Saturday, June 12, 2010

Musings on the End

One of the best things about a job that revolves around an academic year is the regular opportunity for beginnings and endings. Beginnings are an opportunity to make resolutions, set goals, and start over; endings are times to reflect on the successes and failures of the past year, and tally up the regrets.

As this school year drags its wretched self toward extinction, I have many more regrets than successes. I look back at what I wrote at the end of last year, and it is like reminiscing about a long-lost love. Last year I exulted in the classroom community, delighted in my students' accomplishments, and laughed and marveled often at their words.  This year, each day I come home weighted down by the awareness of what my students still can't do. They still can't do much math. They still aren't great writers. (They are good readers, I have to admit. That much we've got going for us.)

Worse, they still don't treat each other nicely. They don't have stamina, or independence. They fall prey to the whims of their emotions, riding the highs and lows like a bottle floating helplessly on a wave, with seemingly no ability to modulate.

If teachers need to feel successful in order to stay in the profession, then this is an example of how it should never be. Deep inside, I know I'm a pretty good teacher. I've got a lot left to learn (who doesn't?), but I have given years of sweat and tears to the travail of mastering this job. Still, I can't work miracles.

The honest truth is that I didn't pay enough attention to spelling because I was handling tantrums. I didn't build their independent problem-solving skills because I was trying to keep the noise level hovering around "loud" instead of "ear-splitting." I wasn't aware enough of everyone's progress in math because I was breaking up habitual shouting matches about who gets to go first and who is fat and ugly and who bumped whom as they walked by. And I didn't teach my most struggling students enough about anything because I devoted my time to the majority, who came in with such low skills in all areas that I focused my energies there.  It was as if, after 8 years of teaching, I was a first-year teacher all over again.

This is a hard way to end the year -- to face up to the fact that, despite working my hardest, there are too many things out of my control.  I have tried all the tricks I could think of, and in the end, they need too much, and don't yet have the self-regulation skills that are so essential to academic (and personal) success.  I came in this year full of energy, fueled by two great years, and as I head toward the finish line, I am running on fumes, with no reserves.

Yesterday, someone told me that, all year, it never looked like I was at the end of my rope.  She could never tell that I was just surviving, counting down the days until the end.  I'm glad, but I'm also aware that the work of making it seem effortless takes a huge toll.  Holding it together all day (and I think I was only successful at this about 70% of the time) is what gives me the tight knot in the center of my upper back. It's what makes me cry on the way home.  It's what has me lying awake at midnight, or slumped against the doorframe on the kitchen floor while I dejectedly reflect on my day.

In two weeks, I'll say good-bye to this class for the last time, and walk out the door with my bag to get on a plane to Yellowstone.  I need this summer vacation like never before, if I am to come back to the job that I love in the fall.  There will be another beginning, in just 2 short months, but for now, I raise my glass to long-awaited endings.

No comments:

Post a Comment