By Amber Chandler
Tired Teachers: Let's Disconnect, Recalibrate and Sparkle!
I’m not working this summer. That may not sound like a revolutionary statement, but I’ve worked 21 out of 22 summers of my teaching career, and not only am I used to that pace, I am also used to the paychecks. However, much like so many of you, I found that the prospect of working this summer was simply too much. I’ve been the director of summer school for years, but as I’d try to fall asleep at night back in March, I’d start to feel panicky when I thought about it. No lie, I was breaking out in hives. I love challenges—I ran a virtual summer school last year—but the idea of working through the summer was exhausting before it even started. I’m constantly telling others to take care of themselves, to listen to their guts, and pay attention to their social and emotional needs, as well as those of their students. That’s when it occurred to me that this summer I needed to practice what I preach, so the next day I handed in my resignation for summer school, and here I am, doling out advice that I am committing to follow myself. Hold me to it!
Clearly, we’ve all had enough computer screens to last a lifetime. However, I think we sometimes forget that the iPhone in our pocket is a screen too, and we don’t realize the downside of constantly being connected. Maybe you are more disciplined than me, but I’ve checked work email while waiting in line in the grocery store and turned a mindless task into a stressful one. One thing that I believe has taken the greatest toll on all of us is the constant connection. We need time to “zone out,” and minutes spent waiting in lines or for a doctor’s appointment used to provide that. We’d thumb through a magazine that we wouldn’t normally read, or talk with a stranger, or play peekaboo with a random baby. This summer, I’m going to leave my phone in the car when I’m out and about, and I’m going to plan times when I’m disconnected. The “mindless” scrolling isn’t as innocuous as it seems. We are impacted by what we “put in” to our brains, so even if we are getting snippets of information, we are cramming our minds with constant chatter. When was the last time you thought about nothing? I can’t remember, but I’m hoping to find that space again this summer.
Remember when you were a child and had the flu—you’d sleep all day, wake up at dinnertime, confused, and ready for the day to begin? Or those first days of school when you have to put on real clothes again? Or when you try something you used to do but haven’t in years, like skiing or surfing, and you have to “get the feel of it” again? That’s what I think summer needs to be for me. I have to “get the feel” of things again. The tricky part for those of us with our own kiddos is that almost a year and a half has gone by since we were doing our normal lives. Everything changes in such a short span of time. My daughter entered the pandemic as a nervous ninth-grader, and she’s leaving it with a job, a learner’s permit, and a trip to France booked for next summer. My son entered the pandemic as a scrawny, shy sixth-grader, but he’s now going into eighth grade six inches taller and with puberty banging on the door. We need to recalibrate and find our center again. This is going to require some flexibility from all of us. As a mom, I’m sure I’m going to miss the mark sometimes, and I’ve already watched my teens muddle through what to do with themselves now that I haven’t scheduled their days. As we recalibrate, my main goal is to be available and open to whatever comes our way until we “get the feel” of our new reality.
Last, I feel like all I’ve been doing is tempering expectations, settling for the best we could do during a pandemic, and living without the sparkle. I know that in my case, I’ve simply been relying on the glue. I’ve been holding it together professionally as we were asked to do so many things that are counter to good teaching, but perhaps necessary (I’m being generous). I’ve been holding it together personally, as I watched my family survive remote learning and isolation and lost opportunities. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve said, “Just keep it together everyone. We’ll make it.” When my pre-pandemic life was full of celebrations and spontaneity, the stark contrast has become depressing. I’m trying to give myself grace—I was too busy gluing it all together to throw sparkles around per my usual. We all sacrificed so much that I think it is important to remember who we were and what our lives were like pre-pandemic. What everyday joys do we want to bring back this summer? For me, it is jumping in the car to catch the sunset at the lake, ice cream for dinner, late night trips to Target, and pajamas at the movies.
This plan to disconnect, recalibrate and sparkle isn’t going to happen without intentionality. Disconnecting means breaking a habit of constantly connecting with the outside world because I was away from it. Now, I’m going to consciously engage with all that I missed—particularly the random human contact of strangers and the chances to “zone out.” Recalibrating is going to take time, which doesn’t appeal to the planner in me; and it is going to require trial and error, which doesn’t appeal to the perfectionist in me. Recalibrating for me is going to mean letting go of control and allowing a rhythm to emerge. On the other hand, sparkling is going to be easy. Who doesn’t like ice cream for dinner?