The school dreams started weeks ago. They always do, around mid-July. When they first come back, I usually wake with a start, but then, groggily, remember it’s only July. July is much too early, and I’m usually able to keep them from returning for a little while.
Now, in early August, the dreams are back, but this time they are accompanied by conscious daytime thoughts and musings. How should I arrange the desks? Do I like where I left the bookshelf? Should I use the same programs as last year or different ones, or just add a new component? Is it time for a couch?
Yes, it is back-to-school time for teachers. To those with regular 50-week-per-year jobs, having the opportunity to be so far away from work that dreams about it come as a surprise probably sounds like quite the pampered luxury. In general, teachers seem to take some flack for our cushy-sounding schedules, but, truly, they are well deserved.
After several years working in a few different school districts, I finally came up with a single adjective that sums up the teaching experience: intense. Being “on-stage” for 5+ hours per day is intense. Preparing for those hours is intense. Undergoing evaluations, meeting with parents, learning new procedures and protocols – then un-learning them and re-learning their replacement – are all intense.
The most important responsibility of teachers is being in charge of the educational experience of a group of children. That is truly intense.
School today is so much more than academics. Teachers daily consider the social and emotional needs of their students, provide guidance and discipline, mediate conflicts, encourage the discouraged, and fret over confounding circumstances out of our control.
To do this month after month with just a scattering of three day weekends and an occasional week off would be more than anyone could tolerate. The teacher attrition rate is already high, but without a good, solid break to rest, reset and reconnect to why you’re doing this in the first place, it would be impossible to keep anyone in the field.
I accepted my first teaching job in the Washoe County School District in Reno, Nevada, in 2007. This year marks my tenth as a special education teacher, my fifth in the Anchorage School District. By most accounts, I have already beaten the odds. Most new teachers seek other ambitions within three to five years.
Admittedly, when I first decided to embark on this educational endeavor, I visualized myself being surrounded by a ring of smiling faces, joyfully leading a group of eager young minds towards brilliance, innovation, compassion, and self-reliance. The day-to-day reality of teaching is almost a humorous contrast to that image. However, the dream is still alive, that’s why, ten years later, I keep coming back.
I keep returning because of the glimmers. The glimmer of “Oh, now I get it!” The glimmer of a once non-reader finishing a book. The glimmer of a former non-writer composing a legible sentence. The glimmer of an annoyed outburst being replaced with a deep breath.
July is too early, but August is just right. August is when the nighttime dreams are supplanted by daytime dreams. Dreams of successes, growth and relationship building. Back-to-school season is the time dreams for the coming year are built. Even though they may not all be realized – and some may completely crash and burn – there will always be a few glimmers. That makes it worth coming back.
Sara Kennedy is a special education teacher in the Anchorage School District. She likes to swim, bike and run around Alaska, and camp and fish with her family. To reach Sara, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.