A Former Teacher Engages Reality: May Is Just Another Month

Spring doesn’t mean much to me this year. Since childhood, I’ve felt a certain kind of lightness in the spring. This has had more to do with the approaching end of the school year than it has with changes in the weather. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a summer break. I’ve looked forward to it through thirteen years of public education, through my college years, and through my entire teaching career. Several months after leaving the profession, I’ve found myself in a spring that lacks context. I’m unaccustomed to the way spring feels for working adults who don’t teach.

The traditional school year has an arc. The arc reaches its conclusion in late May and early June. While working in schools, I felt a sense of accomplishment each spring. In my better years, the accomplishment was what I was able to achieve with the students I taught. In my more difficult years, the accomplishment was enduring the year without resigning. Spring symbolized an end to the arc and definitive closure regardless of what had transpired along the way.

May is marked by celebration in many schools, especially high schools. It’s the month of proms and class trips. It’s when yearbooks and class rings arrive. Senioritis reaches its peak. Class pranks unfold. I worked with high school students for most of my career and experienced their rites of passage vicariously. Each spring was a chance to watch another cohort make these experiences their own. I hadn’t cared much about any of this when I was in high school. It meant more to me as a teacher.

In particular, I enjoyed celebrating with the seniors. Spring signaled the end of familiarity for them. The comfort of their routines and the relative safety of high school life were all but over. Their adult lives were about to begin. It signaled the completion of another year for me. Another tumultuous arc was approaching its conclusion. I was due some much-needed respite.

My perpetual childhood has ceased. One of the consequences of leaving my career has been an end to the cycle of school year and summer. I’m attempting to make a living outside of the routine and relative safety of school life. I’m trying to make my own arc. As I preoccupy myself with this, spring has unfurled around me, but I’ve barely noticed. I’ve been deaf to its sounds and blind to its sights. Strangely, all of its effect is lost on me without the arc to guide me. I enjoy my new pursuit, but in chasing it, I’ve missed the arrival of what used to be the best time of the year.

I recall marveling at the notion of people working during the summer months. This was arrogant of me. It was emblematic of how distant my teaching career kept me from reality. The world doesn’t operate according to a teacher’s calendar. I’ve known this. Now, I’m feeling it. I suppose most people have some form of routine. My new one has an openness to it that is somewhat unnerving.

Although this spring might not inspire the same familiar whimsy in me, I don’t miss everything about the closing of the school year. I left the field of my own accord, after all. I didn’t mind racing to complete grades or stowing my classroom materials. I had systems for all of this, just as I had learning activities planned through the last day. Such routines were part of the arc. The years I spent as a special education liaison ended differently. In that position, I frantically attempted to close difficult cases by June. I cobbled together the next year’s reevaluation and IEP meeting schedule. I reorganized files to accommodate incoming cases while preparing graduate files for the “defunct” bin. I chased teachers to make certain they completed performance summaries for seniors. I sent end-of-year paperwork to parents and leaned on them to get the signed documents back before summer. I completed state and district-level compliance documents and checked, double-checked, and triple-checked to ensure no one in the school had missed anything. No, I won’t miss any of that. I’ll take my current ambiguity over that exhausting certainty.

Seeing graduation cards in pharmacies and advertisements for “Summer Savings Spectaculars!” have reminded me of the time of year despite my inability to feel it the way I once did. This spring doesn’t have the same value I’m used to giving it. I acknowledge the give and take. I’ve abandoned a routine to try building a new one. The new routine has yet to coalesce, but I suppose forcing the pieces in place has been engaging. From my new perspective, all of the griping about change teachers are wont to do seems quaint. They’re still cradled in the arc and soothed by the cycle. Spring sings a different song to those on the outside, which happens to be almost everyone.

A Former Teacher Engages Reality: May Is Just Another Month

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