My strongest Maus memories 

My first strong memory about Maus was when students could pick to read Night or Maus in English 10.  My student teacher was leading Night, which had the majority of class.  The other five or six students and I would retire to the library, but I have to say, I never “taught” or “led” that book. 

This one boy who hated English class did.  He was an artist.  He was an excellent, passionate artist who never found roots in English classes.  He led the discussion.  We’d sit down and he would in midsts of his asking opinions and thoughts, he’d share his noticings of how elements of the art reinforced the author’s messages in ways I didn’t see.  The ways the roads in the background, for instance, intersected.  Small details but meaningful details that I, not a natural in graphic novels, would have never noticed. 

I wasn’t a young teacher: I had repeatedly experienced the joy of turning over the classroom to the voices and capabilities of my students, but this was different.  This was someone who had rejected (and likely been often rejected by) the discipline shining, with the analytical skills valued on full display.  Our relationship changed.  He changed. 

My second strong memory about Maus was when a dear friend of mine’s father wanted to meet to voice his objections and wonderings on why our school, the school his grandchildren would go to, would study Maus

We met over coffee and tea on my kitchen table and I was nervous.  This couple had become dear to me, not just because of my friend, but because, in truth, without any parents, they had become a voice of a stage of life that I needed to hear sometimes.  Because were wise and loving and full of life– role models. 

The voice this man used was dripping with emotion.  He wanted to know how a book could show history using animals as characters.  He wanted to know how the Holocaust could possibly be acceptable in a comic book. 

He shared with me that he was in the second family of his father.  His father’s first family were murdered by the Nazis.  He left unsaid what his voice hinted at– the sorrow, the wondering, the anger. 

I shared my teaching experiences around Maus.  I explained how this book, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, revealed the possibilities of an artform.  I shared how subsequent books, like Persepolis and Fun Home, were reaching audiences that truly needed the stories and the knowledge.  I shared what I knew of Art Spiegelman’s history.  It was among the most meaningful discussions I have around the worth of books. 

This lovely man read the books, and listening to him and his wife discuss them remains a treasure.  They are full defenders. 

In the last two weeks, a gunman opened fire on a synagogue.  A book about the Holocaust was banned.  The two are directly related.

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A tale of three notes

It isn’t easy to be gone in teaching.  Wow.  So not.  Writing a decent lesson plan a sub can execute is oh so hard.  (Hey!  Life hack now that we’ve learned so much:  simply video record instructions to be played to the kids.  Send it to some key kids.  Trust them to do what you need and let the rest go.  Credit to the Tweet below)  

Getting a decent sub is another factor, particularly when you know your students.  I inevitably have a student or two that might flare when confronted with some sub’s dynamics.  This brings in moral distress.  Following up after a sub is its own labor. 

And then there is that thing… the very basic thing that we care about the job.  We care about the kids. We know teachers are integral; we want to be there.  But in reality, teaching  requires absences.  Teachers are parents and children who also have to take care of others.  And teachers need to learn how to take care of themselves.    Last year had extra extra complications.  In online ed, there was no ability to step back, really.  There weren’t any subs, for one, and the complications of the tech were an obstacle. In addition, time was simply more precious.  It felt more imperative to provide some consistency. 

Last year, when we returned to the building, there was this one magical day… yep, a TESTING day.  There were three testing days, to be accurate, but on one of them I had NO RESPONSIBILITIES.  None.  

So yep, I emailed my associate principal to say I was going to take a sick day to work from home, where I have a second monitor to be efficient.  I even had a desk at home, which I didn’t have at school because of social distancing/ construction.  I also qualified that by saying that I would be available via phone and actually, if there was a staff shortage, live close enough to be there in a minute.

And here, lightly edited, was her reply: 

Thank you for the heads up. Because I respect you so much, I need to share that I do hope you’ll reconsider.  The testing team worked so hard on this and one way we can support their efforts is to ensure we have staff here to cover in case anyone calls in sick. My concern is that if our Instructional Leaders are finding ways to avoid being in the building, their department members will follow that lead. 

The testing team added a list of available rooms. We have ample space for physical distancing and as long as we’re following masking and hand-washing protocols, we’re meeting health recommendations and guidance.

Happy to talk more – but between conferences tonight and my own duties tomorrow,  I’m afraid it will have to be after the fact.

And readers, you guessed it.  I revoked my “sick day” and went in.  I worked in the cafeteria a bit.  A desk here a bit.  A desk there a bit– an angrifying, inefficient and awkward day in the midst of a very very long year. 

Also, I am pretty sure I am going to throw up next time someone tells me they “respect” me. 

Here is a version of what could have happened: 

Thank you for the heads up and for being willing to come in at a moment’s notice if we are short staffed.  Take care of yourself and happy grading! 

And you know what would have been the best?  Something like this: 

Thank you for the heads up and for being willing to come in at a moment’s notice if we are short staffed.  If you are working from home, though, you don’t need to take a sick day!  Save them!  You’re doing the work you’d do here. Or better yet, step back from school.  Netflix it!  Bake!  Take those dogs for a walk!  Take care of you!

Three thoughts more on this: 

My first meeting with my new assistant principal this school year was me resigning as educational leader at the end of this year.  It’s been coming, regardless of the pandemic.  The “be here because you are a leader” email in combination with one other decision from last year’s departmental principal cemented the resignation letter.  And while I have rarely taken any personal days beyond funerals or parenting in the last five or six years, I made sure to take one already this year… I vow to make space to take care of myself in order to stay present for the kids and to maybe– just maybe– be able to stay in this field a couple more years. 

When I read my principal’s email with compassion, I recognized it as fear-based.  She wanted the testing to go well (and testing stress pervades our field).  In the context of similar comments and moves last year and this, though, that email did harm. 

I’ve had a range of principals in my career.  The main criticism of one of the top two in my estimation was that she didn’t take care of herself.  There wasn’t a sense of balance.  Being part of a good educational leader is also stepping back a bit when the situation allows it in order to be fully present when the system needs it.  I have often relied on those in leadership to help balance me.  

I take full ownership of my welfare now. 

At the end of April 2020, the district reported to the school board that there were 1,398 teacher absences up to that point when the 2017 year had 8,529.  The sentence provided was:  “the need for substitutes was likely less because of virtual instruction.”  I don’t know what I wanted to hear there, really.  Those numbers were teachers sacrificing themselves to be present on screen.  Those numbers revealed teachers exhausting themselves.  

A friend of mine runs a non-profit that pivoted to meet the pandemic while still actually growing their mission and clientele.  This spring, when vaccinations were in place, their board gave each employee each two additional weeks of vacation as a thank you and as a recognition of time spent pivoting.  

Education can’t quite do that– but I know of at least one school on one of the inservice days that said sleep in, take a walk, take care of yourself.  Don’t log in. Just rest. 

This post reminds me of this graphic, which came from the subsequent Tweet: 

Many students will remember me.  That is a benefit of teaching. 

But I am so very replaceable to the system. 

In that meeting where I resigned, the first question was who do I think is willing to step in.  It is a pragmatic question and I know from leaving leadership in one district to move to the next, any ripples from my absence disappear quickly.  

This is again why watching my mentor’s life resonates.  Life is short.  Prioritize.

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I f@#%ed up

I messed up at the start of last school year. 

My spouse had a medical event (non-covid) the first week of school.  At first I wasn’t allowed in the hospital, but then I was, and I discerned the room was ready for him to crash.  They were prepared for the worst.  They got some things figured out, rushed him to surgery, and I waited alone in a room for dawn and news to break. 

The next morning, I was in his ICU room on Zoom calls.  I swooshed kids to breakout rooms when specialists came to talk.  Ridonkulous.  It was the start of school.  I didn’t even know who to call to get a sub.  And I navigated.  And I am angry both at myself and the situation.  

I think to myself that he could have died.  It was touch and go.  It was a night sitting in a dark ICU waiting room all by myself and I was still “at school” the next morning.  

These past years then encompassed some genetic unknowns resulting from that medical event that heightened my alarms around covid for myself, for my partner, for my children.  And that took a toll on the online year, return to school before vaccinations for sure. It took a toll on me. 

This Tweet from last year breaks my heart.  

Before break, some virus was ripping through the department.  One day, at least five (that I know of as we are spread through the building) English teachers were out. 

There aren’t enough subs, but my school does a GREAT job of not taking non-volunteers out of prep time.  Still, a bit more falls to colleagues.  Regardless, take the days.  We need to. 

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She is still my mentor

When I was a young teacher (entering my eighth year of teaching and my third school), I was enveloped in care and compassion by the high school librarian. She was simply marvelous.  She had an easy laugh, a gentle heart, and an avid eye.  She still does. 

She knew kids.  She got books in the library that would speak to all students long before it was a thing to do.  She just did the right thing.  Over and over and over.  She knew teachers.  She was present without being interfering and she was the first person a new-to-the-building-person could safely reveal ignorance. 

She created home.  When I left that school to go to my children’s district and share their calendar, it is at her dining room table that the key relationships established continue under her abundant and beautiful southern hospitality. 

When she retired, she was at the top of her game.  Again, books on topics that soooo many forces are currently challenge were part of her unabashed offerings.  She stood for something.  

And she revitalized the entire library, getting a new user-friendly computer system that gave greater and easier access to all.  It wasn’t a small undertaking.  It was HUGE.  And the work was completed before she headed out the door in the pre-retirement years that many people put up their feet and coast. 

She was my mentor.  I told my husband that I wanted to exit the teaching field like this lovely, lovely mentor, Cara: I wanted to leave still innovative and engaged and essential. 

The first time I really got to know Cara was at a fellow colleague’s party.  Cara told me about the serendipity adoption of her son, Jonathan.  It was a story of love and grace and luck and destiny, and her face shone.  She was blessed to be a mother. 

Two weeks ago, I was thinking about Cara (as I do so often these days) when I walked the lake’s shoreline and listened to the shards of ice clang.  The music the ice sang was varied and striking.  

And it reminded me of how Cara told me of the wind chimes’ calming effect this summer as she was by her son’s deathbed.  And it reminded me of the weeks after, when she and her husband came home after wrapping up their son’s estate and noticed John’s, her husband, nausea.  Grief?  No.  Pancreatic cancer. 

In November, I attended a funeral for this lovely woman’s son and husband.  Lines from her husband’s obituary shine: John “felt the important thing in life was to love others and be loved and respected by others. His keen intellect, compassion, and sense of humor put others at ease. His kind heart welcomed everyone into his life with love.”  Cara is not only an amazing librarian, but a darn good writer.  I had the intention of asking John to think about mentoring the local robotics team this season.  John was a special human.  Their marriage was admirable.  The loss is staggering. 

And so Cara’s world mentors me again. 

What are my priorities? 

Teaching exacts a cost on a whole family, to be honest.  I have been an educational leader and noteworthy teacher pretty much all of my career.  I note the impact on both my physical and mental health.  And I notice when the weight and worries I carry of my students impedes the attention I can devote to my family.  

Time is short.  

For as long as I am teaching, I will not fail my students.  I will not let them down.  But I am not responsible for much of what I carry and it is time to put that burden down. Time with those I love is too precious.

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It’s not the work and it IS the work

Here’s a thing:  I have an over-developed work ethic. 

I feel responsible for pretty much every dang thing in the world.  This isn’t a skill or an asset.  I recognize I have not only allowed myself to be a martyr I have occasionally embraced it.  It’s a thing.  A thing I recognize and am addressing. And teaching?  It might be interesting to try to cast teaching with five archetypes, kinda like Breakfast Club did.  Martyrs would be one. 

Sacrificing for the work has long been a part of teaching.  No one goes into teaching for the money.  If anyone wants to actually be good at teaching, the summers off prove themselves a joke early in the career.  

I love to work.  I love the feeling of accomplishment when I put content pieces in order, solve a pacing puzzle, open a path for students, and meet the moment– after moment after moment.  I love learning.  I take wild and intense pride in my classroom and in seeing that magic of kids come to fruition because of the community and agency and benchmarks made visible. I love kids. Oooh, how I love the kid. 

The work, though, has changed.  Somewhere, rather than voluntarily (and yeah, I am going to work on it) martyring myself for a cause I believed in and gave me joy, I have become an exploited cog without agency. 

A colleague of mine I admire greatly sent me this article.  At the heart is this: 

High social complexity + low form predictability = stress reactive behaviors.

The pandemic + the most polarized society in my lifetime has completely upped the social complexity. 

The pandemic + the most polarized society in my lifetime has completely tumbled predictability. 

So stress reactive behavior?  Yeah.  I am there. 

But the trajectory was there BEFORE the pandemic.  The trajectory was clear BEFORE polarization became so entrenched. 

I know that in my oh-so-large-and-growing-school district, part of that is complexity.  There are more people between the classroom and the building office and then the district office.  The people who filter into my life now are learning coaches, data experts, SEL experts, deans, assistant principles galore, testing experts, tech coaches.  

The number of adults interacting with my world staggers me.  The constant turnover is a significant complication.  And being online (and then, for me, returning to a brand new building that broke social bonds in place), well, research says that impairs trust.   The time provided to interact and coordinate with these adults?   Nonexistent or it comes out of my classroom prep time or personal time, the two core elements I seek to protect. 

High social complexity + low form predictability= stress reactive behaviors. 

Then there is the fact that these people, often removed from the classroom if they ever were there, make decisions that impact my daily life.  High school teaching has fundamentally changed since the advent of the cell phone.  High school teaching has fundamentally changed in the cut-throat economic competition of college entry and test scores.  High school teaching has fundamentally changed with the significant increase of emotional needs, including anxiety, depression, body dysmorphia, and ADHD.  And then there was a pandemic. 

High social complexity + low form predictability= stress reactive behaviors. 

The world of teaching needs us to work together to survive.  It is too complicated for a teacher to do solo behind closed doors.  A professional learning team helps that. 

Kids deserve a guaranteed curriculum.  They should not have grossly different experiences because of a computerized scheduling placement put them in room A vs room B.  A professional learning team helps that. I believe in it– and yet. . . 

A PLC means more adults in my world.  It means more interactions, dialog, compromise, and dreams.  The time provided to interact and coordinate with these adults?   Nonexistent or it comes out of my classroom prep time or personal time, the two core elements I seek to protect. 

High social complexity + low form predictability= stress reactive behaviors. 

My friend’s comments echo my world: “Many of us have held leadership roles that added a lot of extra time and work to our plates. The difference was we made those choices, and we were passionate and committed to what we were doing. We worked hard for a “purpose”. We’d be exhausted, but energized, inspired, and enthusiastic at the same time. Often now, it feels like we’re working to complete a task – but it may lack purpose for us. So even if we may be doing less, it’s stressing us out more.”

Yup.  There is more social complexity to teaching than ever before. 

This post covered only the number of adult complications that have added to social complexity. 

The fact education’s turnover is accelerating will increasingly add to the low predictability. 

I am not only no longer being energized, 

I am depleted. 

I fight to breathe and center. 

I fight to breathe and center in a world that ignores my reality while I try to see the realities of my students.  It’s no wonder something broke last year.

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What do we know of current stress, fall of 2021? 

So if the last stress data I had for teachers was 2017, what can I find out about current stress levels?  

According to this June article from Chalkbeat, 75% of teachers reported frequent job-related stress, and perhaps more alarmingly, 27% of teachers report signs of depression compared to the average for adults, which is 10%.  That information came from Rand in an article that addressed threatened teacher supply.   More local news, like this from Portland, backs that up: of the 2861 teachers surveyed, over 1000 were thinking of leaving.  70% of the 2800 reported their stress levels were high or severe, with 28% reporting the stress impacts their health. 

There is much to that stress.  The amount of hours it took to replan, redesign last year– and this seemed true if you were online for the majority of the year like we were, hybrid, or face to face– was intense.  In every situation, the techniques and materials used had to shift. 

In every situation, students were going through intense change and pacing needed to shift. 

The end result? 

This fall?  There were hopes of getting better.  For me, I have a brand new building and all sorts of stressors that come with it, but again– from every teacher I hear, it is the same story. 

I recall some of my students’ banter early this year when they were talking about commonalities for different fields.  One of them asked what teachers had in common?  A fellow student quipped, “depression.” 

That stuck with me.  I thought about that September comment hard. 

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The crux of the matter is this…

I firmly believe the teacher makes the most difference in the classroom.  The classroom culture, pace, success, everything, really, rests pretty squarely on individual teachers.  Yes, the team in which a teacher works is important.  Yes, the make-up of a classroom has impact.  The culture of a school and therefore the leadership of that school?  Important. But the teacher is essential

A blog I read this year, Steve Nelson’s The Teaching Profession in Crisis stated this: “Renowned cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner and many others have determined that social context is the most important variable in real learning.  Relationships among and between teachers and students determine the quality of school experience.”  This is always true, and next fall, when students and their families navigate in the receding pandemic, the calm, capable, and knowledgeable presence of teachers will be even more paramount.

When we think about our school experience, it is the teachers we had and how we felt about them and what they had us see about our own abilities and the content that matters. 

Here’s the thing, though.  Teachers are more prone to stress.  They’ve tied with nurses to be the most stressful field (source) with 46% of teachers reporting daily high stress, and that poll was before the pandemic, which didn’t treat teachers or nurses with kindness.  A reason for the stress is that we as professionals are “faced daily with caregiving situations in [our] work lives, often with inadequate pay, inadequate help in [our] jobs, and with too many patients or students in [our] charge”  (source).  We teachers, and I know that I am blessed to be in a well-resourced (and yet still often see my needs not met) district, often are indeed often placed in impossible situations routinely. 

This stress is not from the pandemic as much as the pandemic revealed it. This NPR source focusing on teacher stress and using that 46% number is from 2016.  The trend for teacher stress indicates stress is increasing.  More evidence: “A 2017 survey revealed that 58% of educators characterized their mental health as “not good” for at least a week out of the last month, which is up 24% from just 2015” (source).

This spring, the impact of chronic stress seemed clearer to me.  I knew I was running on empty.  Running on empty for myself, my family, my colleagues, and my students.  Each time I triaged email and saw, perhaps a parent email asking for help because their child/my student just lost a loved one, or perhaps a college rejection letter was playing havoc in my student’s psyche, or perhaps… oh, so many things, I felt the weight differently  than in years past, perhaps because the classroom itself was not there in its normal capacity to refill and replenish me and I increasingly refuse to look without comment at the costs exacted on teachers. 

There was hope this fall with somewhat of a return to normalcy would be better, but it isn’t.  The students are in different places, all methods have been blown apart, digital files are in disarray– nothing, no nothing is in place.  For my school, we have the added chaos of a brand new building and layers and layers of new admin, but every educator I speak with, new building or no, says the same: this is unsustainable.

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The voices in my head, two through five

“Your anger serves you well” 

Last spring, leadership partnership revealed its own cracks.  Over the pandemic and amidst the increasingly polarized society, the pasts of my own life-traumas revealed themselves more, too.  Therapy was one of the steps I took to address the recurrent stress headaches and jaw clenching.  One element we discussed (still discuss) is how uncomfortable I am with my own anger.  I am so angry at what is happening to education as a field.  I am so angry at what is asked of me and my colleagues daily.  I see my students’ lives: I am so angry at the inequities and injustices we as a society don’t account for.  And I am angry that I continually see teachers placed in situations that do not set them up for success. 

I have valued my therapist’s point: my anger is serving me right now.  Serving me to see.  To set boundaries.  To propel me to truth.  To also energize me to see that I can change my world– I do not have to accept it silently. 

I see my anger.  It is justified anger.  And I need to keep circling back to it strategically. 

“You have always spoken in “we” but now you speak in “us and them”

One of my good friends runs an agency for children.  Over a glass of wine together as the school year started, my friend said this to me as I processed my worklife.  When my friend said this, I thought of the echoes throughout my leadership experience, including to a principal team whose leading goal was to harness departmental leaders in the school so that we could be a collective us, seeing and sharing perspectives from around the school.  Their explicit goal was no “us/them”.  That is the culture in which I work best: transparent, communicative, steady.  

Pronouns are powerful.  The ones I have used through the years speak volumes and I am grateful to have such an insightful friend to excavate what my own language conveyed. 

“This is the best resourced school I have worked for and y’all negativity is bringing me down” 

This is my fourth school.  I have learned as I entered each school that I, as a new person, saw elements more clearly than those who worked there did.  As a new person, I was also blind to sooooo much.  As a leader, then, I try to tune into the new teachers.  We hired them, after all, for a reason.  [Though truthfully, it gets harder and harder as the pool shrinks and shrinks and shrinks.]  

So when a strong, beautiful, talented new teacher in my department brought her voice forward to say that our collective negativity is bringing her down, I had to own it as absolutely true. 

And dangerous. 

Burnout multiplies.  Negativity multiplies. 

And this question resonates: 

“You’ve always been an advocate for teachers” 

In the end, it comes to this: students are best served by caring, trained, and networked teachers.  All that is on teachers’ plates right now is overwhelming, jeopardizing the day to day patience, resilience, and creativity it takes to teach effectively.  School systems’ answer is to tell us to practice better self care, a non-answer. Society’s answer is to lower expectations for who can be a teacher.  

The network of teachers I have in every arena of my life– face to face, past colleagues, Facebook, Twitter, forums– we keep saying we are under water.  That our lives were unsustainable before the pandemic and they are worse now. 

If we want students to have a good education, that means teachers, and calculations around retention reside in my head as I process, write, speak.  A hope that honesty might help the field  means confronting toxic positivity.  It means probing to see if we can go beyond surface-level invitations for educator input.  It means being uncomfortable, perhaps, in a new role for me where I allow anger, where I am willing to be labeled negative.  So be it. 

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Voice 1 of the five voices in my head right now

Since the pandemic hit March of 2020, there have been all sorts of pivots*– the lockdown phase where we were discouraged from zoom calls or all class anything, pivoting to choice boards, journals, and conferences.  We started the fall in online mode, watching each school board meeting with curiosity and apprehension.  Then we went back to the building in January with students arriving in March, almost a year to the day from exiting the building, teaching in hybrid, juggling online and in person.  All of us were packing up our rooms, too; the new high school was being built and our section was going to be torn down. 

This fall?  I’ll say more later, but it is new, new, new, new.  The point:  that’s a lot of change amidst the change of a pandemic that posed/ still poses stress in every arena of our lives.  In these transitions, there are five voices in my head I collected from January of last year to October of this year.  They ping around quite a bit. 

*And yes, as I type the word “pivot” and use the forms of “pivoting”, I recall two things: the post-it note of what I never want to hear again that I created last year and how one department mate texted a group every time we heard the word pivot in our PD.  That would have been one heck of a drinking game. 

“I thought you’d be better than this”

An unkind voice in power over me said that to me, and wow.  It hit hard.  That line and a few other lines from that voice make me pull up and reflect.  The difficulty in sorting out this voice is a recognition I wasn’t at my best last year.  I wasn’t.  And also who would think I would be or should be?  While a move to journaling helped capture context to other lines that linger in my head, “I thought you’d be better” was the first noteworthy parry.  The context I see– asking teachers to come into a building, to trust a committee’s safety decisions when the how and the why was not conveyed, to relay without question demands teachers were held to while all were concurrently juggling the emotional realities of building a new school– how could anyone, particularly a partner in leadership, expect anyone to be at their best?   

It takes energy as an educator to field sincere and robust student questions that get to the how and why of learning.  It is easier to ask for and create a culture of compliance.  The same is said for leadership. This “I thought you’d be better than this” wanted compliance.  Quiet.  Wanted me to simply sell the department on what we had no agency or voice in. 

When I am centered enough to emotionally process all that those in leadership juggle themselves, I know they have been required to expend so much energy that grace must be given.  I also believe that this fraught system creates a scenario where admin increasingly seek teacher compliance.  The role I have held as a leader was to bring forth thoughts and ideas from my department to a leadership table; now it is to make decisions teachers had no agency over palatable.  It is to be quiet when teachers are in a no-win situation.  Yeah, I am not going to be good with that.  I am not going to be good with that even when I can, in grace, see that the power over me is also in a no-win situation. 

If I picked a self-portrait of me last spring, it would be this: 

We thought we’d catch the rabbits coming under the hole in our fence– but this is what we caught, poor opossum.  How to get an angry opossum out of a trap?  Not as easy as all the rabbits that came before.  

The school situation last spring? What we thought and what we got and what continues?  No one could be their best. 

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Why this journal/blog series–

I should not be writing this.  I firmly believe that what I pay attention to is what grows: years ago in my career, I trained myself to focus on the good.  Rather than seeing student tardiness, see their willingness to come to class.  Rather than filing away a snippy student tone, file away what I learn when I ask “what’s up? I didn’t expect that reply.”  Writing with the explicit purpose of focusing on costs and barriers is dangerous.   But these other thoughts counteract my awareness of danger: 

  • During Wisconsin’s Act 10, when teacher’s unions were stripped of meaningful collective bargaining and public disdain for teachers was in full display, my friends and I repeatedly had a saying:  do not pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.  That sentiment holds true now. 
  • I am raising two brilliant children.  When I explained some elements of my teaching life coming this year to my older and then told him “I will just have to learn to like it,” he chided me, saying that what I just said was one of the most maladaptive things he has heard from me.  He (still under 20!) encouraged me to acknowledge the truth as I saw it, advocate for myself, and keep on teaching well.  
  • Hearing about other teachers I admire has made me feel less crazy.  Maybe this will help someone. 

Why this journal exists now–

Early in the pandemic, I was, as educational leader, conferencing with a younger teacher new to our district.  That teacher shared that he was really struggling because the lockdown/online teaching destroyed his work/life balance.  I ruefully thought to myself that I have never had work/life balance.  All through my marriage, I have heard my partner occasionally say how much he hates being married to a teacher.  In recent years, I have articulated to myself that my family has paid a price (sometimes economically, sometimes emotionally) because I am a teacher.  

If I go back to Tom Rademacher’s blog, this other line stands out: “I’ve run this race for fourteen years now and never run it cleanly. I always end with busted knees and new scars. I’m always exhausted, every year, tired straight through my chest.”  I’ve run this teaching race thing now for twenty-eight years.  That chest comment?  I end normal school years with a rattle in my chest, feeling each breath.  I throw my back out every June, then wait for recovery.  I have never accomplished a work/life balance, and the pandemic forced a reckoning with that truth.

Why this journal is *no longer*  “anonymous” 

I originally published large portions of this blog this summer in what my older son called my anonymous rage rant under the blog RRRidonkulous– because wow!  How often this year have I heard what was going to happen in my worklife and thought, well, that’s ridonkulous.  And RRR–RRR– reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, baby. 

There was reasoning for an anonymous rage rant.  A morning some weeks after we started concurrent/hybrid teaching, there was a school-wide hold (keeping students in place to give a medical or discipline situation privacy) put at the end of my prep hour.  When the hold would be released, I would need to be in a different room, logged in for the zoom kids with needed sanitation done for face-to-face kids.  An un-doable three minutes was allotted for that.  So I decided, since the nexus for the hold was not my hallway, to go to bathroom.  When I was passed by a school official, I realized I was afraid.  Afraid that the fact I was in the hall during a hold would be put in my file.  Afraid that the observation would be ammunition against me.  I at first thought that this was pandemic emotions hyperbolizing sentiment, but… 

Later that month, a colleague drove hours to help a friend diagnosed with cancer.  In the ride, her car developed a loud noise.  As she bought groceries to leave at the door and ran errands she could, she wondered if her car was driveable to return that night to be in school the next day, Monday.  She felt a fear that this would be a mark against her, an entry in her file.  The fact both of us came to conclusions of fear and insecurity says a lot.  This was in the midst of a pandemic where our emotions ran high, but then, so should have support and understanding in meaningful ways.

Currently, our lead principal has offered to have a restorative circle hearing of angst in my department.  I note that there is a significant portion of the department who decline because they are nervous to speak their minds.  (There is also a significant portion who declines because they have not been bothered by anything.  Life is, as always, complex.)  But here is the thing about being quiet– it doesn’t enact change.  Here is the thing about speaking– it requires oh so much energy. 

I am stepping away from being a leader after this year.  My admin, my department know this is the final year of being instructional leader, and this blog will help me process how and why that is.  Being quiet, though, does not enact change.  Being compliant does not allow systems to bloom into fully healthy organisms.  

In all my leadership, my number one value is transparency.  Here are my words.  I own them. 

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