Yes, that's what I went through.
Rewind four weeks ago, New Year's Day. I was at home on the couch in a serious funk. I don't like to use the term depressed, because as I said just a moment ago, I don't like to misuse terms and take anything away from people who suffer from depression. Some of my nearest and dearest friends and family members suffer depression. So, I was in a funk. Ordinarily, New Year's Day brings rejuvenation, motivation and pure ambition to me. I just. wasn't. having it. I didn't want to go back to school. I didn't want to get off the couch. I didn't want to pack my lunch. I didn't want to iron my clothes. I didn't want to go back to work. Feelings like this led me to feelings of guilt and questions... Why do I feel like this? Why am I so ungrateful? Why can't I be happy I just had 7 days of paid vacation? Do I really love my job? What's not to love? Am I the only one who feels like this?
In the weeks that followed, I found myself driving to work and daydreaming of a job I don't have. Wishing for a classroom that doesn't exist. Praying for the strength to break the funk. In the weeks that followed, I began packing boxes, bins, crates and totes. I began report card comments, progress monitoring, writing thank you notes, taking down posters, labeling bins, sorting through files and packing my life. My life of 5 months. I was moving out of a classroom that had molded me as a professional, and passing off a group of students that molded me as a person. I didn't realize until last Thursday, as I carried the last box to my car, that the day that my funk began was the day I realized it was the beginning of the end with that class. Don't get me wrong, teachers have to say goodbye to kids every year. But there is something about having to say goodbye to kids every four months that begins to wear on you. It's hard to lose your job over and over again. In short, it's hard to be on a non-stop job interview for three years. But that's what I've been doing, and this January, I realized I may not have another year left in me. As I drove home on Thursday night, I thought to myself "I don't think I can keep doing this. School after school, month after month, kid after kid."
It's an incredibly stressful position to be a long-term substitute. I have been SO fortunate that the schools, teachers and administrators I have worked with over the years have been so welcoming to me. However, it still remains an incredibly stressful position. It is stressful because most of the time, you do not have an adequate amount of time to prepare. Most of the time, a lot of pertinent information about curriculum, programs and routines are left to the imagination. Most of the time, you are expected to just already "know." But you don't. You figure it out as you go. If you are like me, you spend nights in your classroom until 9:00 trying to figure it out, and then walking to your car eating a bag of warm celery sticks and calling your mom crying. If you are like me, you spend weekends on blogs and Teachers Pay Teachers trying to find out what everyone else is doing for the Common Core, hoping you can throw it together by Monday. If you are like me, you spend afternoons and evenings tutoring, teaching review classes, supervising clubs and chairing committees so you will be noticed when the school someday, somehow, has a job vacancy. If you are like me, you spend mornings in an empty school laminating things that the students never notice. If you are like me, you are up at midnight showing your boyfriend how to tie ribbons on holiday goodie bags for students that leave them in your classroom empty. If you are like me, you are replying to parent emails on your iPhone while you are on the treadmill at the gym, because you are determined to stay healthy despite your busy schedule. If you are like me, you never believe anyone when they tell you that you are doing an excellent job. You beat yourself up over what you never got to, what progress wasn't made, what you could have done differently. If you are like me, you create way more work for yourself and hold yourself to an unreasonable, unmanageable, unbelievable standard of excellence. And then you pack up your type A Vera Bradley bag, and you go.
Friday morning came, and my students showered me with love. I've already gone on longer than planned so I won't give you the play-by-play of my goodbyes. After the day ended and the children were finally gone, I dried my tears and I returned to my classroom to do the dirty work that I had put off all week- the progress reports, the grade book, the report cards. I told myself I wouldn't read any cards or open any student gifts until I got home. I just didn't have time. My co-teacher had all 75 of our students write a book called Memories of Miss Eager. They each wrote and illustrated their favorite memories with me. There were so many that I decided to save them for my couch and a glass of wine because I didn't want to cry again. When I sat down in front of my computer, my stress levels returned to the roof as I agonized over the quality of job I had done. Had I collected enough data? Had I increased fluency? Had I improved writing mechanics? Was it okay that we didn't do as many basal units as I had hoped? How many units would the "real teacher" have done? Will she be disappointed? Was I enough?
I finally closed the door to my classroom at 9:30pm. Yes, on a Friday night. I drove home in a stunned state. Overtired from a lack of sleep and a lot of tears, I got home and I read the cards and books that my students had made. There were the many heartfelt and appropriate lines about how I helped them read or taught them a funny math trick. But then I opened one that changed everything. One short sentence that got me out of my month-long funk.
"The best thing about Miss Eager is that she cared about my cousins."
In October, one of my students went through a very difficult time. His two teenage cousins were in a car accident and spent weeks in the intensive care unit. As a 10 year old boy with autism, he had a very difficult time understanding why and how life would move forward from such a tragedy. We spent hours, sometimes days, sitting on the carpet in my room, just the two of us, trying to reason with why tragedies happen. As the cousins miraculously recovered, his conversations, questions and stress over the accident had subsided. He barely spoke of it anymore. Now in January, when asked for one line about Miss Eager, that was what he wrote. That was what he remembered. That is what he will remember.
In one line, I was reminded of why we do it. Why we work 75 hours a week for a $38,000 salary. Why we spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on prize bin fillers, yards of fabric, crates, books, clipboards and Expo markers. Why we spend our summers ON; setting up our classrooms, shopping for new books, changing grade levels, realigning our curriculum, getting through the Target Dollar Bins before they get picked over in July. Why we lose sleep at night when something didn't sit right at school. Why we go home at night wondering if we remembered to put a note in a folder. Why we think of our best math lessons in the shower.
It's not about the math lessons in the shower, the Expo markers or the Target dollar bins. When comparing teaching to a corporate job, grade books and progress monitoring are the daily clerical duties. Those are the expense reports and the concepts and the communication between clients. But to touch a child's heart when they needed it most, that is nailing a deal. That is landing the promotion. That is why we do it.
So now looking back to last Monday and my mental breakdown...get a REAL problem, Sarah. You have been blessed. In many ways, Friday was the New Year's Day I never had. I am rejuvenated, motivated and ready for my next
If you made it to the end of this, thank you. This was cathartic and I needed it.