Yesterday was my first unscheduled day of summer in my own town, and the Bay Area weather complied with a sun-filled, windswept landscape spreading below me as I hiked up a hill with a teacher friend. During my meanderings on that glorious summer day, several revelations came to my stress-free mind that I want to share publically, not just to hold myself accountable. Perhaps other teachers — and other professionals — will relate to some of these thoughts… or contribute their own vacation revelations in the comments section.
1. Our school community is everywhere: in 24 hours between the airport, a hilltop, and a neighborhood lunch I saw two students, one alum, and a board member. The reason this is relevant to my musings is that it reminds me to be real and true to myself, both in my job and in the world. If I am keeping it real, I do not have to “act” differently or worry about being “caught” when I’m out in the community. And yes, it’s okay to be drinking a glass of champagne at lunch to celebrate the end of the school year — I am a responsible adult.
2. While I love what I do (most of the time), I do not want to be consumed by my work. The eight weeks I have off in the summer is my reward for working nearly 24/7 during the school year. When I’m not actually teaching, grading, or prepping, my mind is usually full of ideas for changing curriculum, trying new activities in class, or reaching a student who is struggling. However, I need to find a better way to draw some boundaries around my work, so that my mind has time for other creative thinking during the academic year, not just during summer vacation.
3. They can’t hurt you if you don’t let them. Some years, when I read the student evaluations we all do in our classes, I am deeply wounded by the one kid who had an awful experience in my class, unbeknownst to me. Being a feeling person, I take this criticism seriously, sometimes forgetting that it comes from a teenager. Teenagers have a finely honed aptitude for sticking it to us where it hurts the most. They also have a tendency to over generalize and exaggerate. When the critique feels particularly biting, I often forget the source. But I don’t have to let it keep me up at night. I know who I am, why I teach, and that I’m doing the best I can — which is pretty darn good. I also know that I can improve, and I appreciate when students respectfully bring these areas to light. And some students will have a negative experience, which is regrettable, but not always my fault. They don’t have to be mean about it, but they are teenagers, and I don’t have to take those adolescent jabs to heart.
4. I need to make time for my physical (and emotional) health. This has become increasingly clear to me as my parents age and I witness the effects of healthy living in their ability to recover from major physical trauma. I do not always take time to be healthy: I make my daughter’s breakfast and lunch, but run out of the house without eating. I pick her up from soccer practice and go to all her games, but don’t do the yoga class I long for. I shop for groceries that I know she will eat, but I forget about my own meals. When did I turn into such a self-sacrificing fool? If I want to be around to experience my daughter as a grown-up, I need to bring my needs into the mix.
5. I am a person who doesn’t like to be scheduled, so working in a time-oriented job is a challenge to my natural way of being in the world. With such challenges comes the need for coping skills. I don’t think I give enough credence to the fact that being so scheduled five out of seven days is exhausting to my psyche, in the same way that cocktail parties — while fun — can be exhausting to an introvert (like myself). It isn’t just that I have to be at school at 7:45 a.m., but throughout the entire day I have mini-deadlines: this homework needs to be graded by 10:40, this lesson plan ready for 12:50, etc. There needs to be a conscious balance to renew the psyche. Knowing I’m an introvert, I create “alone time” for myself. Realizing I prefer not to schedule my personal time, I need to balance the over-scheduled job I do with some “truly free” time. My summer days usually consist of spontaenous decisions based on the circumstances of the moment: today is sunny so I will want to be outside. When the fog rolls in I’ll go through the mountains of mail I haven’t yet dealt with, cull through the things I’ve been wanting to get rid of, catch up on my correspondence with far-flung friends. Somehow I need to keep some sense of flexibility and spontaneity in my work life.
Every summer I vow to keep the feeling of calm and gratitude with me throughout the school year. And every year, I let the overwhelming nature of my life and job get to me, although usually to a lesser degree than the year before. Perhaps this year, in this life-long evolution, I can achieve one goal: carve out time to be more real and true to myself all year round.