Back to School Thoughts

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by Melissa Face

My family and I walked into one of our favorite fast food chains the other day. I immediately recognized the young woman across the room at the drive-thru window, and she noticed me. She removed her headset and called to another employee to switch places with her so she could come take my order at the counter. But first, she gave me a hug.

“Mrs. Face! How long has it been? It’s so good to see you!” she said.

I told her I was very happy to see her, and she quickly caught me up on college and work. We chatted a little bit more until our order was ready. Then, my family and I ate and said goodbye.

“That happens a lot,” my son, Evan, said on the way to our car.

“What does?” I asked.

“You seeing your former students. It happens all the time. At restaurants, at the movies, at the mall. They’re always so happy to see you.”

“That’s true, Evan. They usually are.”

“Well, it kinda makes me proud,” Evan said.

“Really? Why’s that?”

“It’s just cool having a mom who is a teacher and who really loves her job,” he said.

I believe that sometimes things happen right when we need them to. And I really needed both of those things at that moment  – the quick visit with a former student and the admiration from my own child. 

You see, if I’m being completely honest, this is the first year since I began teaching that I haven’t felt excited to return to the classroom. Despite the fact that I do truly love my job, I just haven’t felt ready to go back. It’s not that I need more time at the pool or one more road trip, though those aspects of summer are pretty fantastic. I’ve just been feeling like I’m not emotionally prepared to go back to my job. 

A big part of my summer break has been spent grieving the death of my beloved grandmother who left us unexpectedly in mid-July. The loss is significant, and the pain is intense. I am more exhausted now than I was when school dismissed in June. 

The other difficulty I’m having is being separated from my own children again. They will be entering third grade and kindergarten at a school that I like very much. But with our country in a state of constant violence and upheaval, I’m not ready to have my kids out of my sight. School supplies, SOL scores, and AR goals all seem so trivial to me right now. I just want my kids to be safe. Nothing else matters more than their safety.

Anyway, teacher work week is rapidly approaching, and I have to get myself prepared whether I want to or not. Since I’m a compulsive planner and list maker, I’m making a list that I hope will help me keep things balanced personally and professionally: 

  1. I will continue to put relationships at the forefront of my teaching. I will treat my students with respect and provide an environment that is safe and inviting. It may not look like a Pinterest classroom, but it will be a welcoming space for them to share concerns and discuss difficult topics. 
  2. I will set firm boundaries. I will only grade at home if it’s a major assignment and we are nearing the end of the grading period. Weekends are for family and my personal projects.
  3. I will not allow hectic work and school schedules to keep me from doing the things that really matter to me. We aren’t over committing ourselves to a variety of outside organizations or over scheduling the kids this year. But we are making a weekly dinner date with my parents, and we’re sticking to it. Life is short.
  4. I’m going to make certain my two children know that even though I love my job, I love them much more. And I will make sure my actions mirror my words.

I’m struggling a bit right now, but I know I’m going to be okay once the first bell rings on September 3.  I may not have six weeks worth of lesson plans complete or a perfectly decorated bulletin board, but everything will be fine. My students don’t need a “perfect” teacher any more than my children need a “perfect” mother. They just need someone who cares about them, values relationships, and can help guide them through this crazy world. And I can do all of that – even on my worst days. 

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