School Daze: Recovering the Teacher Within

There are the regular school days:  the days of the year when we're actually in school and then, the moment the last bell rings begins what I call School Daze.

The last day is tough for a teacher for so many reasons just one of which is exhaustion, but the School Daze period is a tough one too.  For me, my School Daze lasts for 4-6 weeks after school gets out.  I feel exhausted – the tired you feel after you've been out very late at a very long wedding celebration and this feeling is EVERY day.  In some ways you feel like you cannot process or think.  You're just internally in some sort of limbo.

But really, the biggest feeling I have inside is literally one of healing.  If you can remember what it was like when you were younger and you had a breakup with that boyfriend or girlfriend – even if it was mutual – there was this sort of emptiness that you couldn't quite figure out what you're supposed to be doing because someone is not there.  That someone for me is this school year.  Breaking it off with the school year and mentally preparing for the next one is really what School Daze are about. It is hard and if you're a teacher, you'll probably admit that it is very very real.

It is just like, I have this feeling inside, “I'm not ready to do this again.”  “I'm not ready to move on yet.”  I have these orders I need to process at the school and a few things to do in PowerSchool but mentally, I just don't know how to go make myself do them because I'm just not emotionally ready yet.

Those who think teachers have it easy and can just enjoy their long summers are also those who think that the six weeks new mothers have after giving birth is a vacation.  Most of the summer for me is spent in pure, unadulterated recovery and healing.

After about 4-6 weeks, usually when I'm sitting on a tube going down a mountain rivulet in the mountains or at some strange place where the pace is slow and I can just inhale nature, I feel a tiny door click in my heart — and I say to myself — “OK, I'm ready now.”  I guess it is sort of my old year closing and me opening my heart and mind to the new year.

So, these are the ways I handle my School Daze:

1 – Disconnect without Apology

The toughest thing for me is that I push myself so hard in the summer — tons of books to read, family movies to make, my books to write, lots of Flat Classroom organization to do.  I have to intentionally say to everyone and everything — “Goodbye, I'm going out of town now and I won't see you for a while.” 

It is tough to let Cool Cat stay dormant for a week – or twitter to barely tweep, but disconnecting is essential.  Why do people feel like they have to apologize when they don't twitter or blog for a while — I DO THIS TOO!  I mean really, the world will go on without us, but if we don't let ourselves rest, how will we go on?

2- Read Some Fun Books

For me, I so intently digest heavy books so often in the school year, that sometimes picking up a good old David Baldacci thriller is what I need to be able to just disconnect and live.  When I finish one of those books, I feel so alive and ready to live.

The kids and I all sign up for the summer reading club at the library and at least once a week we go to the library and I just look around.  I like to go through the nonfiction sections of the library and just look at the titles to see if any grab my eye and get them!  

3- Learn Something New

I like to pick a few new things that I want to learn about — just me.  It might be frivolous – it might be silly.  Usually I have two things related to my biggest struggles or curiosities of the past year — this year — finances/ debt (still paying off that debt from losing the pecan grove in the flood of 1994), how to make an iphone app, jokes and anecdotes (love to tell stories), how to show my family I love them, creating a nonprofit, and I could go on, learning how to use my QuickVerse software so I can study the Hebrew and Greek in the Bible — this is my personal education time.  Time that I determine but time I will learn.

4 – Accomplish some things personal

It is important to be able to look back on the summer and have some things that I've done – we've done as a family.  For us, on the day after we get out of school, we make what we call “goal posters.”  I wish I could take credit for it, but my sister, Susan started it and I copied her.  We all put on these posters some of the things we most want to do and look forward to this summer — we relish going and checking off the items and I take a photo of them at the end of each summer so we can remember.

You might laugh at some of mine, but here goes — (and Oh yes, when I say I want to make “good coffee” – I mean like fancy lattes.)

This solves the problem of sitting at the end of the summer and wondering, “Now, what did we do?”  It also helps keep focused on the plan at hand.  This is in the office where I see it every day.  Also, it helps me see the things my children really want to do — that my youngest wants to see “Up” and my daughter wants to read “Twilight.”  My husband sees I really want to get a pedicure, etc.  This is our third summer doing goal posters and I'll say it has added a lot to our summers!

When teaching during the year, most teachers do little for themselves – it is time to do some “you” things but in a positive way.

5 – Get Ahead/ Work on Habits

I could clean my house and have it perfect all day, however, this next year will probably be the toughest of my entire parenting career.  I will have one in elementary, one in middle school, and one in high school.  Literally 4-5 nights a week we will be gone with activities – that is just with each child having one activity per season!  So, Kip and I have taken a hard look at the things that will improve our year and this summer, when I work with the kids I'm working on instilling habits that will help this house run better.  This includes:

  • All children will know how to cook at least 2 – 3 menus/ meals on their own, without help – this includes my 2nd grader.
  • We're working on a system of laundry where everyone has a part and we have a SYSTEM.  Still working on it, but getting closer.
  • I'm working on planning meals ahead for the year — yes, for the year.  
  • Getting my high schooler with a calendar he can handle – this means after I do the workshop in Boston the end of this month, my son will have an itouch and I'll set it up with the family google calendar — we will train on this BEFORE school starts to make sure he can keep up with things.
  • Getting rooms ORGANIZED for flow — this is particularly the kids rooms.
  • I'm getting rid of clothes I don't like and don't wear.  They take up my closet and make me feel bad about myself!
  • If it is clutter, I love to follow Fly Lady Principles (she's amazing) and toss it or take it to Goodwill if it is in good condition!! (See her book Sink Reflections)
  • Use my H&R Block Taxcut software to do a mid year tax check to make sure we're on track not to pay too much in February.

Working ahead also means that at the end of school, I sat down with the Learning Lab advisor and my children's test scores and we picked what the kids need to improve upon and look at what they are good at.  When my children got old enough (7th grade) and I was happy with their test scores (have been for some time now)- each of them privately sat down with me and we talked about what they needed to work on for the summer.  They picked 1-2 areas that they could see they are weaker and 1 area where they are totally rocking the house — we work on BOTH. If you look at books like one of my favorites from Angela Fox, H&R Block Taxcut, you'll see that as a parent you shouldn't just try to remediate but should help your child excel where they are very good.

My children all LOVE math and are very good at it – this summer my daughter is getting ahead on Algebra I using a great Keys to Algebra that I actually used at their age, and my son, Keys to Geometry.  These books are great fundamentals and they will get ahead and be well grounded.

This is particularly important if you have children who have learning differences because they need to feel ahead and good at something.  It is tempting to let LD kids just relax in the summer and that is part of it – -but 30 minutes – 1 hour a day can make a HUGE difference for them (and for you in the fall!)

6 – Mess Around

Just drive around.  Go places.  Do “stuff.”  Act like a teenager does and just see what happens.  We did this last night and had a great time!  Sometimes the list has to go out the door!

7 – Live!

So, we're at my brother in law's family lake house last weekend and I just love riding the innertubes behind the boat.  Well, I don't have a picture of it, but at one point my oldest son, daughter, and I rigged this innertube so all three of us could ride and when Kip turned the boat, we would lean so it would slingshot us around the FASTEST I've ever moved behind a boat!

At one point it was so fast, the G's were pulling on us – we all had our eyes closed and I said:

“Whatever (grit teeth) you (grit teeth) kids (grit teeth) DON'T (grit teeth) LET (grit teeth) GO!”

Kip was trying to knock us off and we meant we wouldn't let them.  At one point, my son says,

“Mom, why are you doing this?  We should just survive!”

I said,

“I don't want to survive!  I WANT TO LIVE!”

Something in me clicked and that became a phrase that expresses who I am to the core.  You see, I turned 40 this year and have been dealing with feeling overweight (my metabolism came to a screeching halt at 38) and overwhelmed — there have been health issues in my family, and so many tough things — and yet, here I am, I'm 40, I'm alive and I'm going to enjoy every minute of it.  (And yes, that is a picture of me at the top of this blog post riding on the tube not holding on!)

So, when we were at Fort Wilderness at Disney and they opened the cool slide into the pool – here are all the kids lined up for the slide — AND ME.  I went at least 10 times.  Every roller coaster — I'm on it.  It is not a vain attempt at childhood but a very real attempt as defining my own adulthood.

You know I could sit on the sidelines and wish I was some sort of hotbody who had 2 hours a day to work out and I'm not quitting on this body yet – but I'm going to enjoy life — I am going to live and the only two people who can take that away from me are God or myself.  

The funny thing is that before we went to the lake my shoulder was killing me and my knee was also hurt from slipping on a hot dog in the lunch room.  I debated not even getting on the back of the boat. I had excuses.  But it was like, you know what I'm here I gotta do this!  My shoulder doesn't hurt nor does my knee! What is up with that?

To me, it is an attitude of life.  So many people diminish those who are overweight as if we are some sort of bad person.  I am working on that treadmill and working out every day.  I watch what I eat and you know what, right now I'm fat anyway – at least fatter than I want to be.  But I have a life to live and people to love, and by golly here I am and I'm going to do it.  I will do my best to look my very best and that is enough.

I refuse to believe the magazine definition of happiness, joy, success, or anything else, because all magazines want to do is sell magazines — not improve my life!

In Conclusion
You know in a few weeks I'll wake up and realize that little door to next year has opened in my heart.  I wish I was already healed up and ready, but I'm not.  My kids have to do this too — heal up in a sense from the intense, heavy hitting academic school they go to and where I teach.  This isn't something we can rush, only that we can nurture.

I hope that all of you teachers find comfort in the fact that other teachers go through this.  We all have this School Daze which sometimes means we can do nothing but sit on the couch and stare blindly at the ceiling.  We don't really tweet, we don't really blog, we just somehow try to heal up on the inside and get ready to do this again.

Teaching is the most extreme sport ever invented and is full of adrenaline junkies – and when that last bell rings – we are just straight completely out of adrenaline – nothing left.

So, give us time and we'll come back.  We'll return to the land of the living, breathing, teacher – but right now we need some time to heal, get healthy, and get our minds back and we most importantly need some time to LIVE!

No apologies teachers and educators — LIVE!  Breathe it in – breathe it out and recover.

And thank you for reading and tuning into this blog – even when I take a hiatus.  Hope to see a lot of you at Boston University and NECC the end of the month.

Remember that teaching is the most noble calling on the planet!

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Mark Ahlness June 7, 2009 - 2:51 am

Vicki, whenever I try to tell people about the difficult and unimagined challenges of teaching, I always stop, because I sound like a whiney “you have no idea” complainer – and I hate that. From now on, I’ll just send them your way :) Thanks – Mark

Mariann Pritt June 9, 2009 - 3:05 pm

I was interested in the idea of accomplishing some things personal for the summer. I even thought it would be an excellent idea for my students to do this the last week of school in anticipation of the summer. A list or poster of ideas would focus all of us during our vacation. I am going to do this myself.

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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere