I work with an incredible woman. She teaches the gifted-and-talented English 11 classes (four of them). She also teaches an AP Lit class (at least 30 students). Therefore, on a weekly basis, she takes up at least 130 sets of essays, quizzes, tests, homework papers, and other bits and pieces of academic artifacts. And because of the caliber of students she’s teaching, it’s not like “Oh, look! You were thinking a little. Let’s give you full credit!” No, with these kids, she really has to read everything and think about what they are showing to ensure that the grades that are earned are truly earned.
Yesterday, we had planning together with a fellow teacher (gentleman, pun intended) and we talked about the exhaustion from the week. We talked about how thankful we were Friday had arrived and how we were planning on doing a lot of sleeping over the weekend because we were so exhausted. Each of us had stacks of papers in front of us. Each of us had our computers opened and were alternating between reading the students’ work and entering grades while responding to emails and completing a host of other paperwork style activities. Because that is the nature of our jobs (and, no, I am not complaining).
Next week, I will be preparing for Homecoming which is the week after. Since I am one of three senior class sponsors, we have to be present when the students are working on various projects after school. Therefore, next week, we will be preparing to decorate the senior locker area which means lots of hours after school with getting art supplies, getting paper, making up a basic sketch of how the students want the hall to look only to have those plans radically changed at the last minute because someone else thought of something better but we don’t really have the time for those changes to be implemented but we are going to do it anyhow because those changes are so cool! And that’s okay. Because on Friday, at six in the evening, the cut off time will arrive and I will lurch out to my car looking like a zombie (likely covered in glitter because glitter wins competitions) and go home and fall asleep on my recliner only to transfer to my bed where I will sleep some more.
And that’s okay.
Because it’s the nature of the job.
I never realized how difficult the first couple of weeks were until I spoke to a chemistry teacher. He talked about how we would go through teacher-work-week, a five day block of time that is characterized by the frenetic activity of attending two rounds of faculty meetings (and we’re lucky. Our principal only calls meetings when it’s absolutely essential to have a meeting. I’ve had principals who called meetings every single day of teacher-work-week), attending a full day of curriculum staff development, moving all the books from storage closets to our classrooms, setting up our classrooms which includes a whole other list of activities (moving desks, putting up bulletin boards, finding all the supplies that are needed, pulling out the books that are still in boxes in various places around the classroom), and photocopying. Lots of photocopying.
Which is when all the photocopiers in the building break.
As I was chatting with my chemistry colleague, I realized that we go from summer vacation to full work with a minor level of transition. Yes, we have teacher work week, but even that still feels a bit like summer vacation because we still don’t have to be at work until 8:00 in the morning as opposed to the normal 7:10. In addition, during the week, we don’t have students or papers to grade and parents to email. It’s a nice calm despite the hyper activity of movement.
Because once school starts, it’s a full start and we are going the highest speed we can because the students are exhausted which means that we have to supplement their lack of energy with our energy which makes us start dragging by Wednesday.
And with the return of students usually means the returns of after school activities. But this is where my English 11 colleague truly is amazing. Because she has been coaching field hockey since early August and has already had several games. And now that school is back in session, she spends her days teaching and her afternoons coaching.
And not just coaching field hockey.
No, let’s tag in National Honor Society which is not an easy burden to bear. I only have to help with doing the itty-bitty paper work of answer the questions of “Did you teach this student?” “When did you teach this student?” “How is the student’s character/work ethic/sense of honor/leadership qualities?” Or something like that. And that’s it. Boom. Done. She gets to tally those scores and write up lovely acceptance letters and deal with the sad students who were declined. And after induction, she starts helping with community service hours and keeping a tally of the hours completed while getting ready for the spring induction.
But wait…there’s more.
She also coaches the academic team, a group of students who are brilliant and compete against local high schools and, depending on how well they do, can lead to regional/district competitions or even state/national competitions. I think. Because I don’t know. Because I really never paid attention because I was too busy with my own worlds.
But wait…there’s more.
Because since she teaches in the gifted-and-talented specialty center, she also has to help with all the testing and the adjudication and the acceptance stuff that happens. Which don’t just happen in a short period of time. School has been in session for two weeks. And we have already started the process of setting up the critical-thinking-writing test (January). And signing up for professional leave (February). And preparing for the interest meetings (October) that will happen at other schools.
And I think I’m weary?
Teaching is a world of joy. We are paid to talk about what we love most. We are paid to work with students who, sometimes…depending, want to be in our classes and do the things we ask of them. We work with other people who share our sense of communal/civil service and who are dedicated to doing the best good that we can possibly do.
But it’s so exhausting. My English 11 colleague talked about last weekend and how she was so tired that she spent Saturday wrapped up in a blanket and watching Little House on the Prairie. And we laughed when she talked about how she was “going comatose with Laura Ingalls Wilder.” And I told her that it was the perfect title for a blog post and we laughed some more.
But I keep on thinking about her exhaustion and her dedication.
This woman is amazing and she’s exhausted. And I think what I’m really trying to talk about without really having the words because my brain keeps on going stupid on me is that I wish there was a way I could ease her burdens (not the right words because she doesn’t see them as burdens…but I need something to show how committed she is to the students). I might have won teacher of the year last year, but Excellence is sitting at the desk in front of mine.
And I’m glad she’s my friend.