writer and author certainly has its share of advantages.
But make no mistake, there are things I will always miss about being an educator. And it is always during this time of year, as the leaves begin to change and kids make their way back to school for yet another year that all of those nostalgically wistful thoughts come flooding back to me. I miss the students raucously celebrating sports victories in the hallways. I miss the daily interaction with students and the fits of laughter we would share together. I miss having a captive audience to listen to all of my old stories, even if they have all heard them countless times before and fell asleep three minutes into the re-telling. And if you have ever been a teacher, you know that nothing can replace the notes of appreciation you get from students and parents. But more than anything else, what I miss about my life as an educator is the subtle way that the school calendar places a punctual emphasis on the way we shape our days.
There is a natural pace and rhythm to the school calendar that no other vocation can replicate. It’s been five years now since I put my teaching career on hold in order to write full-time, but even now as I walk my dog past the high school fields right behind my house as they come alive in the Fall with young athletes preparing for the season, I can harken back to the feeling of renewal I used to get each August. For thirty-five consecutive years, I trotted back to school each Fall. The start of the school year signaled a rebirth, a new beginning with unlimited promise for change and growth and development.
By October, of course, that fledgling optimism would be vanquished, crushed under the weight of the fallen leaves of daily occurrence. In it’s place stood the very real appraisal of the work that lay before you. For teachers and students both, this time of year brings an acceptance of the challenges you have in front of you. While the task may indeed be daunting, you recognize that you have a precious commodity on your side: time. This is the time of the year when you establish your goals and begin the process of chipping away at the piece of marble that is each and every student that walks through that door.
By Christmas break, you need to get away from the little monsters for a week or two. You have bumped up against the wall of defeat a few times, but you remain resolute. You need to recharge your batteries, take some time away so that you can go back and get a running head start for leaping over the obstacles that you have struggled with thus far. Each student has their challenges associated with them, but Christmas break is the time you go back to the drawing board and devise new and creative strategies to getting though to every last one of them. Some of those strategies might even work for you, if you give them enough time.
And it is just those successes that will bring you satisfied perspective and reflection come Spring. April is the odd time of year when you both sprint to the finish line and at the same time drag your feet to slow the whole thing down so that you can utilize those last precious moments with your students so see them all get to where you knew they could be. Sure, you are as ready for Summer break as they are, but you are also already thinking back on what you could have done better.
But believe it or not, it is always the last week of school that is hardest for every teacher. No, not just because of grading all those stupid final exams that you have piled up on your desk like some communist bureaucracy gone horribly wrong. No, the real angst of the last week of school comes in letting go. For the students, they have unbridled potential in front of them, a future that is calling their name loud and clear. They have already left you behind the moment they walk out the door. But as a teacher, you have too much invested in them to ever truly let go. You need a summer full of margaritas and camping trips to remember that this how the passage of time works, that last year’s students have indeed moved on and that in just ten precious weeks, a whole new crop of them will coming marching through that door. And that’s when you throw back that extra shot of tequila.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: in 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com