School starts a week from today, and I’ve been so entrenched in vacation that I’ve forgotten that I have a job. Today, for a shot in the arm, I went on campus to visit my classroom. It was one of those weird sensations where everything familiar is unfamiliar, and it felt like I had been gone forever but never left. Visiting my classroom before the start of school has a calming effect on me. Everything is neatly stacked, cleaned, and the top of my desk is bare. Of course, I dare not look into the cupboards for the chaos they contain– opening my pen drawer was scary enough– life hasn’t been the same since the TA who fastidiously organized my materials
abandoned me graduated. But it’s my home away from home and it all brought a smile to my face.
Students have told me that they can tell the strictness of a teacher by how the classroom is decorated. My walls are colorful and covered with student work, Kandinsky posters, postcards from my travels, a view of Central Park, paper cranes, and of course, rubber ducks. Excepting the standards posters, monthly calendar, and the class rules, my room puts me in the “push-over” category. Since some students have described me as “strict”, “intimidating”, “should not be underestimated”, and my personal favorite, “awfully scary for being such a little girl”, I think the push-over notion is quickly dispelled. (Their descriptions of me are funny, since I don’t see myself as particularly scary, nor do I know what I do that causes this image.) I do spend 9-10 hours a day in my room, and it is important that it is not only welcoming to my students, but also to me.
And at approximately 7:21 a.m. next Monday, my desk will be a total mess. I have some colleagues whose rooms are always neat and tidy. Everything is organized and labeled and filed away. Their shelves sport perfectly lined and categorized binders– in which they find things! The things they are looking for! The tops of their desks are like women with fabulous bodies flaunting them at the beach. My desk is the dowdy one wearing the cover up– not a speck of skin shows. It hides under piles of paper that carry the implied message of “do not touch me, move me, add me to another pile, or otherwise disturb the order in which these papers are stacked!”. If I need to find something from two weeks ago, it is most likely at the bottom of or the middle of one of those stacks, and I normally know which stack it is in. Filing and organizing are foreign to me, and when I make my feeble attempts to do so, I end up creating five different folders for the same thing. Every year I vow to become a better organizer, but I think I will forgo that aspiration this year. I feel too disappointed in myself when I look at my desk.
There are bigger fish to fry. For example, I have U.S. History– a class that I have never taught– this term. While there is a lot about the textbook I like, it is pretty over-whelming and, frankly, dull. Was my textbook in high school this boring or have I just been spoiled from reading David McCullough and Erik Larson? Creative lessons that are fun and engaging need to be developed– otherwise my kids and I will be hating life and history, and that’s not the point. Then there’s the cross purpose of the pacing guide and the format of my class. The pacing guide suggests a brief review of the founding of our country through the Civil War, and the meat of the class really begins at Reconstruction (because the students learn about all of this in the 8th grade, and are expected to remember it all in the 11th). My class is a cohort class that I will keep in the spring to teach them American Literature– by giving me both classes with the same students allows me to teach cross-curricularly. However, American Lit begins with Native American creation myths and thoroughly delves into the Puritans, the Revolution, the Transcendentalists. The class is basically halfway over before we even touch the Civil War. So something’s got to give.
My biggest fish is one that I think all teachers struggle with: striking a good work-life balance. There’s a lot of stuff I like to do, like blogging, reading, cooking, and visiting with friends. Then there’s stuff I need to do: work-out, laundry, chores, grocery shop, sleep, shower. My day begins at 3:45 and I normally get to work by 6:20. Even thought class starts at 7:20, I’ve never been the type who can roll out bed and into work at the last minute. The school day ends at 2:20, and then I stay after school for Book Club, Academic Decathlon, and HOSA (Health Occupation Students of America). I normally leave at 4:00 and get home by 5:00. That leaves four hours for reading, writing, grading, making dinner, eating dinner, working out, spending time with the hubby, and playing with the cats. Lights out at 9:00. Then I think of people who have equally busy schedules and children, and the thought is too over-whelming to consider.
So how does one juggle all of this without being the one juggled? It really comes down to priorities: what is going to keep me healthy, happy, and sane until next May? What can go and what can stay? Working out is a must. It releases any aggression, keeps me energized, and helps me stay happy. I can always tell when I start slacking off. Reading is a must. It transports me to other worlds and reminds me how language is supposed to be used. As for cooking, it is very easy to slip into making easy meals that don’t offer much in the way of health. I’m going to continue menu planning and keeping an eye out for healthy recipes and do most of the prep work on the weekends. The slow cooker will also be put to use for leftovers that can be frozen and reheated on nights when I really don’t want to cook. As for blogging, each post takes a lot of time. I will scale back to a post every other day or two-three times a week. One thing I’ve learned is that I put a lot of pressure on myself, and much of this pressure doesn’t need to exist. I push myself hard, I push my students hard, and what I really need to do is focus on what really needs to get done. What do I really need to do? What do my students really need to do? How can I get the most of me and them without running either of us ragged?
We will see what this school year brings.