The Grieving Process

You know what’s weird? I actually went through a grieving process when I left teaching. Like someone I love had died, I grieved. I “cried” for the loss of the routine I knew, the highs, even the lows which I had come to despise. I missed them; I missed the worry, and the anxiety, and the feeling of being needed all the time. All that stuff I had come to hate and dread was suddenly gone, and I was left with the feeling like I had been abandoned, even though it was I who had abandoned teaching. I was like a little kid standing in an empty concert hall going, “Hey, where did everybody go?”

The routine I knew was gone. Every summer, when all the grades are in and all the books are put away, and you’ve given your keys and your keycard to the front office lady, your body goes into extreme relaxation mode. You do nothing but sleep and eat for at least three weeks. My cooperating teacher Roseann Blum used to explain it as “There’s a REASON schools are closed in the summer.” If we had to teach all year we’d go crazy or die of exhaustion. This is what I tell people who say asinine things like, “Wow, must be nice to have the whole summer off!” Believe me, all this time off is a double-edged sword in the clearest sense.

You feel so exhausted by the time summer rolls around. Mentally. Physically. I wish I could show everyone the faces of my fellow teachers around May 20th or so. Haggard is a word that comes to mind.

Summer is the time to do all of those normal things that you didn’t have time for during the school year, like going to the dentist, or getting your car inspected. You think, “Oh, I’ll do it this summer when I have time.” Then summer hits and all you want to do is sleep. I never understood teachers who work summer school. Yeah, the money is great and it’s easy work I’ve heard for the most part, but yikes. I’m just too damn tired.

Because you’re so spent from the school year, you really don’t start feeling normal until mid-July. Then, the first of August, something else happens……your body gets more rigid. Your mind starts to tense up. You start to make lists. Do I have this done? Do I have this ready? Mentally and physically you are gearing up for the school year to come. I’ve talked with so many fellow teachers and all of them say this happens to them.

And some (like me) start to have nightmares. It’s the first day of school and you have nothing done. No posters on the walls, no lesson plans, no seating charts. And the class you’ve been given is a class of monsters, the lowest of the low, the dregs. They are shouting, throwing things, as you try and fail to gain control. Then you wake up sweating, your heart racing.

I’d love to hear from other teachers who have had this experience (weird, I’m still calling myself a teacher). Totally irrational nightmares that occur every summer whether you’ve been teaching 3 years or 30. I always know when it’s July because that’s when the nightmares come. And they don’t really stop until the first week of school has been completed. By then you kind of know what you’re dealing with.

And the funny thing is, I had these nightmares this past July too. Even though I had quit teaching. It’s like my body couldn’t give up the fact that I wouldn’t be put through this process anymore. Like a drug addict going through withdrawals. Just last night I had a dream where I had shown up for work, but had no classes and so was hanging out in the faculty room. People were walking around saying, “Why is she here?” Mentally and physically I’m still dealing with this subconsciously and it’s very strange. I’m not teaching anymore but my inner self won’t accept it yet.

Another funny thing? I think I’m going to miss the nightmares. After all, they are part of that routine I had become so used to…….how can you miss something that made you miserable? Any therapist would have a field day…

Letting Go (Part 2)

Another weird thing happened to me this week, which made me think even more about the fact that I am “letting go” of my old life as a teacher and tentatively stepping into a new role……..this new role being “Volunteer Coordinator” which I guess has a lot of the same qualities as teaching. You have to coax, cajole, teach, recognize, assess, reward to some extent. All of those things.

This week two of my old students asked to be my friend on “MySpace”. How the heck did they find me? I wondered this as I checked my settings, and dummy me, I had it set so that everybody and their mother could look at my profile. Not that I care too much, I don’t use my own picture or my own name………well, it’s a nickname but nonetheless.

I can remember fussing at my kids about MySpace and how dangerous it was and how they should have all the settings put on the highest amount of privacy. And here I am just out there for every creep on Earth to see.

I was so proud of both of them though. It was their own picture (Bad students! Bad students!) but one said she was from Zimbabwe and the other said he was from Hawaii. Good going guys, throw those “Dateline NBC” creeps off your track. At least *something* I said sunk into their brains.

I felt like they were teaching me a lesson, “See?! You have a MySpace too! And you’re doing it WRONG!” and the other half of me felt like they were reaching out. I had left them and so they were looking for me. “Where did you go teacher? Where are you?”

(Side note, yes, I do still call them “my kids” even though I don’t teach them anymore. They were in my classroom for 180 days dammit! One-hundred-eighty days for 86 minutes a day. They will always be “my kids”. I will always be their teacher.)

Which makes what I have to do that much harder. I have to deny them friendship, hit that little “Deny” button. And what’s worse, I can’t let them know why. MySpace won’t allow you to send a message unless they’re a friend. Unless they somehow find my blog they won’t know it’s not because I don’t want them to be my friend, I just feel it’s inappropriate. In this crappy day and age, a teacher can’t really be a friend because mouths start wagging and folks start accusing. It’s not Mayberry anymore. I’m their teacher, and while I *do* feel that a form of friendship is a part of that, here it just can’t work. I’ll always be there to listen and help if I can, but sadly, this just isn’t the right context and never will be.

It makes me so sad to have to do this. Why can’t they have a button that says, “Teacher” or “Mentor” or “Listener” instead of “Friend”? Then I could stay in touch with them, be that second parent, and fuss when I needed to. That’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in letting go of this career, is letting go of my ability to immediately HELP them. I never in my life thought it would be this hard…

Letting Go…

So I got my Act 48 Expiration Notice in the mail over the weekend. I knew what it was even before I opened it. A slim little envelope telling me that unless I get my ass in gear, I won’t be able to teach in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania anymore.

I ended the last school year about 25 hours shy of completing this professional development requirement. It’s supposed to ensure that teachers stay current with all of the latest gimmicks and techniques with which to serve up the “meatloaf” of grammar and such to hungry, eager-to-learn students everywhere. Most of the time it’s an excuse to get a day off from teaching, sit in a room with about 50 other haggard-looking educators wearing nametags and eating stale Danish while you listen to an ex-teacher, who finally climbed out of the hole of educating to become an administrator, drone on about the newest, “funnest” way to teach diagramming to 5th graders. Most of the time the information is out-of-date or a re-hash of the conference you attended two years ago. Except where before they were preaching “Whole Language” now they’re preaching “Phonics” as the way to go.

Okay, I might be exaggerating just a little. But just a little.

As I slipped the thin paper back into its envelope, it almost felt like letting go. I couldn’t bring myself to throw the thing away, not entirely let go, but I did put it back into its envelope and tuck it into my “to be filed” stack. It felt like releasing a balloon. You can watch it float up and away out of your grasp, but for at least a little while you can still see it and if you jump high enough, you might even be able to catch it back again.

I’m watching this balloon float away, and at the same time my breath is being released out of my lungs like a drained tire. It’s a strange feeling. I like the calm it’s bringing, but not the finality. I have to admit there are still many things about teaching that I miss. But not enough to let go of that damn balloon.

I have to admit I like the clause in this notice that said that while I could not legally teach in a public school until I become compliant with Act 48, I COULD BE AN ADMINISTRATOR————-for at least 90 days. The mind reels.