“Why aren’t you in a better mood? It’s almost summer?”
Yeah, but it’s NOT summer yet. It’s that liminal time of year that teachers know and loathe: late April and May. Sure, we’re thisclose to being able to pee whenever we want and to taking more than fifteen minutes to eat our lunch, but we still have to get through the last weeks. And they’re pretty awful.
First, there are the students themselves. I love my kids. I really do. I call them “my” kids without any irony. It’s been eight months since we started working together, and I’m in. I’m invested. I’ve carefully served up my metaphorical Kool-Aid and kept a poker face while internally high-fiving myself while I watched them gulp it down, ready and willing to follow me through the curriculum. In the weeks after we got back from Spring Break, however, they lose their minds. I get questions I haven’t heard since I laid my first set of stink eyes on them during the first couple of weeks of school.
“Is this for a grade?” Have I not emphasized the beauty of learning for the sake of learning every single day? And, yes, I “count” everything whether that’s explicit or not.
“What are we doing?” I literally just went over the directions.
“Can I go the bathroom?” Sure. You’ve already gone once in the last hour. Why should you be expected to control your 17-year-old bladder when my post-menopausal train wreck of a urinary tract has to wait another three hours before I can sprint to the restroom?
“When am I going to use this in the ‘real’ world?” Reading and writing? God, I hope every single day for the rest of your lives.
“What did I miss?” Everything. You missed everything, kid. Maybe you could have made that appointment to get your nails done for Prom after school.
Also, teachers of twelfth graders, like me, have an especially interesting component to the end of the year. Senioritis spreads like cholera, and it’s hard to take it seriously when a pampered poodle of a senior sighs and explains that the reason she didn’t turn in her final project for AP Lit is because she’s just “so stressed” about planning her decorating scheme with her new dorm-mate. Throw in emotionally charged things like Prom, Grad Bash, and other senior-related celebrations, and you are treading water in a stew of hyper-charged drama and emotion.
There are also the grades for seniors. For an English teacher like me, I am the final bridge the kids have to cross, the final graduation requirement to fulfill in order to get that piece of parchment. The pressure to get these kids passing grades is oppressive. Meeting with parents to explain that their cherub won’t be walking across the stage because he’s failed the second semester of English IV is absolutely awful. “But…but…his grandmother is flying in from Weehawken for the ceremony. What do I tell her?” Pro tip: the correct response to this question is not, Tell Granny that her little prince is a lazy, entitled brat whom I overheard gloating to his friends that there was no way I’d give him an F even though he has a 17% average because he did nothing for the past eight weeks. Also, this shouldn’t be a surprise, ma’am, since I’ve called and emailed repeatedly since he earned his first zero back in March.
Then there is the testing. God…the testing. In my state of Florida, all high-stakes testing (end-of-course exams for multiple classes and FSA reading tests for 9th and 10th graders) in addition to regular final exams take place in the month of May. Add those tests to AP exams which happen over the course of two weeks at the beginning of May, and the entire month is a cathedral of being busy without being productive. We are all told that no new instruction happens in May, yet we’re supposed to still keep “instructional momentum” going. That wouldn’t be so hard but when six kids, eight kids, thirteen kids are out of each of your classes for testing, and when you yourself are pulled to proctor tests, it gets hairy and ugly and stays nasty.
Finally, there’s just the exhaustion. Teaching on a good day is physically, mentally, and emotionally tiring. By the time we get to May, teachers are spent. Forget the actual instruction, the grading, the meetings, the moving around the room to monitor behavior and levels of engagement. Let me just focus on the bone-deep weariness that results from being on all.the.time. Teachers can’t (or at least really, really shouldn’t) have a bad day, lose their tempers, or be sad.
We have to be the emotional equivalent of weather in central California — an unfailingly consistent 72 degrees with blue, sunny skies. Holding that mask in place saps the mojo out of the best teachers. When I get home every day, my personal kids know that I need to go to my room, sit on the bed with my dog, and just stare into space for a little bit. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I fall asleep. I know I’m not the only one.
There’s a reason why Teacher Appreciation Week falls during the first part of May. We need a little push to get across the finish line. Those notes from kids, those breakfasts provided by the PTA, and those small gifts from administrators can really help us take an existential breath and keep marching.
I can feel summer on the wind. It’s out there. I can smell it. But it’s still on the horizon, just out of reach. In order to get from here to there and catch my breath before I get into the rigors of teacher summers (curriculum mapping, workshops, planning, and meetings — that’s a whole other discussion that I address in a separate post (see link below). So, please be nice to me and all of the other teachers out there who are struggling to get through the next few weeks.