The way we were

This post is mostly not about teaching – at least not how I imagine it going in my head at the moment. It could certainly apply to teaching, though. This is a post about how easy it is to embellish your past to make yourself look better or even to beat your current self up over something – all without realizing that you are doing it. Observe:

A few years ago, I decided to start running. I have several friends who run, it’s cheap (good shoes are a must, but otherwise that shit is free), and the timing is flexible. It is also a good way to get outside. Being way out of shape and having had trouble with shin pain in the past, I started with the Couch to 5k program and after a couple years and several attempts, I finally (finally!) got into a routine last summer. I lost about 30 pounds (200lbs down to 170lbs) by watching what I ate and running every other day. It was pretty rad.

Then the school year started. By the first week in September, my sleep routine was totally nonexistent, and the idea of waking up at 5:00am to run after falling asleep at midnight for the fifth day in a row seemed impossible. I stopped running. Fast forward to this May, and I’d gained back 20 of the 30 pounds I lost, plus I felt like a lazy sack of fail.

After making excuse after excuse as to why I wasn’t exercising, I decided to retry a 5k training program using RunKeeper, the program I’d used to track my runs last summer (which I highly recommend for cost [free!], features, and ease-of-use). Today was my third run in 5 days and so far it feels pretty good.

Here is where the “hindsight is through rose-colored beer goggles” comes in. I was feeling bad about exercise all year, in particular this spring because I kept thinking, “I started exercising in February last year and it took me until September to lose 30 pounds and I’ll never stick with it blah, blah, blah – why even bother.” (Yes, I often think in run-on sentences.) So, today I was editing my run on RunKeeper when I thought, “Hey – I wonder how this compares to my distance last year around this time…” I figured if I was going to beat myself up over not being as active as last year, I might as well have the data to back myself up.

Turns out, I didn’t start running in February. Well, I did. I ran for about a week and then I stopped. Then I ran once in March. I didn’t even bother in April or June. I didn’t start running regularly until July, at which point I ran pretty much every other day for two months straight before the school year got to me in September.

I’d been beating myself over not being as good as my past self, when it turns out that my past self was no better than my current self. In fact! If I keep up with this running thing through June and into July and August, that’s a whole month more than last year. Maybe I’ll even continue through September and on through the year, maybe I won’t, but I’m already on schedule to outdo myself. Yet, here I was agonizing over being a slacker.

I suppose what I’m saying (rather verbosely, as always), is that hindsight is not always 20/20. Sometimes the way we were was not as good as we remember, and I think using foggy memories against oneself is kind of sad. Just something to think about in the event that you were putting off doing something good for yourself because you tried it once and it didn’t work. Maybe this time you’ll do better, maybe not, but doing something is better than agonizing over doing nothing.

End-of-the-school-year-itis

Seniors (twelfth graders, not the elderly) get to call it senioritis. “I’ve been doing this for 13 years, and now I’m finally off to college!” (…to do it for another four plus years, but you keep that tidbit under your hat so as not to discourage them.)

I read this fantastic blog this evening and my first thought was, “HEY, NOW! We need to work through to the end of the year. Every day is important!” My second thought was, “Fuck, there were several days when it would have been great to just watch a movie and enjoy each others’ company before the school year ended.”

This, in particular, resonated with me:

We were awesome back in October; don’t you forget that. We used to care, and that counts for something.

Indeed. In August, September, and October, the school year is fresh and the students are calmed enough by the novelty of being back in school that they behave and do their homework. I grade papers and file student work and answer emails in a timely fashion. I wear nice clothes and do laundry every week.

By December, I’m starting to wear thin. The kids are done. Then we have a two-week break and I get a teacher workday to clean off my desk (I had a desk?) and we get about 50% of that fresh-start feeling back.

By May? Whew… in May, I’ve lost my desk again, and I can’t find anything. I write notes on Post-its and then promptly lose them. (They are probably stuck to some kid’s shoe.) I wear the same shirt twice in a week and hope nobody notices. Then I don’t care if they notice. Then I dare them to say something if they notice.

I get a little touchy at the end of the year. There are deadlines, events, students who are moving away, report cards to prepare, assessments to give. If you screw it up and don’t finish it by the last day of school, there is no chance to deal with it “next week.” It’s over. You admit you forget to test that kid’s math facts or you dig up an old score from March (when you still cared) and use that, instead. It’s a rough time.

Trust me, I wish the last weeks of school were all Mythbusters episodes, recess, and goodbye parties. In fact, I would totally do away with student homework for the last month of the year, in part to alleviate the at-home stress, but also because I don’t want to grade it. But I can’t. It’s not because I have some moral obligation to always make every day academically jam-packed, either. It’s the parents.

Not the normal parents, like Jen Hatmaker. Oh, no – you guys are rad. You guys make me feel normal when you remind me in the car line that I forgot to respond to your email, but it’s totally fine because you haven’t checked the assignment notebook in a week and we’re all good. You all keep on keeping on. (You are also the parents that give me a bottle of wine for Christmas because you know me.)

No, it’s the parents who INSIST that their children will never get into a good college if they don’t have homework every night. It’s the parents who want to know what the next four topics in math will be so that they can preview them at home. It’s the parents who want to make sure that Johnny and Suzy are doing academic work all the way through to the last day of school because… because fuck if I know.

Look, I am a good teacher. Most days, even in May, I stick to my schedule and make sure we get as much academic work done as possible. I don’t throw my hands up in the air after April testing and think it’s all over – I know there is still work to do. AND I know that these parents really do want the best for their kids. They want to make sure that their kids are learning and growing and not slacking off because it’s the end of the school year. I get it. All I ask is that you not hound me constantly to ask what’s going on. Trust me when I say that your kid doesn’t need homework because he or she is doing fine.

My school year is over, although I still have to finish writing report cards, and I am relieved that I can start tackling some things I’ve put off all year. That said, the last two weeks of school were rough and I know that most people still have at least one more week left. Go easy on your kid’s teacher, okay? Remember that they were awesome back in October and give them some credit. I promise that your kids will be fine.