I do not write about what goes on in teacher leader meetings. Often we are dealing with confidential issues or we are sharing grievances or we arguing policy. Sometimes we’re just complaining. Everything else is probably too boring to write about in a blog: paperwork, new procedures, calendar information. But I am making an exception to write about our meeting this past week.
We sat in the student desks in Ms. Vasser’s cozy Social Studies classroom. The conference room where we usual meet is currently inaccessible, as is the lobby, the teachers’ lounge, several classrooms, and part of the hallway that leads to my room. So we made do somewhere else.
Mrs. Rhody and Mrs. McCarty, the math teachers, sat behind me. Mr. Cooper and Mr. Barnes sat a couple desks in front of me. Ms. Vasser sat at her teacher desk, at least for a while. Mrs. Haddix, the other English teacher on the committee, sat too far away for me to whisper to, which I usually do too much during meetings. The others were scattered throughout the room.
We are all a little tired. The newness of the year has worn off, the weather is turning gray, and our workload is more daunting than ever. New policies, old problems, different paperwork. Our feet hurt. Our hearts hurt. The kids are sleepy or grumpy, so are the teachers. Some of the kids are dealing with allergies and viruses. We all have issues at home. And then there’s the construction at school, which means displaced classrooms, blocked hallways, closed bathrooms.
At one point early in the meeting, as we discussed data monitoring and teacher collaboration, I monopolized the conversation with dozens of questions trying to understand something everyone else seemed to get. “But, Bridget, please explain to me again…” and Mrs. Wells, one of our principals, did. Then later as she covered important information about student data, I wrestled to keep my eyelids open. The numbers and charts on the overhead projector screen blurred. I thought of my students in first period who struggle the same way in the mornings.
Later we brainstormed together ways we could address specific issues in our school. We chuckled when Mrs. Wells wrote under the improvement column that Mr. Sayre’s ego was slightly smaller than it was, by his own admission. The rest of the conversation was necessary and productive, but a little heavy, only because a room full of talented, passionate educators were, like always, trying to find ways to move our school to as many stars as possible. The weight of the challenges in public education is carried by these kinds of teachers. It is a constant struggle for them, and for all educators, not to tumble under the overwhelming amount of work, public scrutiny, and limited resources. It is overwhelming and exhausting. And we were feeling it.
Then Mrs. Rhody, the practical and analytic Calculus teacher, said, “We need to remind our teachers that it’s okay to enjoy our students. We went into teaching because we love kids. They are why we are here. It’s okay to relax and just enjoy our kids.”
This was the best and most important comment made at the meeting. And the reason I decided to write this week about what goes on behind closed doors in education, at least at my school. And one of the hundreds of reasons I am proud to be a teacher at Anderson County High School. We’re not perfect, but we do care about what matters most—our students. With so much against us, we are trying hard to be excellent for our students, even when they have gone home for the day and we are in a meeting.
There is no way I am going to be a perfect teacher tomorrow or finish everything on my to-do list. However, I can absolutely do what Mrs. Rhody wisely reminded us to do. I can enjoy my kids.
This past Thursday as soon as my fifth period started, I turned off all the lights and walked to the back of the room. My puzzled students watched me, the sun coming in from the window their only light. “I have nothing for you today. I have a terrible migraine. Please be quiet and leave me alone.” I sat down in a chair in the back corner of my classroom, bookshelves on both sides. “I love you guys very much,” I mumbled. I’m not sure if any of them heard me. I leaned me head back and closed my eyes.
For the next hour I remained in this state. I drifted in and out of a light almost-slumber, the soft noises of bits of conversation creating a kind of white noise. The pain behind my left eye continued to push against my skull and throb relentlessly. I felt weak and dizzy, slightly sick on my stomach, and completely exhausted. I had been fighting the pain all day, doing my best to keep teaching despite the stabbing ache on the entire left side of my head. I just couldn’t do it anymore.
This is what teaching looks like some days. Like so many other professionals, I cannot always go home or leave my post. Sometimes I must work through the pain. So many teachers come to work sick or hurting. Unlike some other jobs where we might be able to hide away or use the restroom at will or take a break, in the classroom we are always on. We just keep teaching because we feel like we have to, or maybe we really don’t have much of choice.
I am thankful to have students who are kind enough to let me sit down and trustworthy enough to let me close my eyes for a while. Had I attempted to do any instruction, I very likely would have thrown up or passed out. Even so, I still felt like a loser teacher.
I had to call in the following day. I was reluctant to do so. I have plenty of sick time, and those days belong to me to use when I am sick as stated in my contract, but I still felt guilty. Not even out of bed yet, my face shoved into the pillow, trying desperately to will the excruciating pain away, I thought about the other teachers who would likely have to cover my classes all day. Like so many other districts all over the nation, we have a teacher and a substitute shortage in my county. Teachers are routinely asked to give up their planning periods to watch other classes. I am blessed to work at a school where, even though we clearly see how unfair it is, we help each other with genuine kindness. I also thought about my students. I emailed instructions for them to work on an on-going project, but I was still robbing them of important education time because I was not there. I was letting everyone down.
I will make it up to my students tomorrow, when I teach them well. I will be standing and awake, clear-eyed and excited. I will make it up to my colleagues by being there for whoever needs me tomorrow or the next day or the next.
Until the next migraine, when the pain and guilt will inevitably return. Until then, I will enjoy the light.
I used to despise Sunday nights because of Monday morning. I was filled with dread before I even lay my head down for the night. I got out of bed on Mondays looking forward to when I could go back to sleep.
I could not control the existence of Monday. It was going to happen. Again and again and again. In fact, Mondays will take up a little than 14% of my life. I had to figure something out.
Looking forward to Friday was not working. Wishing away my days was not effective or healthy. Being in Monday and wishing it were Friday only made me sadder. And I lost sight of what was happening in front of me. I was somewhere other than now, and that was not good for anyone.
Just getting through, a tactic used by many, was not working either. I found myself complacent in my grumpiness, almost excusing my bad attitude and sluggishness. It’s Monday, whatever, I can’t help it. This was contagious. I was infecting all the people around me.
I tried to just pretend to be okay with Monday. But I’m not such a great actress. And while that might have made the people around me feel a little better, it did absolutely nothing for me. I still felt horrible. But I was smiling.
Now, I am doing something different. Part of my therapy for OCD was mindfulness training, which included living my values and living in the present. I breathe deeply and methodically, making myself keenly aware of my own thoughts and surroundings. I try hard to focus on this moment, literally, and only this moment. And I try to appreciate it for what it is, nothing more, nothing less. I remind myself of my values, which give me purpose and clarity.
Using mindfulness techniques has helped so much with living with OCD, I thought I would try it on living with Mondays. So as the new week begins, instead of allowing myself to be negative as a default, I am intentionally aware of my values and live them out. I approach the new day with enthusiasm and excitement, with energy and expectation. I try to be mindful of reasons to smile so that when I do, it is genuine.
This does not mean I am happy-go-lucky and in a perpetual slap-happy good mood. Sometimes I get angry or tired on Monday. Sometimes I am stressed to the point of being overwhelmed. And usually I am completely exhausted when I get home from work.
But it’s different now. I have given myself permission to be in a good mood, to enjoy the day, and to not dread its arrival or look forward to its departure. I have given myself permission to love Mondays, because it is more than 14% of my life. That it too much life to not enjoy. I want to be present, deliberate, and alive for all of my life. I do not want to spend my days wishing them away. Because one day I will run out, and I will long for the more Mondays.
Of course, I must admit that I have it easier than most people to find reason to be cheerful on Mondays. I spend my days with interesting, intelligent, kind teenagers who make me smile. I get to talk about great writing and literature. I get to learn philosophy with my kids and practice speaking skills. I get to discover new ways of understanding the world and watch students gain new understanding, too.
Mondays get better as soon as my students show up. When I am at work, my students are who I value most, and they are who give me the greatest joy in my classroom.
I have 115 reasons to look forward to Monday.
Welcome to my Blog! I am a wife, mother of three, high school English teacher, and a graduate of the Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University. Before anything else, I am a woman of faith.