Summers Off

Sunday night sadness has plagued me since I was in middle school. The dread, the worry, the fear. And I’m not the only one. This very night many of you sit on the couch wondering where the weekend went and how much work will be thrown your way tomorrow. Work that is in addition to the to-do list you didn’t complete last week.

But on this glorious Sunday, I have very little angst for the week ahead. (I always have some angst; I am me after all.) Tonight the work demons rest because I am on summer break. Summer break is glorious, and I’m not afraid to say it.

Well, I’m a little afraid because it makes you hate me.

Summer break is the deal-breaker when people try to have sympathy for teachers. They get so close–low pay, no respect, being forced to teach to the test–but then they can’t shake that one perk–having all summer off. But it’s not really a full three months we yell! I do professional development during the summer! It’s not a time for me to put my feet up and chill!

Except it is.

But you know why I deserve it? I deserve it because every year I take on upwards of 130 new souls. Every year I meet over 130 new students. But it’s not just that I meet them. It is my sincere goal to get to know all of them. To give them as personalized an education as one woman can give 130 different minds. To give them chance after chance to do their best. To bring out the writer hiding inside them. To combat a previous teacher who told them they weren’t good enough. To show them how awesome the power of words is.

Yes, I chose this job, and yes, I knew it would be a lot of work. Having loved so many teachers in my school years, I knew what it would take to be a good one. What it takes is a passion for the subject. It takes expertise in the teacher’s chosen subject. The teachers who do the job with success want students to get just a small spark of the fire of knowledge. All it takes for a good teacher is a tiny flame. That teacher can turn that into a fire before the kid even knows what hits them. Real teachers want students to feel noticed. Their actions tell each and every kid, “I see you. You matter.”

And this kind of dedication takes its toll on a person. I feel the hearts of 130 kids join my heartbeat every year. I worry about them when I get home. I ask other teachers for advice on how to get through to them. I frantically change lesson plans before class starts knowing after grading yesterday’s work that they need something other than what I planned.

I don’t dump these kids after the school year either. I hold them in my heart, and they still take up space in my worry cabinet (okay, it’s a whole room, a room of worries). Once you’re one of my kids, you’re one of my kids.

Listen, I’m not saying my job is the hardest one in the world. I think what I face is a concern for anyone whose ‘product’ is people. (Remind me later to rant and cuss about people who compare business practices to teaching practices.) Caring for people requires so much energy that sometimes I don’t believe I can do it. Sometimes I want to just not care, but I can’t. It’s not who I am as a teacher.

Yeah, I get summers off, and tonight is the least stressful one I’ve had in months. But trust me, you want me to get this rest. You want me ready to take on the new souls who need me next year because every school year ends with me spent, empty of my gift.

But summer, glorious summer, fills me up again, makes me want to take on my new challenges. So please, let me have this time. It’s more important than you can ever know.

My Work Squad

My Work Squad

 

Writer’s Block

Little girls often dream of being ballerinas when they grow up. I was hooked the first time I saw the Sugarplum Fairy glitter her way across The Nutcracker stage. Since we lived in the suburbs of San Francisco, my mom even looked into enrolling me in the San Francisco Ballet School but realized the transportation issues alone were ridiculous not to mention the cost was prohibitive–as in we’d never eat again. Still, I danced for over 20 years. I had a teacher who at one point offered to go to New York with me to help me learn the audition process. (It’s okay if you don’t believe me. More than likely you’ve seen me struggle with sitting safely.)

I loved dancing, still do. I was pretty good, and with more work and dedication maybe a life performing would have been possible. But one thing kept me from pursuing a career on Broadway–fear of rejection. When starting a new venture, I really do believe in my heart that the position or honor I seek is within my grasp. I never start playing what I can’t win. (And yet I lose ALL the time.) I guess I’ve seen too many movies where the quiet, intelligent girl with mousey brown hair snags the handsome quarterback and lands the lead in the school play to complete the fairy tale.

Anyway, for me, dancing was not an ideal career. I’m assuming I’d be told I wasn’t good enough more often than not as is pretty standard. The song, “Dance 10, Looks 3” from A Chorus Line kind of opened my eyes to my future. I feel like I would have given up on that passion after each failed audition, my worth as a person sinking lower and lower.

It’s a strange journey in my head. I assume I’m awesome until someone says I’m not quite, and then I assume I should abandon the endeavor forever and crawl into a hole and cease to be me.

And that’s where I am with my writing. I get so inspired! People say nice things! I’m happy with my work! JK Rowling didn’t publish Harry Potter until after age 40! I have great tools and tips from the writing conferences I’ve attended!

But I’ve never had large-scale success. My short-story posts thus far have received little praise on the one site I used to enter them. I can’t get past the first chapter of my Poland book. I haven’t written in six months. And then, oh God, and then this:

“Allison Cane perched on her toes, poised to flee. Her target was in sight – well, not really, it was dark. She could hear the footsteps of her target though, and that was close enough.”

This is the opening to an assignment one of my old students wrote. She was 13. My first reaction was that it was better than any story intro I’ve done. My second thought was that I should erase writer from any and all biographical info I have on the internets. Because hyperbole is my middle name.

And then I read the passage again. It’s good, not perfect though. It has style, but still needs sprucing up and tightening. (That’s a technical term used by editors. It means this is long, and I’m not interested in reading it all. Make me interested.)

Oh God, maybe I should just be an editor. But then how does one get started doing that? I’d love to help bloggers edit their work, but no one would want me to. I mean, I have no experience, and my own writing sucks…..

You see?

Oh, just my son, writing a book, mocking my ineptitude.

Oh, just my son, writing a book, mocking my ineptitude.

 

Terror Practice

For a short while, I had Monday under control. I was master of my fate. Captain of my ship or whatever.

I ironed my clothes instead of wearing whatever was least wrinkled. I ate cereal instead of nothing. I got to work at 7:45 am. I even remembered to bring my water so I would not be tempted to buy a soda. Two students came in for tutoring and were met with the materials they needed.

Now, I had some tasks to complete. My conference period is first period, and I am notorious for thinking I can pretty much do all the things in that time, and today the plan remained consistent. Step one, arrive. Step two, finish 100 to-do items. But, I had all that time because of the 7:45 start. I was golden.

And then the announcement played once, loud and clear.

“This campus is on lockdown.”

Now, I will admit to dropping things and cursing every time the fire alarm sounds, even when I know it’s coming. But the fear that came over me this morning was much different. I wasn’t shaken by the loud noise and blinking lights. I was shaken by true fear.

I walked briskly to my door and began pulling down the window cover. As I started to close my door, I grabbed two kids from the hall and a wayward teacher friend coming out of the staff lounge. I shut off all the lights and watched everyone get in the corner and sit on the floor. I grabbed my cell phone and joined them.

This was not a scheduled drill.

Right away my heart rate sped up. My friend sat close and tried to control her breathing. The four students remained silent but weren’t too upset. They asked if it was a drill and tensed a bit when we said no. I’m sure during actual drills they are often told it isn’t a drill, so I’m not surprised they did not overreact.

I did however continue to escalate my own anxiety. All I could think about was the last time I saw my sons. It wasn’t enough. I hadn’t had a chance to kiss on them and love them today. I wanted them in my lap with their soft hair tucked under my chin. I wanted to know if their school was on lockdown too. I wanted to see their faces.

And then I turned my mothering to the students in my room. I gave them permission to go on their phones and check for news. I needed it as much as they did. I could see one of the students who had been in for tutoring was actually lying on the floor trying to calm herself. I thought of the other student who had been in for tutoring. Her mom is a friend who teaches at another school in the district. Would she know this was happening? Would she know her daughter was in my care? Would that make her feel better? Did the two students I pulled in from the hall know I cared about them too even though I didn’t know them? did they trust me and the other teacher?

I checked for news. I texted people who might be able to tell me something. I texted the boys’ father to ask him to check on their school. I tried yoga breathing and went to my mental happy place.

We heard noises every now and then. The students dutifully put away their phones and stayed silent when told to do so. We saw on Twitter that students coming to school for second period were being held out of the building. Now parents were on Facebook asking if anyone knew what was going on. Some had received texts from their kids. Some wished today was not the day their kid forgot the dang phone.

At one point it sounded like someone or more than one someone was marching down the hall. I’ve never held my breath with more purpose. A few minutes later a key in my door. More breath-holding waiting to see if it was administration, police, or other. Mental plans of grabbing the kids in the room and pushing them further to the floor and completely under the tables.

And then it was done. An administrator told us to return to normal, lockdown over.

But I never did return to normal. I’m still taking shallow breaths occasionally and trying to push my stomach down out of my throat. I’m still terrorized. I got little to no work done today. I couldn’t concentrate. I could sometimes barely breathe.

It was just a drill though. An unannounced event to us to keep us on our toes as mandated by the state. Surprise! Let’s see how you handle police in the parking lot with guns up. Let’s see if you protect the students quickly and barricade yourselves into the room while you prepare to die.

I don’t ever want to do this again. I want to end these active-shooter-type drills. I want to not have a plan in place for when my school turns into hell. I don’t need to practice this because all we practiced was fear. All we are left with is fear.

It’s actually quite asinine to think that pretending some bad guy with a gun is on campus. Why do this? So we can rehearse emergency procedures? So we can keep as many people as possible safe? I don’t need to learn how to do this. I am a human being. I am a mother. I am a teacher. I will do all I can to protect those around me, and I will die trying. I will send my love to my family and try to sound in control when giving instructions to those in my charge. I will let my fight or flight take over and do what needs to be done. Or I will die in a hail of bullets as the world ends around me.

But please don’t ever make me go through it again for funsies. It’s not helping. It’s only making me cry. It’s only making me want to keep my sons home tomorrow so we can just be together all day. It’s only reminding me that any normal day can turn into my last one on Earth.

I cannot live like this.

I won’t live like this.

For the love of God, we have to get guns under control. We have to stop scaring our children with these drills. We have to stop playing at terror in hopes that we can avoid it. We can’t. Not if we go on like this. Not if we can’t talk about change. Not if we can’t agree guns are the problem. They are. And I hate them even more today then I did yesterday. And I wasn’t even staring down the barrel of one.

Because it was just a fucking drill.