Its day 26 of summer break. I’ve been on vacation a few times already. Some with my kids. Some without. I’ve slept-in at least 20 of these 26 days. And I’ve stayed up into the wee hours of the morning running out of things to watch. It is a teacher’s dream…well, THIS teacher’s dream. And I don’t feel guilty about it.
At the end of August two years ago after losing both my mom and sister to cancer just months prior, I relocated to a different state. From Pennsylvania to Maryland. Here, I found a completely different way of life. Some good. Some bad. The cost of living was enough to rock my world but even that took a backseat to the different demands I faced in a different school system.
As fate would have it, I ended up in the school with a no nonsense principal. She was strict and grueling…on the staff. Before the sun rose, we were faced with a different email reminding us of our expectations as teachers, staff and educators. I went from teaching English and Reading, to now teaching Math as well. And I was failing. I had not thought about 4th grade Math…well since 4th grade. But, that wasn’t an excuse. We weren’t allowed an excuse. My principal did not (appear to) care that my mom was my first thought each morning when I opened my eyes and still there when I opened one of those dreaded emails. It wasn’t the focus that I was preparing to raise my deceased sister’s son, or that I had a daughter who was also the “new kid” to Maryland. Oh, how many days I was so close to packing us up to head back home prepared to walk away from education entirely.
The scores were the focus and there was no grace for anything else. Only to raise our students’ scores from the test they had taken at the beginning of the year against the test they’d take at the end of the year. No breaks. Fun days and parties at school were few and far between. Raise the scores! And not just raise them…but raise them by 10 percent. And not just 10 percent overall, 10 percent each. Each teacher was expected to educate to the point that their classroom scores be raised by 10 percent in Math and 10 percent in Reading.
I don’t know if I slept much my first year. I know that I worked. I didn’t have weekends, I had two days out of the week where I worked from home. My mind would not let me rest until everything on the “Staff List of Things To Do” that week were complete. A checklist full of lesson plans and anything else the week called for.
Often, my family would drive down to visit and I’d sit in my bedroom on my laptop working. My “After Hours Work” list was endless. Grading papers, then entering the grades into the grade-book, responding to parents’ demands and questions in a timely manner according to our code of conduct handbook, matching our state and county standards with my lessons, staying up late to teach myself first (in Math), so I could present it (well) to my class that week.
By the end of last year, the scores were raised and the goals were met, and I was burnt all the way out. As a school, we had made true gains. Not just for the staff and teachers but for the students. At the close of the year, I realized that I gave my all and then some more, not for my principal, even though at the time it felt like it was for her but, for my students. And it worked. It worked so well that we were challenged to do it all again the following year. Raising the goal from 10 percent to 12 percent. Seriously? *Eye roll*
While doing this proved to be much more difficult; overall in the end of my second school year, our school had moved from a permanent place at the bottom of the list in the county to 3rd and 4th place in Reading and Math. I have become a better educator here. As fate would have it, it is because of that no nonsense, grueling principal with all her emails and expectations.
My true feelings about standardized tests aside; it’s what our system is requiring at the moment, and our job is to meet the requirements. *Shrug*
And now, on day 26 of summer break, I see the looks of, “It must be nice” when non educators realize I am off from work for 2 1/2 months. If only they really knew. Then they’d understand why I have yet to read a book. Why I haven’t attended any educational workshops, haven’t taught a class. And why I’ve only thought about the decor of my classroom (that I’ll purchase with my own money) for the upcoming school year only a handful of times. They’d get why I don’t feel guilty about any of it.
For 26 days, I have stayed up with no crunch of a deadline for lessons, portfolios, grading, reflections, phone calls, or action plans. No early morning meetings or late meetings. No anxiety and I’m free from “most” of the worries of an educator. I even procrastinated in writing this! And I don’t feel guilty about it.
Granted, I am raising two children. And although the 12 year old would love to spend the 26 days and many more after on video games and iPad, and the 15 year old would rather binge watch Game of Thrones and Chicago PD while cooking a “summer” brunch each afternoon; we ARE going to do something “educational”.
The educator in me is on vacation. However, the mom in me knows better. I know my kids have not quite mastered the discipline of balance, that I’ve only recently learned myself.
You SHOULD show up, work hard, and give your best. You MUST be ever learning. Ready to greet the world each day, prepared to take it all in. However, when the opportunity comes for you to take a break…TAKE IT! Constantly reminding yourself how precious life and time is has to propel us to want to take pause and just enjoy life…in this moment.
For some, that enjoyment may come from reading a good book, taking a class, or continuing to work…even on their days off. For me, that enjoyment comes from the comfort of my own bed, the seat of an airplane, the last bite of a grilled burger, music in the park, the chlorine mixed with sunshine on my skin and the burning sand between my toes.
My kids think that sleep, video games and TV are the only enjoyment out there. I’m here to show them (and me…and maybe you if you needed the reminder) how to balance that out by way of dragging them to the pool, out of the hotel bed while on vacation and today…to the library. Otherwise, how else will they know if a good book brings them joy? Tomorrow, we may even dust off the bikes and go for a ride. And hopefully before the break wraps up, we can visit a museum…or two. But, if none of it happens that way or in that order, it’s ok. No obligation. No deadlines. Just a break. Just balance.
As fate would have it, for the next school year we get to pick the content area we want to teach…I went with Math.
If you’re looking for a reminder or permission to enjoy life while making memories. This is it. The world will not always remember to treat you kindly. Take the time to be kind to yourself. Happy summer!