I'm a Teacher in September

It’s been almost 6 weeks since my last post on this blog.

I wish I could share something really exciting that was happening in that month and a half. Then I could write about that instead of what I’m feeling right now. I wish we could report on Adam’s, my co-bloggers, forthcoming sketchbook which will feature all kinds of the little drawings he does while he sits in uppity coffee shops that serve nitrogen infused cold brews out of beer taps. Or, I could tell you about how I have been working on some campaign to overturn one of these corrupt local school boards (not my own of course) because the schools aren’t doing what they are supposed to do. Maybe we could tell you that we were learning to play piano, exercising a lot, or even going on one of those trendy diets where we only eat lettuce and gluten free quinoa. At the very least, Adam and I should be able to report on a redesign to this little blog that hasn’t changed a tad in almost two years.

Maybe there is still some hope for Adam publishing a book of sketches of birds with subtle human characteristics.

But I have nothing interesting to offer. I can’t play piano, I didn’t have another kid, and there is no forthcoming book.

There is only this: I’m a teacher and it was September.

I’ve slept less, worked in most every free minute, and thought about school even when I am trying to do other things. I would say what some others have told me that they “forget to eat,” but I like food way too much for that. I do the opposite. I stress eat handfuls of doritos right before I go to bed. I maul through a pack of combos and some overly sweetened coffee drink in a bottle for lunch. At times my mind feels kind of clear, and then just minutes later, I’m confused and full of doubt.

And the whole time, amidst the pile of papers and constant stream of students, I question whether anything that I am doing makes any sense.

Just to reiterate: I’m a teacher in September. That is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Sure, summers are great. I kind of love my sandal tan, but I would trade it all if it meant I didn’t have start again in September each year. I’ve started to just view summer as a way to prepare for what is coming at the beginning of the school year, trying to prepare for a time that I know will nearly kill me.

Most teachers I know are only now starting to pick their head up a little bit to look around. We are only now starting to realize again that the world doesn’t revolve around us. In October, we start to remember about our friends and our loved ones and they forgive us because they saw the look in our eyes for the last 6 weeks and they are good people. We spent all of September trying unsuccessfully to balance our anxiety, our joy, our fears, and our hope that many of us forget are parts of our humanity.

My wife told me the other day that she is used to the September me. It means I’m often somewhere else in my head and I might put the milk in a cupboard a few times or fall asleep in the middle of a sentence.

A younger teacher told me the other day that he is spending 12 hours a day at the school and working another 20 plus hours on the weekend. His friend in his department slept from 9:30pm to 11:30pm one night this week before she woke up and planned lessons until she decided to leave for work. Another colleague told me that she goes home at 4:00 each day, gets dinner for her children, and then works again from 8 to midnight. Adam told me that, when he was teaching, he remembers working so late that he cleaned off his desk, stretched out there, and fell asleep until the morning.

Adam is strange, and your mind should be digressing to some valid questions about his personal hygiene, and whether he was then wearing the exact same outfit two days in a row. Did he brush his teeth? What was the deodorant situation?

Those are genuine concerns for another blog post, but they miss the larger point that we need to consider in education: If most teachers are burning out in September, how does that impact their classroom for the next 9 months? Some of those teachers will successfully transition into a more reasonable schedule in time for Halloween, but some won’t ever find that balance. They will work themselves into quitting the profession as so many do. Or, and this may be worse, they will slowly jade themselves into ineffectiveness. They will have very real feelings, probably unwarranted, that their work isn’t yielding the results that it should and they will be warned by their loved ones that they have to look out for their own good. They will take the grey hairs and the new lines on their faces as signs that they are deteriorating faster than they should be, and they will look for other work or stop caring.  

Some hard-working and committed teachers will give up in the next few weeks. They might stick it out for the rest of the year or the rest of the semester or, unfortunately, the rest of their lives. But they will make the decision that even if they work really hard they can’t be the kind of teacher they want to be.

We need to identify these people who are pouring all of their lives in to the classroom and do what we can to give them the tools to succeed this year. We have to find ways to help them believe that they can be successful with a little less than 90 hours a week.

So friends, please forgive us for being assholes.

Systems, please help us be successful.

Everybody else, try to help teachers with reasonable and time-saving expectations in September so that we can do this all year.