Breathing Room

Thank you, Mister S, for finally posting something in our blog. School has been out for about a week and a half and I’m sort of, kind of, finally starting to recover. It’s been a funny week and a half. I got my hair cut. I’ve spent some good time with my kid. I’ve done some great trail runs. I’ve eaten some great food. I’ve slept (slept for about 12 hours the very first night after school was finally out). I’ve been to school a few times. I cleaned off my desk. I helped my daughter go through all of her papers from her third grade year. I helped my daughter make a menagerie of critters out of socks and sewed a few pyramid-shaped stuffed mousies. I’ve thought a lot about what I wanted to write here, but I’ve been watching episodes of Cake Boss on Netflix instead. I read the first half of Toni Morrison’s new novel (it’s beautiful by the way), but then I got distracted by Cake Boss. And I am completely unapologetic about this.

Even though I spent a good chunk of time at school that first week off, and even though I have some tasks lingering that I’ll need to take care of next week at school, and even though I spent the last two days in a district planning meeting, I’ve finally started to come up for air. That’s the thing about this job. Once everything stops (and it stops pretty violently–one day it’s school and hectic and the next it’s the summer break), it takes a while to recover. To breathe. To catch up on sleep. To gain some distance from it all.

It’s this distance I appreciate. It’s hard to see things for what they are when you’re right there in the middle of them. From a vantage point a bit out, I can see more of the big picture.

And from this vantage point, the following tidbit from what Mister S posted struck me:

What we can’t assume any longer is the role of victim. If we are going to be strong enough to be good advocates for our students, then we need to be strong for ourselves as well. We need to understand that together we have a collective power that we are not using. Others have tried to reduce or take away our power by insisting that we shoulder the blame for all that is wrong with public education. But if we’re wise, we can use our power to help make the changes that really need to be made. We see what needs to be done, every day in our classrooms.

We can nurture, be professionals-and still be politically active. None of those roles has to outweigh the others. If we choose to go in our classrooms, close the door, and say “I can’t” or “Let someone else worry about this,” then we’ve done a disservice to the students who need us and to our profession.

So to prepare myself for the two days of district planning meetings I just experienced, I coached myself to be positive and constructive. This doesn’t mean I can’t criticize or ask questions or push and challenge, but I want to do those things coming from a place that is not combative or where it feels like I’m complaining. Sometimes, when I’m in the heat of it all in the middle of the school year and struggling to keep everything moving forward because there is just so much to manage, the words that come out in my writing and discourse are perhaps not as constructive as they could be. Yes it’s true that my classes are too big to really teach writing as well as I could if I had fewer students and this means that I must squeeze significant time from my life beyond school to get the grading done. And I’ve written about that quite a bit in this blog (here and here for example). But I wonder if I could engage this discourse more constructively?

The anti-teacher rhetoric in our world right now is unsettling to say the least. One line I heard recently coming out of the cacophony surrounding the Presidential campaign is that if you’re for teachers you’re against students. Really? But as the tidbit above points out, playing the victim of all of this will get us nowhere. We need to advocate for ourselves as professionals because that is what it will take to be able to advocate for our students. Supporting teachers IS the route to supporting student success. We DO have power as a group of professionals. We must harness that to fight for what is best for students against all the legislation coming at us that suggests we are not capable of doing the important work that we do. We can and should drive the reform that is necessary to help ALL students find through school the keys to success in their lives beyond school.

All of this is nothing new. I know this. I’ve known it. It’s just hard to remember it sometimes when I’m stuck in the middle of a chaotic school year. From that place sometimes all I can muster is utterances colored by the stress, reflecting the overwhelming place I often find myself. I begin to believe that there’s little I can do against what often feels like a runaway train. I feel insignificant, powerless, unimportant.

But I’m not insignificant or powerless or unimportant. I am a teacher and I do what I argue is the most important job there is. I work to inspire people to imagine possibilities for their lives and build their futures. I help them develop and hone the skills to achieve this. There is no more important work.

In the dark spaces of the school year–those spaces where it’s difficult to even surface to write a few sentences here in this blog–I need to find a way to remember this and keep writing, to keep connecting with the world beyond the overwhelming day-to-day grind, to remain mindful of what I do and why I do it.

Even when it feels impossible, I need to create little pockets of the breathing room the summer break has provided for me.

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