after november

Photo by Myriam Zilles on Unsplash

It is now the middle of December and the glow of NaNoWriMo is dimming a bit. I completed my challenge and wrote 54,297 words in the month of November, the equivalent of a book. Although Oldest Daughter completed the challenge too, and announced that her book was only two thirds of the way done. Frankly, I couldn’t really say if mine is done or not. I also couldn’t say if any part of those 54, 297 words are any good, or if they are all crap. Junk. Garbage. Ka-ka. I can’t say because I have not read any of them since I wrote them. I am not exactly afraid, but I am apprehensive. There is a lot riding on this, it was a complete month of my writing life.

But, I have not written since November 30th. Not a word. Like, not even my Christmas cards. I have not been exactly stuck, but I am wondering about my target audience. I think it is time to go back to writing for teachers again, because the need for humor in the classroom has not lessened in this school year. In fact, it could be argued that the need has gotten greater since the beginning of the year. We are weary, we are discouraged, we are questioning our life choices. Definitely time to laugh.

I learned this past summer that ideally, you are supposed to have a target audience for your writing, for your words. I worked for weeks to come up with an XYZ statement that identified that audience for me and came to rest on teachers, with the goal of helping them prevent and heal burnout. I wrote about that until November, but kept all of my other writing that pushed me to create the book, a memoir about growing up immersed in diet culture in the 1970’s and 80’s. Now I am back to needing to create laughs for my colleagues and all of the other teachers who might stumble across this blog. The fact that I have to think for a while to remember anything funny is alarming. I know I have laughed this fall. I know I have.

I have been hearing a lot about how the discouragement and exhaustion is not just in my neck of the woods, it is everywhere. Everywhere teachers are telling the same stories, carrying the same burdens and walking the same weary road. There is no pocket of America, or perhaps the world, that is not reeling from the ravages of Covid-19 and the procedures that go with it. The large and the small things, the relentless pace of more and more work with less and less resources and the shortage of substitutes in every area, making it nearly impossible to take a day off to care for ourselves or our families. It is everywhere. On Facebook. On Instagram. On TikTok. (Yeah, I’m a hip old lady, I know how to use the TikTok.) Everyone is singing the same old version of the blues. And there seems to be no end in sight. That is part of what makes it hard. We cannot see the tunnel itself, much less the light that we are supposed to be  able to see at the end of it.

Many folks, way more eloquent than me, have written about the impact of the pandemic. From where I sit, I don’t have much to add. It has added hours to my workload in the form of extra paperwork and administrative stuff that I am not very good at. I am watching the impact it has on my students, who are grieving so much and don’t even know it yet. They make do, because they have to, we all have to. There are no choices in the matter. But I can see it in the slump of their shoulders, the weariness in their eyes, their slipping, grubby masks and the joy that pops

up when they eat lunch, because they can finally see each other’s faces. I know it is hard on them, and to ask them to work hard, to learn, sometimes seems like I am asking too much. But I can’t relent, I can’t abandon the task at hand. Not because of some regression or learning loss nonsense, but because of trying to keep this train on the track. A little bit of business as usual goes a long way towards maintaining a sense of normalcy, whatever that is. It propels us out of bed each day, onto the bus or into the car, through the doors of the building and onward into our day, teachers and students. We do it because it is part of us, it is what we do. We show up.

So on this day, the one where we pick up wrapping paper off the floor, pry hyper children off the ceiling and sweep up the crumbs from all of the holiday treats, I want to be perfectly clear. It is time for a rest. I do not mean self care. I don’t mean bubble baths. I don’t mean massages, although both of those would be a fine addition to any vacation. What I mean is a complete unplugging from all that we carry, in a way we may not have allowed ourselves to consider. I mean, leaving all the planning books and calendars at school instead of taking them home. I mean not checking work email until maybe the Saturday before the Monday we return to work. I mean not being so worried about the first week back that we don’t appreciate the first week off. I mean, come on. Every behavior problem, academic muddle, administrative nightmare and pile of paperwork will, inevitably, still be there when January rolls around. I can’t think of any people or elves who are going to wander in and deal with it for me, so.

I am suggesting that we step away from all that we do as teachers, including the natural load of worry that we bring home with us about our students. That is a harder one to let go of than any lesson plan. I have been noticing that most of the helping professions have this nasty habit of taking emotional work home, worrying and wondering about the people we serve. As though that emotional labor will somehow help, move the story forward in some psychic way. The hard reality of that one is that it simply does not. It does no one any good. Not the people we worry about, since that does not change their reality and certainly not us, because it changes us in all the worst ways.

So as I look forward to writing for my fellow and future teachers again, as I wonder which of the funny stories I am going to choose to relate, with plenty of elaboration and dressing up, to make it extra funny. I look forward to reading the pile of books on my bedside table and falling asleep to dream about poor Madame Bovary or Tess of the D’urbervilles instead of my students and their stories. I look forward to releasing 2021 into the vault. I look forward with hope to the adventures of 2022, warts and all. I look forward to laughter and irreverence and commiserating about all things teacher-related. It is because we are a community that shares the same shorthand, knows the same routines, hates the same injustices and smiles the same way when a child gets it for the first time. We get that, we share that. But for now, it’s time to rest. Go do that, and we can talk about changing the world come January.