“It must be nice having summers off,” they say. I wouldn’t say “off,” exactly. Summer is work, for teachers. Beautiful, messy, painful, life work.
June: The Undoing
This month is devoted to relearning life. It takes the entire month. I start by finding myself jumping out of bed with a rapid heartbeat and moving towards . . . where? What am I doing? Do I have a purpose anymore? If I’m not teaching, am I really doing anything with my life? Where am I going? Nowhere?
OK. Maybe some coffee, then? How many cups should I make? What is it like to drink coffee that’s hot? What is it like to drink hot coffee and not worry about making it through first period before I get a bathroom break? What if I just sit on this porch and drink my coffee until my kids wake up? Is that OK? Should I be creating some new lessons? Should I be reading some articles of best practices in teaching reading? Maybe just one new project idea? No. Stop. Breathe. Drink the coffee.
What about groceries? I’m going to have to feed these two kids some breakfast and lunch since their daily survival is dependent on me, their mother, now. They are no longer safe.
I suppose there will be time to cook dinners too. Let me reiterate: their safety is in peril. Perhaps I could make a grocery list with said dinner items. Wait. I could even go get the groceries on Monday or Tuesday or even Thursday — the store is quiet then! It’s practically empty! Do people know about this secret time to shop?
What about the other days? When will the life things happen? Does it even matter?
Laundry day? Any day!
Dinner time? After 5pm!
Bedtime? You know what, kids? Stay up till 8. YOLO. I don’t even know myself anymore.
We’re undoing it, June. We’re undoing the tension of the year. We’re learning how to quit packing every minute with ten minutes of work. We’re learning how to sit outside at night writing instead of grading essays. We’re learning to space out life’s responsibilities throughout the week instead of trying to jam them all into Saturday and Sunday. We’re learning how lucky we are to get to relearn these things — that other professions don’t get this chance to have both “working woman” and “stay-at-home woman” in the same year.
Thank you, June.
July: The Unending
Hello, July, the unending month devoted to sinking in and really believing that summer will last forever. I wake with the sun and feel awake. It’s bright outside. I might lay here and listen to the outside world for a bit. Or maybe I’ll step out to the porch. Or maybe I’ll take a walk before the girls wake up. It doesn’t matter; I win no matter what.
Everything is slow in July. And the slow feels right, too. Clean the clutter, but do it slowly. Pack for the pool, but don’t rush. Celebrate, picnic, cuddle, nap, swim, redecorate, redesign, write, read. Get some sun. Look young and free.
July won’t end. It never ends.
August: The Unraveling
School starts in two weeks. My classroom isn’t ready. My students are going to walk into my classroom and walk directly out because the bulletin boards are too childish and the desk arrangement feels closed-off and the lamp I have in the corner isn’t relaxing and inviting enough. Another lamp? Another lampshade? Should I get the planner with lines to record my lessons and meetings or should I get the planner with the blank boxes? Is this the year I move entirely to electronic plans and scheduling? Am I ready for that? New file folders! File folders will probably make me a better teacher.
Four days of meetings the first week of August to prepare to make this year the best year. The whole time I try to focus and stop planning my own perfect first day. The first day is when they decide if you’re going to teach them anything, you know. Also, will they like me? The other years have been OK but what if this is the year they stop liking me?
It’s possible that I don’t know what I’m doing.
Um, minor detail: I have children of my own. School supply lists! First day outfits! Haircuts! Registrations and forms and orientation and soccer cleats that fit and first day of school anxiety and sleeplessness and “Will they like me?” from my babies’ little mouths and hearts. “Of course they’ll like you. You are love and happiness and sass and wit and laughter and determination and grit,” I tell them.
I tell me, too.
I’ve officially unraveled. I have nothing left. I’m terrified and unsure and it’s happening anyway. I definitely don’t know what I’m doing.
I walk in, anyway. The lights come on and the kids come in. They look nervous, too. You are love. You are happiness. You are sass. You are wit. You are laughter. You are determination. You are grit. I send these messages straight to their nervous little teenage hearts.
We all breathe. I begin.
It’s right. It feels right. I belong here. They belong here. Of all the classrooms in all the history of all the world, they sit here, in mine.
I am unanchored. Let’s go.
Kelly Cheney is an eighth-grade English teacher, mom of daughters, and major nail polish enthusiast. She would love to hear from you via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow her on Instagram @kncheney –- as long as you’re strictly interested in pictures of aforementioned daughters and/or nail polish.