Few phrases have the ability to render depression in a teacher as the words “back to school”. In fact, four years after I went “back to school” for my twenty-fifth and final year of teaching, I still cringe when I hear the carefree, twinkling television commercial voices urging parents to drop what they’re doing, head into Target, Wal-Mart, and Kohl’s and get those kids ready to go back to school now! Because, Heaven forbid, if your child isn’t armed with the entire contents of Wal-Mart’s “back to school” section (which, curiously, now often includes tissues in boxes that look like school busses, hand sanitizer in gargantuan sizes, and Clorox wipes for those booger-y desk-tops), it’s a sure thing that his teacher will sneeringly look down her wart-riddled nose at you for not having heeded that all-important school supply list (which, incidentally, probably took seven or eight rather heated in-service meetings with the entire staff to compile).
In short, as a parent, you suck. You have every reason to be depressed.
But why are teachers depressed? And before I answer that question, let me apologize in advance to all of my teacher friends. I am sorry I feel compelled to reveal this ugly secret, but really, the public should know what you all (and what I did, at one time) go through while getting ready to go back to school, actually going back to school, and the weekend after you go back to school.
It’s simply the worst time of the year.
Here’s why: The getting-ready part–those few precious weeks before the FDOS–are, typically, fun. You get to reconnect with your colleagues after the few short
months weeks you’ve not seen each other since the LDOS and, if you have a nice tan or you’ve been somewhere fun, you have that going for you, or if you’ve decided to do something different with your hair then you get to bask in the oohs and awes of your fellow girl-type teachers who decided not to go blond-y blond over the summer months weeks (I did that once), so yeah, it can be fun. And invariably, someone’s pregnant, someone’s gotten engaged, or, more likely, someone’s getting a divorce, so there’s gossip a-plenty. And then there is the anticipation of a new start, a fresh set of students, eager babes who can’t wait to learn all that there is to learn in a year–because who wouldn’t be eager to learn at the end of the summer July?
Yeah, there’s that slice of hope, that nugget of “maybe this year it will be different” and the determination to make this year “the best school year ever”.
Then there’s the day–usually one or two days before the FDOS–when you’re contractually required to be at school at your contract time–7:00 AM-ish for elementary teachers, typically an hour later for middle school and high school teachers. There’s no room for error here–as in don’t be gettin’ used to the Starbucks drive-thru every morning–and you resign yourself to the fact that there’s no going back. School has started.
But wait–once your contract day begins, instead of those last minute touches to your classroom, you get to sit in meetings for the entire day! Even lunch–that sacrosanct
hour twenty minutes when teachers are free to bitch about all the things teachers need to bitch about in order to maintain their sanity–becomes someone else’s agenda because you’re forced to eat a poorly catered lunch provided by the PFO where you can’t sit with your besties and tell it like it is because Mrs. So-and So is standing behind the pulled pork and you’ve got her kid in your class this year. The last thing you need is for her to overhear you grousing about how *&^%$#@ annoying the morning meeting with the superintendent was or how you hope this Christmas the PFO gets a freakin’ clue and hands out Trader Joe’s gift cards instead of those boring-ass United Arts and Education cards (five bottles of Two-buck Chuck v. ten dollars-worth of bulletin board borders? Wine me, please).
Then there are more meetings to learn about more procedures that have changed just enough from
last year the end of May that you are forced to pay attention when all you really want to do is go home and take a nap (or watch Days of Our Lives). So you hurriedly spend the end of the contract day making sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row lesson-wise and giving your classroom another once-over to make sure it’s kid-friendly (hide the empty cans of Diet Coke you were meaning to put in the recycling, clean out a drawer so you can hide your purse inside of it, and wish you had some Clorox wipes already because there’s a definite dried streak of a booger-y snot-like substance on the aluminum frame of the bulletin board you just finished putting up, and you know it’s not yours). You want to get home at a reasonable time because, as your mother used to say, “You have a big day tomorrow.”
I do not know one teacher who has slept the night before the FDOS. Not one. Which means for teachers the FDOS is one long-ass day, and all you can think is, “Why didn’t I buy a coffee maker to put in my room? I could have hidden it inside my purse drawer!” The FDOS is surreal–you either have 30-35 names of kids to memorize, or you have 180-200 names of kids to memorize. Regardless, it’s a day when you are expected to be in charge, you’re expected to know what you’re doing, you aren’t used to going more than an hour and a half without a tinkle, and, well, you’re just plain miserable. And tired.
The weekend after the FDOS (or FWOS) is fraught with two emotions: The first, relief at being able to relax over a cup of coffee and The Pioneer Woman on Saturday morning; the second, an abysmal depression that hits you sometime Sunday afternoon because …
You have to go back to school tomorrow.
So why am I writing this when I am no longer teaching? Because, even though I have not had a weekday off work since December 12, 2011, the whole “back to school / work” malaise does not affect me. Teachers, most of whom work during the summer
months weeks–they work at another job, they take classes, they participate in professional development, or they take care of their own kids–are still not burdened by the need to always be “on” as they are when they are actually teaching. I wish I could take credit for this, but I read it on another teacher’s blog: Being a teacher is like being an actor on a stage who is also responsible for writing the script, directing the play, building the set and scenery, designing and sewing the costumes, and selling the tickets–but most importantly, marketing the entire enterprise to an apathetic public. The energy it takes to be a teacher is as gargantuan as that liter container of hand sanitizer you just bought, and then some.
Why do I still care? Because I love all of you and because, if you’ll let me, I can be your voice. You can’t say these things publicly (especially the swear words about the superintendent and the PFO) because the Teacher Police will find you and make your life miserable. You’re not free to vent any longer. The Teacher Police can find me and chastise me all they want. I don’t work for them. So there.
The good news is that around mid-September, the dust will have settled, you and your students are into a routine, the weather will have begun to get a little crisper, there’s football, and most of all, you’re over that “back to school” period. Normalcy replaces utter exhaustion, your bladder slowly begins to accommodate
an hour’s several hours’ worth of pee, and the promise of a nice bottle of Pinot Noir on a chilly Friday night makes the week go a little bit smoother.
Until the last week of school. But that’s another blog altogether.
Have a great school year, my friends! Few people can do what you do and live to tell about it!