13 September 2010

A Teacher's Life...and Other Oxymorons

My feet ache, my laundry is piling up, and there are notebook fringies stuck in my living room carpet.

School has officially started.

Class begins at 7:30am in my district, which means that I have to be there at 7:00. Anyone who has taught knows that half an hour is simply not enough time to prepare your room or your mental health for dealing with nearly 200 teenagers. So, I arrive at 6:30am. That means I leave my house between 5:30 and 6:00. It takes me an hour to get ready...so I'll let you do the math for my wake-up time. It hurts me too much to say it. By the time I crawl back into my house at 6:00pm, I barely have the energy to change into my pajamas, much less eat, clean, correct papers, or talk to people. But you see, I don't mind not eating much--I've lost a lot of weight in the past six months as a result--and I'm okay with a fine layer of dust over everything in my house--I'm allergy free--and most of all, I really don't care when they get their papers back. It's this last one that causes problems. Because it turns out, I do care that I don't get to talk to people.

For the past two years, I've disappeared on my friends during the school year. I talk exclusively to my students and colleagues, and that's okay, because I enjoy my students and my colleagues. My Happy Corner at school (that is the official name of the four rooms near where I teach because...well, we are a hoot) keeps me entertained with adult conversation, and my students make fart jokes. It's a delicate balance, but it worked. For a while.

This summer, however, I rediscovered the beauty of a conversation that has nothing to do with thesis writing strategies, independent reading theory, grammar or...well...fart jokes. I relearned the beauty of just sitting with a friend. Of harmless gossip (to be fair, work does provide a fair amount of this). Of analyzing the previous night's mindless reality TV show. Of laughing deeply and without worrying who might walk by. I relearned the comfort a friend can offer simply because she's known you for twelve years, and the smile an email from a good friend living far away can bring in the middle of a bad day. I remembered that your mom will always respond to an email, no matter how banal it was, and that taunting your teenage cousins at a wedding via text is hilarious. I remembered that sometimes, the best nights are spent in the company of your cousins, dancing to "Bad Romance" and behaving far too irresponsibly for your age (alcohol helps with this last one). In short, I learned that I do need people. I'm just trying to figure out how to make that happen.

One day I'll figure it out. I'm getting better. Email is a lifesaver, and texting helps, though I should probably stop doing it while I merge onto I-94 during rush-hour (we were talking about teacher websites!). It's not an easy balance to strike, and some days I fail. More than once I've gone to bed knowing I didn't talk to someone I should have that day, or that I let a promise slip away unfulfilled. I've cobbled together lesson plans because I just had to take a phone call or visit with someone. My friends and family know I'm doing my best, though the admonitions do roll in occasionally. I've been bribed with fresh green beans and threatened with a Swedish Bounty Hunter named Sven. Both worked.

But this is nine months of my year. Nine months of getting up in the dark and not enough sleep. Nine months of printer excuses and "I forgot my book." Nine months of IEP meetings, staff meetings, department meetings, and laughing after school with my colleagues. Nine months of missing my friends and family, waiting for summer when I can see them again. It's only just starting.

See you cats on the other side.

02 September 2010

Leave a Message at the Tone...

I used to have a cell phone. It was apple green with a little sliding keyboard, a rather antiquated screen, and an alarm that woke me up everyday at 5am. Often I'd get to my car after work only to realize I'd left it on my desk; I would not make the 50 yard trek back to my room. Sometimes I went entire weekends without knowing, or caring, where it was.

I say was because in May my husband decided we needed new phones. On the way in the store, I looked my husband in the eye and said firmly, "We do not need data plans. No one needs to have the internet that close to them that often." Two hours later, we left the store, my husband pocketing his new Blackberry while I lovingly cradled my Palm Pixie Touch--with a data plan. The world as I had known it was over.

Prior to my fancy smart phone, I checked email once every week or so, Facebook roughly once a month, and sent approximately one text a day: a short message telling my husband I had arrived at work safely. I called my friends (albeit rarely; my phobia of talking on the phone limits my circle of callable people to roughly four). But, alas, my smart phone brought Facebook and email to my fingertips. I now check Facebook a dozen times a day--commenting on every status, naturally--my email well over that, and last month, I sent over 3,000 texts.

What has happened to my life?

You see, it's not just that my phone is a good time killer when I'm at a red light (yes, I am one of those people; I am desperately trying to break this habit... unfortunately, due to my lack of self-control, this means my phone has to stay in the backseat). It's not just a way to keep in touch. It's become more than that. I check the notifications and I'm disappointed if I don't see an email or text. Has no one thought of me in the fifteen minutes since I last checked my phone? No comments on Facebook. Was my status not witty or apropos enough to provoke a response? No email answer from that letter I sent yesterday. Am I not good enough anymore? Somewhere along the way, my self-worth became tied to how many people text or email me in a given day, my importance tied closely to the number of views my blog received. And I don't think I am alone in experiencing this particular technology angst.

Don't get me wrong, smart phones can be truly amazing. The GPS on my husband's Blackberry helped us navigate Washington Heights and find the nearest A train. My easier and instant access to email has allowed me to keep in touch with friends and family scattered around the United States. And as I write this, my Montana friend and I are trading lyrics to 80s songs in an effort to make each other laugh, thereby extending our lifespan by at least eight years. Technology saves lives.

But it can also dominate them. In an age where information and people are literally just a finger tap away, the seductive lure of the cell phone is irresistible; we feel forgotten and alone because our phone didn't vibrate, ding, or sing to us today. At a time when it is increasingly easier to stay in touch, we feel cheated when people don't. We remind ourselves that people are busy, but always that nagging doubt haunts the back of our mind: are they too busy, or just too busy for us? Blackberry advertises that customers using Blackberry Messenger can now see if their message has been read; in other words, Blackberry customers now know for sure whether the person is busy or ignoring them. Brutal honesty 1, self-worth 0.

I'm trying to put my phone down more often. While working today, I refused to unlock my phone. It was a battle of wills, frequently resulting in me staring wistfully (and somewhat resentfully) at my phone. I knew I had texts; hadn't I heard that familiar chime at least five times that day? But I resisted and instead moseyed next door to bother my neighbors. We got little done today, but we laughed a lot. And it hit me: I didn't need a text, email, or comment to remind me of the fact I enjoy these people, and they enjoy me. Perhaps I've rounded the bend.

My goal isn't to stop using my phone. For a phone-phobe, texting is a lifeline and email a miraculous event. My goal is simpler--to be able to see a blank notification screen without that slight pang of disappointment, that hint of hurt lurking just beyond common sense. My goal is to remind myself that I am worth more than my data usage statistics and total text messages each month. It's a lesson we could all stand to learn.

Then again, when I say all, I'm not sure how many of you are out there, reading my words across the ether.

I mean, would it kill some of you to comment once in a while?