So the run of A Flea in her Ear finished. It was rather successful: we had a good audience every night, we each put our all into each of the parts, we found ways to cover up our mistakes. There was a lot of laughter and sharing backstage and people seemed to be on the same page: adults working together to finish a project.
On Sunday night, I crashed, mentally and physically. As soon as the responsibilities of the play finished, all the energy I'd put in to keeping all these tasks in the air seemed to melt away. I went to the school to start catching up on planning and marking, but couldn't seem to think straight. I tripped on the stairs a few times, walked into doorways, and stared into the middle distance. Clearly I needed a break.
One thing my brain keeps rolling back to: my kids didn't get to see the show. I'd like to think they would have enjoyed it. I don't know how to get over that, other than to think "That's just how life is." But all that's still confusing to me, no matter what.
So at this point I've fallen behind at work and am struggling to catch up. By the end, those rehearsals and performances took up over 20 hours a week of time, 40 for the week of the opening, and I naturally fell behind at my full-time job. In addition to that, I was still falling behind when we were merely rehearsing, even before we'd moved into the theatre itself. So I have weeks of marking and raggle-taggle planning to catch-up on and recover from. I don't have the energy to just push myself to get it all caught-up, so I'm scrambling every day.
Doing something as social as a play highlights the loneliness of teaching, the way one huddles in their room to mark and plan. Although I try to talk with colleagues as much as possible, I spend most of my worktime alone. This is particularly difficult at the end of the day, when I need to be the most self-motivated, but find myself drained. So far I haven't recovered enough to beat the loneliness. I feel myself aching for some company, like "Could somebody just sit with me while I get this marking and stuff done, so I don't wear my time away on the Internet?" I know that I'll be OK, particularly once I'm caught up on marking, but it's still very lonely right now.
I've attended a few different Professional Learning activities over the last few months. The speakers who most inspired me seemed to find ways to make their jobs more meaningful and holistic. I want that. I always wanted that. I don't think I'm good at this "be a teacher at work, be a person at home" thing. I want to be the same person in most of my life, not somebody trying to play different games against one another. I don't remember who said it, but somebody (perhaps here?) said something about how they hated the idea of a "work-life balance," because it implied a disconnection between the two, because it implied that work and life were disconnected, that we could divorce ourselves from life. I get that, because I've never wanted that disconnection.
Right now I'm struggling with it, though, because it feels pretty disconnected. I do my work stuff and it has little to nothing to do with my everyday life.
On that note, I need to go attend a work-related meeting. And I hope I can make the best of it.
I saw this link in my Twitter feed:
I read the article, skimmed the comments, and replied to it in my own Twitter feed:
This term, I've been experiencing some of the most mentally taxing teaching of my life. I have five different "preps," English 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11. My more senior classes each have between 26 and 30 students. My junior classes feature a "spread" between students who are designated as "gifted" and those who are capable of work at a "Grade 3 or so" level. Simultaneously I'm trying to adapt to BC's new curriculum, which is adding an enormous amount of work to an already overworked mental space. Although I'm sure I'll get through, by my standards things are not going well at work.
Beyond this, I don't have many responsibilities. My children live far away right now. I'm in a play, though, and that takes up 12 hours a week with rehearsals with an additional 4 hours of driving each week. That play will be all done by the end of November, but right now it's pretty taxing. If I'd realized just how large my classes would be this term, I doubt I would have auditioned for the play.
In the meantime, since I'm not doing exceptionally well at planning for my classes, I'm scrambling at work. This is the sort of time when teachers should take "sick days" to catch up on rest and whatnot, but I don't feel like I can do it because I haven't planned well enough for the classes. I'd be releasing a poor Teacher-On-Call to the wolves. It just wouldn't work. But I'm going to have to, probably just after I finish report cards, which are due next Wednesday.
This is nothing new for teaching. Large classes, report cards, parent teacher interviews are the norm. However, I do believe the number of responsibilities for teachers have increased with the advent of technologies like email and the Internet. Students submit their work in a myriad of formats; I am expected to read and understand practically every email that crosses my feed, whether it's from a colleague, parent, administrator, or student. I'm expected to keep up with a website in order to keep in contact with parents. It's just too much to keep track of. I find myself spending hours at the school just trying to get the most basic marking and planning done. It's exhausting.
Many of these roles simply weren't required before the advent of technologies that normalized them. Notes home and face to face interviews tended to dominate the communication cycle. I know it would have been stressful, but I think it would feel more real, more authentic. The fact is that I do an enormous amount of digital work that could very well not pay off and distracts from my work in the classroom. I don't like it.
In response to this stress level, I've started looking into ways to not spend so much time in the classroom in order to decrease the marking and planning aspects. I like educating, but the marking feels more and more futile every year. I'd like to find a side hustle in order to keep things fresh in my life. As much as I enjoy playing at a restaurant on the weekends, I'd love to be able to do a little more.
In a couple weeks, parent-teacher interviews will take place; there's an education conference in the middle of the month on the same Thursday and Friday that open the play. And then the play finishes on the 25th.
But this too shall pass. On the 26th, I'll have nothing but work to do and preparations for Winter Break. And I've treated myself to a birthday present: a nosebleed ticket to the Leafs-Canucks game in Vancouver on December 2nd.
But this month, as exciting as it will be, as many positive, empowering things as there are to do, couldn't end any sooner.
5 different English classes, three of them with over 27 students.
And a play going on at the same time. AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!
(You can sort-of see my hairline way down in the right-hand row there, my elbow on the table.)
I mean, it's all gonna' be great... but it's gonna' be crazy.
I haven't really done any planning for the coming school year. I filled my summer with distractions: work, visiting Vancouver Island, and attempts to rest and relax. In spare moments, I couldn't seem to develop the get-to-it-ive-ness needed to really start planning for something as cognitively taxing as the coming school year. So I didn't.
But I'm here now.
Today we had a Professional Day presentation from somebody with a pretty good handle on the ins and outs of the new BC Curriculum. I'm hoping it rekindles a little of my enjoyment of teaching and helps me feel a little more like my work has a lasting effect on people. I miss that feeling.
A few years into my teaching, it felt pretty natural, like it was an extension of myself. I felt like I could come to the school and navigate it naturally, and it didn't seem to drain my resources too much. I could come to the school in the evening or afternoon and focus on my work and enjoy it, and I genuinely felt like I was getting stuff done.
The last few years, however, haven't felt that way. Admittedly, I've been very distracted: separation, drama, and fatigue can make it difficult to focus on work. Come to think of it, my inability to internalize my practice coincides with my inability to write or finish writing a song. Perhaps I'm just in a drained-creativity mode, whether in career or leisure.
But I hope that acting on some of my more progressive desires will help me make teaching a more real part of my life, not just a job. Perhaps building an effective in-class curriculum will help me get get my head back in the game.
I've been trying to do a few other phone-related things to get my head back in a good place. I deleted Pokemon Go from my phone; it seemed to have served its purpose in getting me to get outside even when I didn't want to. And although I still think I'd enjoy it, I don't miss it. I turned off my data so I'd be less likely to check my phone constantly. I also have decided to stop listening to podcasts when I go for walks; this lets my mind wander a little and helps me to keep from constantly filling my mind with talk.
In the meantime, here I am. Starting my 10th or 11th school year, a veteran of sorts who still doesn't feel like he knows what he's doing, who still expects the "Fraud Police" to come to the door and kick him out onto the street. But chances are, things will work out. It will. It will.
Things will work out.
Noisey posted this documentary on December 1, 2016, I Saw The Light. I watched it today. It's a well-made little film about Christian evangelical culture's relationship with music.
I attended a few Christian festivals with my church youth group: Sonfest in Abbotsford and Jesus Northwest in Vancouver, Washington, both in the mid-90s. As a Christian teenager, I had a good time at those festivals. I admit that I enjoyed the concert elements far more than preaching or "worship," so perhaps I didn't get the full experience as described in the documentary. But I remember feeling really good and meeting lots of other Christians who introduced me to really great music. I still listen to some of that music, even 20 years later, even after my faith has long gone.
A few days ago, I was filling up a couple booklets with CDs for my car. Going through the old CDs—all on spools at this point—I was a little bit floored that I had such a significant Christian music collection: Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Daniel Amos, Starflyer 59, etc.. I'll probably keep those CDs forever; they're an essential part of my collection.
Funny thing is, I've had The Hold Steady's "Chillout Tent" running through my head for the last few days, which tells a very different music festival story. Enjoy:
Should I feel guilty about enjoying this lovely, melodic, narrative drug-trip song? The Ottawa School Board might think so.
Makes me wonder what the Shewens are up to these days.
The Internet Archive
YouTube: ephemeral ideas