29 December 2011

A Little Blue Chalkboard

When I was a little kid, I had a blue chalkboard in my basement. It was set up in front of a old fashioned school desk, circa 1950-1960. I spent hours in the basement "teaching" an invisible class of students how to do math (cease your snickering), read, and about American history. Science was notably missing from my basement school house, but I'll blame that on my lack of beakers, chemicals, and any scientific knowledge.

I made fake worksheets for my students to fill out. Then I filled them out, answering a few questions wrong so I had something to mark. I made bulletin boards, class schedules and clocks. I read to my students, encouraged my students, chastised my students, and sometimes--just like every teacher secretly wishes he/she can do--walked away from them in disgust. I played school for years. Probably longer than was cool. Or socially acceptable.

So, I'm sure it comes as no surprise that now, two decades later, I'm a teacher, just like I always knew I wanted to be. I remember my life up to this point. I can trace my journey from that blue chalkboard to the LCD projector in my room quite clearly. It wasn't always a straight line, but the end goal never changed: I was going to teach.

And yet, somehow, most of the time the sheer awesomeness of this fact passes me by. How many people can say they are doing now what they wanted to do at the age of five? I go to work everyday and live this dream I've had since I was little, and yet most days, the dream aspect escapes me. It's too easy to get bogged down in the grind of 5am alarms, endless grading, squirrely students, and administrative meetings. No five year old dreams of IEP meetings and contract voting, but it's the reality of a teacher's career. And then, with all this swirling around, the hugeness of my goal fades. I simply work.

Yet, the other day, I sat in my desk in the magical calm before the storm of students. A much-needed-by-all winter break was to begin in three days and, at 6:45am, the first buses hadn't arrived at school yet, so my room was empty. I found myself just sitting, letting my eyes drift around my classroom. I looked at the photos of the Great Depression on the wall (as part of the To Kill a Mockingbird unit my freshmen will be starting soon), the author posters my honors students had made with their research presentations, the books, desks, pens, pencils, and poetry comics that filled every corner of my room. And suddenly it hit me--this was it. Twenty years ago I dreamed of this exact moment. And I was doing it. I have my own classroom, 180 students a day, and tenure. I wasn't playing anymore. I'm a teacher.

It seems obvious, and I'm not sure other people have these revelatory moments, but for me, it was important. I reminded myself that, as frustrated and tired as I can be at the end of a long day, there is absolutely nothing else I would rather be doing. I love my job. I love my students. I adore my colleagues. With all else wrong in the world, here was one thing that was pretty damn right.

Shortly after this small epiphany, my students started filing in and once again my attention turned to the practical things I had do to that day. Like teach. The moment passed, leaving behind a small warm spark of a reminder in my mind. Maybe it was enough.

This is the reality of being an adult--there are those moments when life just hits you and demands to be considered. Life demands to be examined and evaluated, not merely in terms of where we are going, but where we are, have been, and how we got there. When we are young, we constantly plan for the future. As a soon-to-be-28 year old, there is still a fair amount of planning in my life. But less than a decade ago.  Life announces to us, suddenly and without provocation: "You're living right now! Pay attention." That day in my classroom, I did.

I know, after four years of teaching, that I still have a long road to get to where I want to be. I'm an adequate teacher. Some days, I'm good. Other days . . . well, the best I can say is I don't think they leave my room dumber than they entered it. But no promises.

All I can hope for is that the 8 year old in front of the blue chalkboard would be proud of where I am and the journey that got me there.

And take some time to enjoy it once in a while.

03 December 2011

Christmas Spirit Just Vomited All Over my House

Despite the fact my house is aglow with with two different Christmas trees, smells like peppermint, and could land planes by the glow emanating from our balcony's festive lights right now, I'm having a little trouble finding the Christmas spirit this season.

Perhaps it's because we have no snow on the ground--a blessing for my commute, but depressingly unattractive. Perhaps it's the fact that, in a bad economy, an already tight budget is making gift buying exceedingly stressful. Or perhaps it's the fact that my students--in a fit of mid-winter doldrums--have mostly turned into asshats over the past few weeks. Whatever the reason, the generosity and joy of the Christmas season have escaped me; I find myself stuck in a Scrooge-y mindset that I just can't seem to shake.

This year, I find myself avoiding the Salvation Army bell ringers like they have the plague and cussing far more than is customary, even for me. But perhaps this is the reality of the holiday season as an adult; there is a reason that anxiety and depression tend to skyrocket during the holiday months. The stress of the season is trying in the best of times. And in a bad economy, it's downright overwhelming.

And this season, with no snow on the ground to soften the dreariness of frozen, dead grass and bare tree limbs, some of the magic seems to have gone out of everything. But I remain cautiously optimistic that, with a forecast of snow in the coming weeks, the holiday spirit will find me soon. Presents are beginning to pile up under the tree, and I suspect that when a few finally have my name on them, my mood will perk up considerably. A blanket of snow will make the season feel more real, and the anticipation of a solid week off does make me hopeful.

Because let's face it, there is nothing more magical than the holiday season. The whole idea of the season is beautiful. Hope in despair, generosity in lean times, love and light in the darkest of nights. And perhaps, with the lack of snow, a bad economy, and a few asshat students, I need that magic more than ever. A gentle reminder that, even in the darkest of times, there is beauty, love and hope. There is light and joy. There is magic.

And the presents don't hurt, either.