Last week you mentioned something about the "oomph" missing from back-to-school this year. Have you ever felt truly burned out? If so, how did you handle it? If not, how do you keep from getting to that point? Asking for a friend.
It’s the middle of May. I have 18 days of classes left, and then two weeks of finals, and then the summer. All my windows are open. I just had the first grill of the year – a juicy, perfect turkey burger – and I’m enjoying a cold beer while the Yankees win their 7th series in a row. The dog is napping. All is well.
I’ve had this message in my inbox for nearly the entire school year, Anon, because I wanted to wait until I was in a good head space to reply. Yes, it took that long to get there. I’m sorry, mostly for me.
Once you’ve been in this game for a while, you’ll notice that some years are markedly better (and worse) than others, sometimes for no discernible reason. Not a bad week or month, but a whole goddamn year where you’re showing up, going through the motions, phoning it in, and trying to keep your head above water.
If you’re good and you love your job, it’ll shake off. Best case scenario, the kids learn just fine and you might get one or two new ideas, but nothing will stick out to you as particularly memorable or earth-shattering. If you don’t like teaching or kids or your district or your state, you’re gonna have to make a change.
I am very lucky. I teach with my best friends. I have a professional, hardworking, innovative department. In general, I feel supported by my school. In general, I teach a population that is compliant and polite, if not all-out intellectual. I earn a good salary and have strong union protection. Jesus – I went to fucking Belize for free this year! There is no good reason for me to have had such a lackluster year, except for the cumulative effect of 15 years of teaching in public schools. It adds up. It’s gonna weigh you down. That’s just the truth.
How do I get through? I rely on the lessons and assignments from past me. Going through the motions isn’t bad for the kids when you put the work in the years before. I look forward to the small moments that make me happy: the play, the musical, Homecoming, Shakespeare Day, the talent show. I go home and walk the dog and read good books and watch comfort TV and make playlists. I’m kind and patient with myself, and I listen carefully when I wonder how I’m doing. Is this a forever problem? Is this just for now? I remind myself to to be kind and patient with the kids. And then I start to like them again.
I’m sorry if you’re still wondering and worrying, Anon. Soon enough, summer will be here, and I have a feeling it’s going to be a good one. I hope it’ll help us restart and reset. That’s one of the great things about this job: the breath of relief at the end of a semester, a little inward smirk, a promise that, no matter what, next year will be better.