Whether we're ready or not, the new school year is set to begin.. Heck, some schools have already been in session a full week OR MORE! (Fun fact: Those schools are operated by a Mr. Lou Siffer.) Soon, we will be responsible for another group of precious, caring, fragile monster-children. We slaved over craft paper flowers. We "pinned" in our sleep. We braved Twitter so we could connect with our students' world. (Update: We subsequently left Twitter so we could still respect them.) We crammed every blank crevice of our classrooms with chevron. We did everything we could. And now, as the sun rises on the next school year, we're asking ourselves: Have I done enough?
To all my teachers, you have done enough.
I get it. Enough is never enough. There's always another activity to find, another education book to read, another email to send, and another to-do list to...well, do. And that is what might kill me. Truly.
I have a hate-hate relationship with to-do lists. First, I always lose them. I put them on sticky notes, in a notepad, and now on the Notes app in my phone. Basically, I'm just really big on anything related to notes. Yet, my to-do lists also never seem to go away. My theory is that these lists have what I call Kim Kardashian Disorder. You know how the more she does in her career, the more we question what she's actually done in her career? My lists operate the same way. The more I get done, the more I wonder why I never seem to catch up.
Every Monday of the school year, I start a to-do list on a sheet of paper. It's covered with quick reminders, deadlines, ongoing projects, and shopping lists. Inevitably, I won't finish everything on the list. So, on Monday, I make a new list starting with the items I didn't finish from the previous week. The cycle will continue, not until I finish it, but until I run out of time at the end of May.
All you non-teachers may say to yourself, "Well, sure, but then you kick back your heels for June, July, and most of August." I have a few things to say to you people. First, stop talking to yourself. It's weird. Second, we do way more than you realize over the summer. Those weeks aren't as blissful as you might think. In fact, I spent nearly 80 hours this summer alone sitting through professional development. (My state's minimum requirement is a mere 150 hours every five years.) I sponsored students during a week-long, out-of-state competition. I taught at two camps totaling three weeks. In addition, I presented at and attended two conferences. And want to know what's really crazy? Some people do even more than me.
None of this comes from a place of "pity me." Instead, I share it from more of a "don't freak out when I start crying because my stapler broke" place. We exist in a space that often tells us we aren't doing enough. Politicians slam educators for student test scores in a gilded attempt to win elections. Administrators ask us to take on just one more duty. State education committees continually require yet another overhaul of curriculum because the last fundamental approach to education was wrong...again. We forget to pack our lunch and have to eat leftover Goldfish...again.
When you feel like you can never do enough, you start wonder if you are enough. To all my teacher friends, you are enough.
You use a tape measure to make sure corny posters are perfectly lined up. You pray over every student's chair prior to the first day. You watch a marathon of inspirational teacher movies, telling yourself this year will be your Opus. You plan to attend your toughest student's basketball game because you think it might help get through to him. You even signed your contract and returned to the profession despite the fact that you taught last year. Despite all the bad, you keep coming back.
Sure, your to-do list may be as long as the line at the DMV, but you have already done enough. When you inevitably start to feel overwhelmed, take a deep breath. Think happy thoughts. Then, put the broken stapler down. Just go buy another one at Wal-Mart.