Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Beginning of School Blues

On Sunday, it occurred to me that it was an absolutely glorious summer day, and I was headed to some of my least favorite places in the world: the teacher store and the container store. (Okay, so it was pointed out to me that I actually kind of like the container store, because containers are very, very exciting. In general, though, it's not the kind of place I like to be on a beautiful day.) And then I was headed to my classroom. And it was Labor Day weekend.

I became filled with self-pity in the car on the way to the suburbs. (I KNOW! The suburbs! Who wants to go there, ever? Especially on a beautiful day!?) This is the time when I once again have to face the truth, after a summer of fun, that I have a job that consumes enormous portions of my time as well as my emotional and physical energy. (And yes, I realize that my job also gives me summers of fun, which most jobs don't, so I shouldn't feel too bad for myself.)

But a few days ago I was talking with an older colleague about the fact that we were all in school on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. She leaned forward conspiratorially and said in a whisper, "I can tell you the ultimate solution ... but not right now." Intrigued, I said, "Come on, tell me!" She looked around like she was about to reveal a state secret, and whispered, "Become a professor." "What?" I asked. "Yes," she continued. "Get a professorship and you'll have a wonderful life." I expressed disbelief at the idea that being a professor was so much easier than being a teacher, or that it would solve all my problems. "That's what good teachers do," she said. "All my friends who have done it have great, easy lives. You have no idea what normal people's lives are like!"

Okay, so I don't necessarily believe that a professorship is the answer. I love my job, for many reasons. But it has its drawbacks, and one of the biggest is how much it consumes my life. Many days, I leave work exhausted. I get overwhelmed by the challenges, the discouragements, the impossibles. My job, and my kids, invade my dreams.

Last year, starting in February, I did a great job of working less hard. I had been teaching first grade for 6 or 7 years (depending how you count). I knew what was coming next, and most likely had all the materials ready for it. I gave over the teaching of science to my assistant. I went out for drinks on weeknights -- unheard of. I loved it.

So when I was offered this opportunity to move up to second grade, I said to the Queen Mother, "If I teach second grade, I'll have to work hard again." (She knew I was trying to work less and have more of a life.) "Yes," she said, "You will. But you like to work hard." And that's true too. I like a new challenge. It was the right thing to do. And the biggest challenge of this year will be taking on a new curriculum, and a new age-level, without sacrificing my life. I would like to be able to make the balance work, so that I don't have to become a slacker professor. I would like to prove that I can have it all -- be a teacher in an urban school, and still go out for drinks on school nights.

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