Tuesday, August 30, 2011

same old, same old (but different this time)

I had my first back-to-school nightmare a month ago. Before bed, I had begun reading a colleague’s book which, it turned out, was about a middle-aged woman teaching a handful of nineteen-year-old convicts on route to their GEDs. The deviant characters used language that I simply couldn’t imagine my sweet colleague knowing, much less typing, and the plot was full of scenes of rebellion and not-so-subtle threats to the teacher, which she met with sighs and quiet reminders to herself about why she was doing this gig. I woke up in a sweat after dreaming of the first day of school, where I have 45 kids in my room, and they’re all yelling at each other and cussing at me and not bothering to turn down their music. July 30th is too early for that type of torment.

So I sidelined the book for awhile, and my nightmares abated until last week. At that point, they ran the typical annual gamut from: showing up naked to school (I’ve had that one since I was student; only now, I’m the teacher), not having a lesson prepared and the students staring at me expectantly and humorlessly, and lastly, some classroom management terror akin to the one outlined above.

In reality, the start of the new school year excites me, but anxiety is always part of the process. Today, our staff moved back into a building that was completely packed up and emptied for summer construction. Our normal process of taking a full day or so to tidy and organize the classroom for the new year has been multiplied, as most of us are starting from scratch—and in my case, making sense of several boxes that I hurriedly scrawled “misc. crap” on in the final moments before our evacuation deadline in June.

Certain parts of readying my room are traditions: I’ll prepare a handful of pencils and pens, labeling them brightly with my room number (which won’t matter, as they’ll all be "permanently borrowed" within a week); I’ll spray for spiders (because who needs to deal with eight-legged predators in addition to stacks of essays?); and I’ll stand up front awhile. The last step is crucial and is one in which I always hope someone doesn’t walk in on me. I don’t lecture aloud to an empty room or anything, but I always spend some time up there to regain my bearings. The thought of taking the stage for the first time in months when there are 76 eyeballs staring at me is unnerving. I have to have been up there already—have to have marked my territory ahead of time so that I can act like it’s my territory when they descend on my room in a week.

But aside from the small, annual rituals of gearing up for students, this year will be different and challenging for me in new ways. To begin, some of my dearest friends among the staff—including some with which I enjoyed lunch each day—are gone: retired, resigned, or transferred to other schools. The teacher with whom I shared a classroom for four years is teaching elsewhere now. Sure, I’m certain that she and I will both enjoy the newfound quiet of a prep period without the occasional, “Ha! Listen, I have to read this to you!” or “Is it e-i or i-e in weird?” But then, there won’t be a ready companion with which to share the daily anecdotes and concerns or to pose a quick question. Even worse, when a student has said something absolutely ridiculous, there will be no other adult in the room with which to share a knowing glance. Many staff in our building lost colleagues and close pals this year due to the fallout of budget cuts. We’ll miss their companionship, and our students will miss out on their talents.

Staff and students this year must also become accustomed to a drastically new schedule. Many of us, myself included, have only taught on a block schedule, which means teaching three 85-minute classes per day, with a new set of classes on alternating days. Now, we’ll teach all six classes in one day. There are pros and cons to this scenario, of course, and they’ll surely leak their way into future posts. Bottom line: our planning must change to accommodate a new daily pace and the fact that we’ll be seeing students daily, and our work time outside of teaching has been cut in half. I dread increasing the workload I take home, as I’ve carved it down to one or two hours per night (down from three to five in my first couple years), but that may be unavoidable for awhile as I figure out how to function between twice as many bells.

A possible outfit for Five Septembers' baby?
Lastly, but not leastly, my summer break began with a positive pregnancy test. I’m aware—in the superficial way you can be aware of something you’ve never experienced—how completely our first child will change absolutely everything in life. But what I’ve been listening to carefully over the last few years as my colleagues have expanded and raised families is how having children has changed the way they teach. “It has to,” one insisted to me a few days ago. For instance, that one to two hours a night that I so proudly whittled my workload down to? Sure, it’ll sometimes be necessary (lest I want to actually live the nightmare of being unprepared before all those eyeballs), but it’ll also be far less likely when I have someone much more demanding of my time at home. 

Many teacher-parents try to be even more efficient in their day (how, I ask?) and consistently work late just to ensure that their nights and most of their weekends are free for their families. That will be quite a paradigm shift for me, perfectionist that I am, but it’s also a no-brainer.

A few people have asked if my blog will shift its focus to the pregnancy. Heck, no. But I watched my classroom companion combine teaching and pregnancy two years ago, and I think some (often hilarious) overlap is inevitable. Students take such an interest in teachers’ personal lives, mood, and appearance, that avoiding the topic would be ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room . . . which will be me in a couple months.

Right now, however, my focus is on everyone else’s kids, who will flood the halls in one week and start the clock on another year and a new beginning.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad that you're continuing with your blog. I definitely will miss our lunches together and will miss out on your daily pregnancy stories.

-Anj

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