Friday, January 4, 2013

Teaching and Letting Go

Survived the first week back to school after the holiday break.  I love teaching.  I really do.  I took a long, indirect path to get to this career, this passion, my calling.  Following a career in my other area of passion; art, specifically advertising design and illustration, and a time working in Health and Human Services, I haven't always been sure teaching made sense for me.  It was difficult pulling these diverse skills and college degrees onto this path. I can't imagine not teaching. After 10 years working in the public school system and 4 years working in nursery school, I still love being a teacher. I have had moments of uncertainty and lingering visits with self doubt.  I’m not always on my game and I occasionally lack motivation.  I don’t always have all the right answers and I don’t always follow through when I might.  I am trying and human and imperfect.   I do love teaching though, still.

This particular week, was hard.  My district has been under duress.  Economic shortcomings, job losses and closing down a school have had a domino effect.  Reorganization and reassigning staff to new buildings has been challenging to administration, staff and students, it has been difficult for the community.   The first few months of this restructuring have been confusing, and different, and not all together in sync or even fully operational it has seemed.  The new requirements and evaluations and testing and observations have been overwhelming.  We all seem to be moving in a zombie like trance.  Stress seems to be the norm. And it appears to not be getting any easier, anytime soon.

Long term stress is counterproductive to teaching.  Stress can have serious effects on our physical and psychological well being.  Symptoms might include:  irritability, anxiety, feeling out of control, uncertain, depressed and helpless. According to B.J. Casey, director of the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Cornell University’s Weill Medical College, stress makes it difficult to hone into our surroundings, we miss the bigger picture - the forest for the trees.  Stress produces sustained high levels of the chemicals released in the ‘fight or flight’ response.  Throw a group of children into this mix in any combination of ability levels, sizes, shapes and ages and you have created a hothouse for disaster and chaos.  Only, as I move through the hallways, occasionally in my trance like stagger, or speed-walking race, I observe something different.  I hear for the most part, normal. Quiet calm.  Teachers teaching, children learning.  Of course, when we are in our classrooms, at the helm of this didactic interchange we cannot see if we are doing well, or feel it because the stress has changed our viewpoint, and altered our ability to hone into our surroundings.  Here lies the danger.  When we start to lack confidence and question our abilities we start to get sloppy, or disengaged, or become hopeless.

The effect of the Sandy Hook shootings give greater meaning to our stress and our sense of being ineffective and add a real sense of danger.  Our first week back to school we are practicing lock-downs and thinking of lock-outs and drills and safety protocol.  Some of us have lost sleep and have a heightened sense of fear.  Some of us feel powerless.  Some of us feel we did not come to teaching to have to take bullets in our backs, or chests or heads.  We did not come into teaching to watch our students perish by our sides as our hands are tied.  I lead my students in our lock-down drill. I pull the shades and move away from the windows, we cannot sit on either of the two accordion style “soft” walls.  I am certain the students will lean on them and move them and make themselves known to a potential intruder.  We gather on the only wall left, the one near the door.  As the administrators, and police check the building, I sit, I worry, I think of moving the one student sitting beside me, because he is in direct danger, he and I will be the first reached, shot. But for us this is only a drill.  This drill makes me sad. I feel overwhelmed and useless, destructible, stressed. 

We make it through the first week regardless.  I sit with several of my students.  It is Friday, we are in our Friday “place” in the world.  The weekend approaching.  We have plans, or not, a sense of a break. We work, and talk, and sometimes resist and avoid.  One of my students, the one that reminds me, I was once small and fidgety and itching with ideas and joy and excitement, is agitated.  He is often itching to get out of work and mostly itching with allergies and dry skin, he rises and decides after 2 hours he needs his tag cut from his sweatshirt.  I know he cannot work or think or hone in on his surroundings if he is irritated.  I ask him to put down the scissors and bring his sweatshirt to me, as he is attempting to cut the tag himself, with the sweatshirt still on.  He complies.  As I carefully remove the tags, he is sitting back down, ready to participate. 

I smile.  I will not necessarily be able to protect these children from gunshots, or danger.  I can help them feel safe, and cared for, occasionally.  I can gather them together and tolerate their irritations and once in a while soothe even those.  I can read to them, and listen to them read.  I can coax out a story written from their hearts and expect them to be their own best in one area or another.  I can run the track with them and get them to understand simple mathematical operations simply because they enjoy reminding me how very old I am.  (They like to find out how much younger some of my colleagues are.   Hey, whatever motivates.)   

I remember again, I love teaching.  My calling.  My passion. 

I approach my weekend calmly, de-stressing.  Letting go. Rebuilding. Reorganizing and releasing.  Oh, and I am going to attempt to remove these tags; ineffective, stressed, anxious, overwhelmed.

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