Bags of reproach

There it sits. Smug and self-satisfied, so sure of knowing what is best for us.

How we will spend the next two days. What shoulds are screaming loudly for our attention this time?  Stuffed with grading, planning, resource materials, shiny, new catalogs, and lugged home with good intentions on Friday afternoon. We are going to sit down at our desks at home.  (Which is clear and clean and ready for our genius) We are going to sort and organize. We are going to grade and collect and collate data on our students. We are going to plan themes, units, and assessments. We are going to sort and organize within an inch of our life this weekend. We are going to write in all of the boxes in our planner with the nicest blue ink and the best handwriting.  It’s gonna happen. Just wait and see.

Do you recognize yourself in this scenario? Do you even have one of those teacher bags that live on wheels, like some random carry-on luggage, with bulging pockets and zippers that are hard to close? You are the most serious, hardcore planner the world has ever seen. And this is a truth that none are invited to scrutinize too carefully. It is nobody’s business how that plays out once you get home.  After that door closes, all bets are off. We didn’t sign anything and you are not the boss of us,  oh bag of reproach.

This is a weary season. I have written more than twice about the beleaguered posture of most teachers this year and we have nodded in solidarity. So let’s push the honesty envelope a little bit more, okay? We all stuff that teacher bag and toss it carelessly into the back seat as we head home on a Friday afternoon, right? We rarely open it, if the truth be told, but we always INTEND to open it. Open it and master the checklist that comes with it, before sundown on Sunday night. Before the Sunday night scaries come calling. If we are faithful to do this, we will come hurtling into our Monday with abundant confidence, greater strength, and probably better hair. And yet, in failing the bag, we could actually be serving ourselves in a deeper way.

When my bag makes it into the house, I immediately put it in my office. This is where WORK happens for me, in both my teaching and my writing life. But sometimes. Oh, sometimes I tuck it inside the door, next to the light switch, poised to be grabbed and opened and embraced. And other times, I walk the extra five feet and toss it inside the closet, and shut the door. That is a statement. If it makes it out of there, it will not be early Saturday morning. It might not even be Sunday. It might be Monday morning before school while my hair is still wet and I have yet to get dressed for the day. And that is okay because it has to be okay.

Mixed messages are flooding the marketplace for teachers this year. Work hard and be dedicated to honoring and serving each of your students BUT be sure to practice self-care. Take your time management seriously but ALSO go to ALL the meetings and answer all of the emails that flood your inbox. Collaborate with your colleagues BUT also understand that everyone has enough on their plate and leave them the hell alone. Keep your classes and curriculum organized but ALSO don’t focus on paperwork at the cost of working more with students.

What the actual hell. Does any other job torment its people this way? 

I imagine they do, just in their own way and with their own particular disgusting flavors. Productivity at the cost of humanity. Acting like everything is normal when it is monumentally NOT. Smiling and saying FINE forty times a day because no one can handle the truth right now. They are teetering on the ragged edge right along with you, praying like crazy that they will not be the first one to fall over. They mean well, but you can’t really expect them to grab hold of you when their own footing is so precarious, right? They have a bag of reproach sitting in the corner too.

So let’s widen the lens a bit. Now the bag looks suspiciously like your kindergartener’s backpack, perhaps with Dora or the most recent, insanely popular princess of the moment adorning the front. It leans ominously to the side, weighted down with papers that need your immediate attention STAT. Although we are no longer in the season of bring-something-homemade-for-the-class-bake-sale, you are nevertheless compelled to sign up to attend the PTA Zoom and weigh in on any of a number of bewildering class t-shirt designs. Also, please, if you would, gaze and vote upon a variety of virtual field trips and, of course, sign up for a spring parent-teacher conference at once. Just as bossy as a teacher bag, for sure, but a slightly different take on what exact form your guilt should take.

Or the gym bag. Oh, the reproach is strong with this one. The clothes folded neatly inside remind you that you have not been to the gym since the last time you did laundry (and that might have been weeks). Your water bottle sits empty in the side pouch, waiting for the pre-gym fillup and go. Those cute travel-size toiletries are yet to be opened,  still vacuum sealed with good intentions about that all-over fresh feeling you can depend on after a good workout. I’m sorry, what? Can you sense the ripples of shame making their way to your fragile psyche? Oh, my yes. This is an equal opportunity bag o’ reproach, crossing all gender lines and age brackets.

This idea can apply to any storage or hauling device that you have hanging around. A bag, a backpack, a satchel, a diaper bag, a messenger bag, an oversized tote, an ordinary purse. Bags are no respecters of persons or fashion. It can be a battered grocery bag from Trader Joe’s, for the love. Hurry up and finish whatever waits for you there, and you can channel surf in peace and quiet. Or whatever is just visible past the bag in your sightline. It lies between you and freedom.

Here is a thought, one that is new for me, but useful. When you hit home, put that bag in a closet somewhere. Like a parka. If you decide that you must venture out into the arctic winds, fine, you know where it is. If not, it loses its power to reproach you from the floor in the living room, taunting you, chorusing with your inner critic that you are hopelessly lazy and unmotivated. 

Swell. Let it rage from out of sight.  Better yet,  leave the contents somewhere else altogether. Chances are, whatever is inside is not an emergency that cannot wait two precious days to be addressed. I have tried this and the sky did not fall.  Nary an acorn. You will marvel at the lightness of your step through the door at the end of the day.

Note: Do empty the dirty diapers out of the diaper bag. No one wants to deal with that on a Monday.

2 thoughts on “Bags of reproach”

  1. wonderful to read you meet you and greet you in these pages Teresa, I am coming from Corinne’s pages.

  2. wonderful to read you meet you and greet you in these pages Teresa, I am coming from Corinne’s pages.

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