This is my last full week of classes for the 2020-2021 school year and I look and feel like twenty miles of bad road. I didn't really have a summer last year, since most of my waking hours were consumed with anxiety, dread, and preparation for the coming school year. This has felt like the longest school year ever partially because it effectively began on the first day after the 2019-2020 school year ended.
I made myself an expert in all kinds of classroom technologies. I completely altered my practice. I learned how to teach students in person and distanced simultaneously. During my work days I was often also my children's teacher's aide, school cook, and janitor all rolled into one. There were plenty of left turns, like my wife and I needing to be in school when my daughters' school wasn't open, or getting less than a week's notice that I would need to be at school five days a week rather than two. It was fun to know at the drop of a hat that I was about to eat two thousand dollars worth of child care costs.
And through it all, all of the 14 hour days and stress freakouts and questioning why I didn't go to law school instead, I could not escape the thought that all this effort added up to a learning product that was inferior to what I could give my students in the Before Times. That thought, always in the back of my mind, has been soul crushing. Was all of this even worth it? Does anyone even care? Will anyone remember it when we go back to "normal"?
One of my favorite Bruce Springsteen songs comes at the end of his Ghost of Tom Joad album, a kind of spiritual sequel to Nebraska. Like the earlier album, it contains searing indictments of America in the throes of neoliberalism and wracked by inequality, mostly set to spare accompaniment. The song is "My Best Was Never Good Enough," one of the great songs of defeat. He sarcastically spews a bunch of feel good cliches like "when the going gets tough, the tough get going" with the kind of contempt you never hear from the Boss. He taunts (with profanity!) these idiotic bromides that are used to get people to blame themselves for their misfortune. In the end, with the game rigged and the deck stacked, "my best was never good enough."
That's pretty much how I feel about this school year. All the toxic positivity told us that all of our efforts would pay off, that we would get through this together etc etc. It's all the usual bullshit. We worked our asses off, we sacrificed more than ever, and ended up just muddling through. It's been one too many mornings and a thousand miles behind, as the old Dylan song says.
Please please dear God just get me through these last days of school so I can finally make it stop.