Monday, August 19, 2013

August that month of hazy days and school-dazed nights

August Nights
Last night a frustration/stress dream about school-from a teacher’s and parent’s point of view- woke me at 4:27AM.  “So?” my sleep-deprived brain whined as it climbed into consciousness,” After all, a new school year does begin in a few weeks.” 

“That is true for some people,”   I sighed as I glanced at the clock, rolled over and punched my too warm pillow, “but not for me.  After all, my children have long been adults and I. Am. Retired!”
Yes, I turned in my keys and walked out of room 216 for the last time two years and 53 days ago- but who’s counting?  I am. 

Maybe that’s why the surreal August school daze dreams where my slo-mo shuffling feet can never reach my classroom before the images switch in midstream to a migraine moment with a colleague nemesis, and then jump into a scene where I’m back in high school but as my daughter, and I have a final exam in Algebra 4 but I can’t find the right room and will fail the class if I don’t, until finally I crawl to the edge reality, fighting the forces of this run-on sleep invasion...
…and punch my innocently sleeping husband in the face. He grunts and rolls over; after over four decades he’s used to the fist flings that often accompany my See You in September sleep assaults. Wide awake, I crawl out of from under the white down comforter that now offers me no peace.

Maybe these dreams are more prevalent again because my granddaughters called me the other day to share their excitement and trepidation about their first and fourth grade teachers for this year.
Even though I’m two years out of the classroom, the August Anticipation vs. Anxiety conflict still hits me hard.

School Supplies
Will I ever quit feeling nostalgic when I see the shelves in Target and Office Depot piled high with notebooks, folders, and Sharpies of every hue?
Will I ever quit counting down the hours of freedom until the bells, bells, bells begin to chime yet again?

Will I ever again sleep peacefully in this eighth month of the year?
Probably not until I relegate everything educational to the closets of my mind and heart. And that decision is not even a blip on my horizon.

Until that does happen, I will hold onto the anticipation because it fuels my curriculum creations. I will quell my night-time anxieties, though, by suggesting ways teachers, parents of school-age children, and those who wear both hats can stymie their own undesirable, sleep-depriving  August school daze dreams. Here are a few mental meanderings that rolled into my head as I took Tommy the Newfoundland on a pre-dawn stroll around the neighborhood this morning.
1.      As you fill your carts with pens, pencils,  paper (lined, unlined, construction etc.) and push pins, remember to toss in some presents for yourself: Kleenex, paper towels, spray cleanser and hand sanitizer. You will be glad you did about a week into the year when two-thirds of your students are suffering from the Back to School Germfest caused by too many breathing bodies in an enclosed space and the back of your nose teases you with its pre-cold tickle.

2.       Create detailed plans for the first month- yes, the first month before the Starting Bell.  Why?

Because PLC, department and faculty meetings will consume a good deal of your contract hours.

Because Back to School night information and edicts will start filling your email and snail mail boxes before Labor Day (some BTS nights start as early as the second week of school in Fairfax County). These will sap your planning energy with thoughts of how to prepare a welcoming and engaging presentation.

Because your students will demand your full time and attention, which is what teaching is all about in the first place, as they adjust to the new term, and because administrators will want to see how you plan to ensure each one’s proficiency.

3.     Ladies- no matter how incredibly chic those new gray Zigi Soho Tasmin Peep Toe Pumps are, or how sophisticated they look with your new dove-gray pencil skirt and purple silk blouse- DO NOT WEAR THEM! Your feet will hate you until December.

4.     Gentlemen-do not don your Cool Story Bro tee-shirts until your students and colleagues get your droll sense of humor.

5.     Be firm but fair. If you want your charges to join you on the Learning Path, it is more important for them to view you as challenging than easy. The former means that you are poking at their minds and teasing their brains to actively respond-verbally or in writing. The latter might be construed as “I don’t care” when you want it to be interpreted as academically open-ended. Remember no conflict exists with happily ever after. That’s why Julian Fellows had Matthew die at the end of Season 3 in Downton Abbey. Challenge leads to conflict of the positive or negative variety which leads to thinking and doing which ends in learning.
1.     Buy each of your school-aged children an alarm clock-the louder the better. Teach them to be responsible for waking up and making it to the family vehicle, the bus or the sidewalk in time to roll into class before the late bell. Yes, the little ones still need your guidance and help, but by 6th grade, all kids should be responsible for getting to the school on time. Not you.  

Here are a few suggestions to rouse those, “Ten more minutes” drifters from their slumber: Personally, I like Clocky. I just wish this Alarm Wonder had been available when my kids were still in high school. Due to their morning grouchiness, they wouldn’t have appreciated how Clocky rolled around and hid from them when they tried to turn him off, but I would have giggled…a lot.

2.     After you toss that clock in your shopping cart-virtual or real- grab a laundry basket for each child that you deem old enough to run the washer and dryer without causing floods, fires or wardrobes full of doll-size clothes-all in Precious Pink.

My last day of teaching the June before my son entered eighth grade and my daughter began eleventh grade, I stopped at Target and bought them each one. The whole drive home I berated myself for not thinking of this years earlier. No longer would my teeth clinch painfully about 9:00pm, when I heard pleas of, “Mom, can you wash this shirt for me?” along with false promises to “… do the dishes the rest of the year”.

Instead, I gave them the summer to learn which clothes needed cold, warm or hot water and why they should never, ever put sweaters or any products made from wool in the dryer. They also learned to make sure that their baskets were out of the laundry room on my laundry day. Parents, this is the gift that keeps on giving. Note: you can add in an ironing lesson or two if needed, too.  

3.     Set schedules for completing homework- and stick to them! No one welcomes the eye-rolling, door slamming sighing flare-ups and possible verbal battles that often occur when young people are redirected from playtime to homework time. These limits are vital for everyone’s sanity and stress levels.

4.     As far as academics go, know when to push and know when to sit back and let what happens happen.  If Zelda chooses to text Bertha for hours instead of reading 25 pages of The Odyssey even though you have explained the cause/effect relationship so often the dog could reiterate it, or if Bubba forgets to finish his government project even though you had the due date stuck to the fridge in size 72 font, with that Class of _ graduation date magnet, remember: they made conscious choices and earned  their grades.

No matter how much you hate and fear to see them fail, they will learn more from those Fs than they ever will from constant reminders.  Lobbing that Responsibility Ball into their bedrooms instead of into yours is the right choice. They need to care about their futures and their place in this competitive world as much as…no…more than you do.

5.     Above all, Listen- to what they say as well as what they don’t say. Their body language, their clothes and the way they walk and talk shout their emotions as clearly as a referee does fouls in a football game.

They want your attention as well as your advice. 

They need you to see them for who they are not who you want them to be. 

They will never tell you this, though.

They will never, ever admit that on some deeply hidden level, they still see you as those Perfect Genius Parents you were when they were five-years-old, although they respond to you as if you were dumber than the rock wall that surrounds the rhododendrons in your front yard.

For me, maybe these August Anxieties will fade away like old soldiers when all things educational fall from the pedestal where I placed them when I was seven-years-old and playing school with my dolls and stuffed animals, and learn how to be retired.
Maybe someday I will enjoy sweet dreams every summer night through Labor Day. Probably that won’t happen until I learn to act like I’m retired and quit tethering myself to my computer during school hours.

But do you know what? Even as the insomnia and teeth-gnashing school daze dreams flicker across my closed eyelids, I realize that I’m just not ready yet to see them go. And that’s okay.
For all of you who yearn for an end to school-dazed nights  during the hazy days of August, I hope this blog offers you sweet dreams.

Until next week,

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