Saturday, June 12, 2021

Coming Home From the COVID Teaching Trenches

This song was one of my angsty quarantine survival mainstays

Vera Brittain's memoir Testament of Youth is most famous for the sections about her time as a nurse in the Great War. Not only did she witness several people die in that role, the war also took her brother, fiance, and one of her closest friends. Her book is harrowing proof of how war can traumatize those who don't hold a rifle or have their homes bombed. 

I have always been particularly struck by the way she recalled the announcement of the Armistice. She said people didn't say "the war is over" but "war is over." War had become their mode of being. Brittain herself was more stunned than jubilant, unable to forget that three people so important to her were never coming back and would never live in the peace she had to face by herself. 

As my school year is winding down I am having a very difficult time adjusting to life outside of the teaching trenches. I have basically been in crisis mode since the middle of March last year. Most of my summer "break" last year was spent preparing for this school year. The year itself brought untold stress and multiple moments where the rug was pulled out from under me. My children's school didn't open until early May, but on the way there were false starts and schedule changes that threw our lives into chaos. My own work gave me less than a week's notice to adjust to five days a week in person rather than two, at a time when my daughters' school was still closed. 

I got used to living a truly day to day existence where I could not count on anything being stable or secure. Out of the blue my wife or I might get a new directive from our jobs or our children's school, or news of COVID cases in our school or our daughters' child care facility. We might suddenly find out that we would need to eat thousands of dollars of new child care costs or that our child care would not be available that day. 

All through it I was working twice as hard as normal, frantically trying to keep everything together. Hybrid teaching was like swimming with twenty pound weights on my ankles. To not sink I just had to keep flailing myself forward until I made it to the shore. I did it all with the knowledge that despite my desperate toil it was not as good as what I would normally be able to provide my students.

Friday was graduation day at my school. I didn't stick around too long after because I was afraid of having an emotional breakdown in the parking lot in front of everybody. I have three days of meetings and a ceremony for last year's graduates left and I am almost happy for mundane meetings to give me something to do. Adjusting to life without the day to day bombs falling this summer is going to be hard. 

There doesn't seem to be much discussion of how educators have endured some bad shit this year and might be experiencing some emotional fallout this summer. I spent last summer in a constant state of worry and anticipation, never able to relax with the sword of Damocles that was the 2020-2021 school year hanging over my head. I had multiple anxiety attacks and by mid-August just wanted my break to be over so I could face the reality of the year instead of spiraling into fear.

I managed to survive the year, but I can honestly say it was worse than anticipated. Now that I am on the other end I don't know how to relax, my whole body just feels tense all of the time. Hell, that's why I am spending my Saturday night writing a blog post. I am so used to forward motion that rest is impossible. It's the law of emotional physics.

I have started to plan things with the understanding that I will need to be active or else likely fall into a crushing depression. In true dad fashion I am imaging home improvement, gardening and lawn projects. I have two different pieces of scholarly writing on the front burner and three or four essays I will be shopping to online outlets waiting to be written. We are planning on hitting the open road, but I am also looking to have as many local experiences as possible, too, from hiking to going to Mets games to outdoor Shakespeare to going down the Shore to the beach. I am planning on finally home brewing some beer. I will make even more pies and maybe learn to do cream pies next. I have a whole stack of summer reading on deck, too.

In past years I would worry I am making a ridiculous summer to do list, but this year it's a matter of spiritual survival. I hope the rest of my fellow educators can find ways to restore themselves after what we've been through. 

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