I admit I’m avoiding things, trying not to think too much, hoping I’ll magically feel better and get my edge back, such as it was, by a blast of sunlit sky, or the sight of chickadees at the feeder, or the rhythm of my footfalls on gravel when I get out on the trail. Hormone rebalance, caffeine rebalance, and how about a good laugh–haven’t had enough of those lately. Sure, I could put on my gloves and clogs and plant a few winter cover crop seeds–gardening always cheers me up. But I just got my hair dry from the shower, and am finally warm. And there’s so much to do. Presents to figure out, would be good to put together a newsletter, and there are paperwork deadlines looming.
Oldest son home from college for three weeks–that’s a real treat. We’ve missed his calm and balanced presence, haven’t been able to connect in the best way by phone–he comes across as taciturn there, though email is a little better, as he likes to pay with words, especially when he can take his time. During his break he’s been balancing time with friends with seeking out family members for a game, a chat, his attention so appreciated by each of us. I putter about, glad and a little relieved to see those relationships intact and nurtured. No complaints from him about having to sleep in a different bed in a room full of girl stuff. But the political fallout of said girl being asked to stay in her sister’s room for the duration has been heavy. Added to other resentments and inner turmoil she’s feeling, has been feeling for months, and there’s a sense of dread each morning as I hear her stir and emerge to seek her breakfast. Everyone feels her discontent, her disapproval, and at least twice a day, her wrath. What will set her off this time? I know she’s got her own struggles–the self image thing is in her face every day, an she’s using diet tea, trying to cover a little timely acne, feel like a successful, on-point teen with all the appropriate aspects of her online identity, balanced with that ever elusive sense of truth and honesty and courage. She has her good moments, thank heaven, when she comes around, apologizes, explains why she’s been feeling stressed. Still, I’m pretty frayed around the edges by my teaching job, and haven’t the margin of emotional stability or as thick a skin to face up fully to that side of parenting. Finding myself pulling into the driveway after errands wishing I had a plan B, somewhere else I could go to have a little quiet, a place to recover from the fatigue of shopping and the last altercation at home.
The maple tree I bought for my birthday last summer reaches its startlingly red, bare branches up to the gray sky, clouds have thickened again and there should be more rain. The soggy ground still pushing up green blades, some leaves hanging onto the rose and blackberry canes. The husky dog is reading the air currents with her long nose, waiting for the master to show and play, or offer a treat. By my feet the cat sleeps, emitting a rhythmic cooing sound that passes for a snore. I hear myself heave a another sigh. Is it extra oxygen I need–did I forget to breathe, a kind of waking apnea?
At the teacher training on trauma-informed education, we watched the film “Paper Tigers.” About a school like ours, alternative, in Walla Walla, WA. Each troubled student, each one on drugs, the extremely introverted and anxious, the abused and fostered and parenting teens, the ones who flew off the handle at the slightest confrontation, reminded someone of students they’d had at our school. It was about a turnaround from an out-of-control campus to one where students actually learned and felt safe and accepted, as the staff sought training in how trauma had affected these kids and how to really help them. Then they turned around and trained the kids themselves in the science of it and in practical psychology (a term I just read in Huxley’s Island which seems to fit here), as well as curriculum content that could get them into college. Messy, grueling, draining, rewarding, but also heartbreaking. In the discussion afterward, every time one of our staff touched on the need to process the trauma we experience vicariously, everyone nodded. Afterward I went to my empty classroom thinking I could get a bit of work done, but just sat there more tired than I’d been yet after a regular teaching day. Felt the heaviness of it all, and of those feelings of inadequacy.
This is on top of a growing sense that the feeling of support I get from my principal, counselor, and others, is all part of their real attempt to help me survive this, find my footing, and start doing a better job than I’ve been able to so far. Looking back, and digesting feedback from the kids and others, I see I really am not teaching the material well at all. I’m flying by the seat of my pants, trying to pull together labs that are new to me, find ways to address all those different students’ needs without a real understanding of how to do this. Yeah, I go in there with a plan, do my power stance, and act like I have it all together, but it’s mostly an act. I had a few good days, a few good moments, and I have the beginnings of a style that can be molded into something workable. In some ways I’m starting where I left off after my very first and only year of teaching full-time, despite the other life experience I’m had since then.
The temptation is to spend my whole break planning, but I know that will just exhaust me. I’ll go in and work a few days before the new school week starts is all. Make some modest plans for labs that are doable, get some comprehensive review and practice integrated into each unit. Reminding myself that these kids have had very little science at all, and need to know even how to think about this stuff, be helped to catch a bit of the sense of wonder that’s possible. Along with acceptance, care, and support as they deal with all the stuff thats’ more important to them right now than doing the day’s work.