I Can’t Even: Teacher Face Edition

It is really, really hard to put on your teacher face sometimes. I don’t just mean the makeup that I struggle to put on every day simply because it makes me feel more put together … I mean the one that makes me look more engaged, loving, honest, and caring than I feel on any given day. Personal lives don’t wait for summer when you are a teacher and the pain you feel when you walk out of your door every morning has to be gone by the time you walk through the front doors of the school.

I am not sure if it is because my kids are often feeling pain themselves, and know what it is like to be defeated, but they can tell when I am sad/stressed/angry/unsure of something. They ask me if I am okay. They say something under their breath to their elbow partner. They hesitate when I ask a question. They don’t look me in the eye. Sometimes they even come up to say they’re sorry if I seem upset .They ignore me if I tear up.

Two of my students noticed the lack of wedding ring about a month ago. They asked about it, and I answered honestly. I ask them to be truthful with me and I can’t expect them to trust me – even at this late in the school year – if I don’t do the same. Next Monday, I will come to school as a single woman living alone for the first time in her life. My current roommate (the only thing I can call him without my heart breaking) is quietly removing his things on a daily basis and we have stopped talking to one another even when we are in the same 700 square foot apartment.

With my background in theatre, I thought for sure that putting on my teacher face would be the easiest part for me. Sure, other people would struggle with it – but not me. What I forgot about my years as an actor is the exhaustion that came after a long run; the way I would want at least a day without having to speak to another person, or even be around large groups of people.

This is the longest show run of my entire life.

Once a week blogging = Once every six months? Oops

I am awful at paying attention to deadlines. Not at work, mind you. But when I tell myself that I am going to blog once a week, I am fooling myself in the worst way. I can’t even remember groceries, or cat food, or what day it is, let alone take time to type my thoughts out to the zero people reading this. But, since I spend so much time focused on everyone else, I need to start following through on the things that are for me.

I’m still far happier at work, which has opened my brain and my heart, leading to a decision I was not ready for; I am getting a divorce. It’s awful and heartbreaking and I know that it will only get worse before it gets better, but I am surviving. Ten seconds at a time. 

(Thanks, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”, which I have now watched – in its entirety – three times. In fact, the entire show has become my therapy, and I quote it daily).

This major life event has lead me to believe that now, more than ever, blogging is going to be important to me. Emotionally and creatively, I think I need this.

But, here are some good things happening: 

  • I started getting my nails done like a diva, and that brings me joy
  • I am now making time to read novels. Like an adult.
  • I have gotten much closer with work friends, spending weekends with them.
  •  It turns out, I like being alone and I didn’t realize how much I was craving independence.
  • I am now remembering how good I used to be at dating, which gives me hope.

So. I am now SCHEDULING my blog posts. They might including work, friends, books I am reading, feelings I am having, food I am consuming … but it will be from me and for me. Finally.

You guys, I lost it. BUT THEN I FOUND IT!

Alright. I crawled to that finish line I spoke of in May. I crawled to it bloody, sweaty, and angry. I believed, truly, that I would be back in the fall and ready for another year.

I was the most wrong a person has ever been wrong in their entire life of all time ever.

The summer started strong, with me rejuvenated and ready for a fresh start. I would get so many things done! Cleaning! Beaching! Relaxing! Laughing! Shopping! June and most of July included all of those things, but the black cloud filled with September started showing itself. By the end of July, I was more depressed than I had been in a very long time. I cried multiple times each day, and in between I experienced delightful panic attacks. I stopped eating, I stopped talking, I couldn’t get out of bed. There was no. way. that I could go back. I loved those kids more than anything, but I just couldn’t do it. For once, I believed that my mental health and physical safety were important.

Great news? I also look like this guy now.
Great news? I also look like this guy now.

Fate intervened in the last week of August, when a friend suggested I applied to her district (much closer to my home). She works in the special ed arena (out of the classroom) and said the teachers were great, the administration was supportive, and that it would be a good change. I was supposed to return to my old district in 10 days. I applied anyway. They hired me three days later. I quit my former district on the spot, and the building administration supported me taking care of myself, so the district didn’t threaten to keep me.

My relief was colliding with fear and depression. I was abandoning my kids.

Turns out, three staff would miss me terribly. As would many of the kids. The other five people I had considered friends would start rumors about me (including the one that I had checked myself into a mental hospital, or the one where I became a flight attendant — both of which were options at some point). That showed me, without a doubt, that I made the right choice.

SO — I’m still in special ed, but now I get to teach English and case manage some awesome kids. I work with some of the best humans ever, and my current department makes my old one look like absolute garbage. Most of my friends here are general ed teachers — WHAT?! — who tell me that they respect my work. The English department considers me one of their own. My kids are bright, kind, appreciative (except for a couple of students who may actually be plotting my demise), and funny. My administrators respect me and support me. Most of all? I don’t hate my life. I’m not scared of my students. I don’t drive three hours a day in my commute.

Even on the bad days here, I am far improved. And, I believe I’m becoming a far better teacher.

So, August 2013 Miss … good thing you didn’t quit. Good work, kid.

Also – my goal is to write here at least once a week, since I am not in survival mode. Goal. Goals are meant to be broken.

The end of the year, the start of a blog

I am standing at the top of a mountain. The mountain was formed through a really complex scientific process that involves IEP meetings, anxiety, and stress sweat. That anxiety and stress sweat started forming in August, when I began my first year as a special education teacher. Now, it’s all coming to a close (13 more days), and I decided that I should start a blog, because I wanted to be positive that I will have a heart attack in the next 13 days. Did I already mention that I have 13 days left?

At this point in the year, I am bouncing around the school either giggling or hiding my mascara-streaked face. I have been reaching out for resources, asking colleagues and other first-year teachers for some comfort and discussion. And truly, this blog is a welcomed and calming outlet for this former professional writer.

During one of this week’s “sessions”, as I call them (when I lock myself in my office to cry/read blogs/listen to Simon & Garfunkel), I was directed to Edutopia by one of the best bloggers/humans out there (Love, Teach is the bee’s knees). She suggested I check out a post asking teachers to write letters to their first-day-of-teaching selves.

I decided to write myself a letter (which became so emotional for me that I ended up in a totally different kind of session that ended in me eating a whole bag of gummy bears). I sat back in my office chair, stared at the ceiling, and tried to think about the first time I stepped into my classroom with an official key in hand. About how much has changed, how many things were different than I expected, how many things were even better than I planned.

-I’ve gotten through some really intense parent meetings without more than a quick cry in the bathroom stall (and just a little bit of barfing).

-Even though I always request that students throw in a “Miss” when they address me, they always end up calling me by my first name, and I actually love it.

-All of my students know that my favorite office supply is an eraser because, as I say to them, mistakes are supposed to happen. That is my rule for them but I have been terrible at remembering the same for myself.

There might be two of you reading this, and that’s just fine, but I want to be sure that I never forget this moment. This time of the year. This time of my first year. This documentation of all the stuff I’ve lived through so far. I hope this blog finds a few people who want to hang out and see how this plays out.

 

Dear August Miss,

You’re standing in your classroom, staring at the mess left behind, thrilled and ready to throw up. You’re not sure you will ever be able to dig through all of the paperwork, outdated materials, and general oddities in the way. You won’t right away, but it will come in time. You’re going to set up your classroom with your parents and your partner. It will not mean a whole lot once the kids show up, but you will feel good.

You will wonder what your staff is like, since everyone in the building has “opinions” about them. But don’t judge too quickly. They will drive you insane, sometimes be petty and cranky, but those nine people will help you through a very hard year and become your friends.

The general ed teachers won’t be as welcoming as you hoped, but that one down the hall, M, will be unbelievably kind to you and when the two of you go through similar personal struggles later this year, she will comfort you. The other SpEd teachers will be there for you with fierce love and will surprise you with their belief in you and your passion.

You will be scared of parents. Of their needs, their demands, their anger. You’ve heard horror stories, right? Those weren’t your parents. You will find that when you are honest and funny and … well … just yourself, even the parents that people told you to be scared of will respect you and treat you with kindness. You might actually like them!

Unfortunately, one Wednesday afternoon in January will not be like the others. It will be painful, and change you forever. You worry it will keep you from teaching. People thought you wouldn’t come back. You hate the way it makes you fear your students. It makes you feel like a failure. But you will make it through every day with love. One day at a time.

In fact, as you type this letter, you just got off the phone with a parent who stormed out of a meeting crying. He feels inadequate. He feels that he and his student were lost in the system. He is scared. You will call him when he gets home, apologize for all the times you let procedure get in the way of his desire as a parent to simply communicate with his son. The two of you will cry on the phone together. And after the real heartbreak and misery of the last month, and the constant fear that you can’t make it another day (let alone year), you will write this letter to yourself, knowing that you can, because you just remembered why you love this so much.

This will be, undoubtedly, the most painful year of your life. You will question everything and, at times, you will hate yourself for making this choice in career. The time between spring break and Memorial Day will be awful. You will fear work. You will cry to and from your front door. Please don’t. You will dread Sunday evenings and you will consider leaving everything behind. Please don’t. You will look for jobs at Starbucks and think of being a lifetime doctoral student. Please don’t.

You will be okay, because those kids need you. You will be proud. And when your senior boys do something stupid with only 13 days left, you will just start to cry because you know how much you will miss them.

You’re okay, kid. Just don’t fight the current.

–May Miss–