Sunday, May 13, 2018

Solid Wood

-Steve Jobs

Good Sunday evening.

Last Sunday evening I told you of Reagan's imminent tooth extraction. The extraction went extremely well. We have the extracted tooth in a small pink lockbox the dentist generously gave us (I am not going to show you the tooth . . . a tooth that is intentionally pulled looks a bit different than one that falls out). Reagan selected a prize from the prize box while I made an appointment to have Henry's cavities filled, & then the two of us happily traveled home while Reagan gnawed on some gauze. Thankfully we didn't need gauze for long; the bleeding subsided fairly quickly. Literally within days the permanent tooth that had been unable to break through her gum due to the extra baby tooth made an appearance. So, success all around on the dental front. 

This time of year is just not calm. Emotionally there is a lot happening, though your planner is so full you don't have all that much time to sit & contemplate your emotions. The emotional trauma of this time of year is a testament to the extent to which the school calendar dictates all of our lives. The only claim to fame May has is that the school year ends during May for most of us. It is not Christmas. It is not Thanksgiving. The weather is heating up, & it is becoming increasingly uncomfortable outside. It is Mother Nature's way of saying, Wrap it up, y'all. Have your graduations & recitals & Field Days now because in about a week you will all be baking.  

In the next week we are facing all that May has to throw at us: Field Day, Awards Day, end-of-the-year party, graduation, & a dance recital. All in the same week. Also, my mom is sort of not in town. Paper Bag. Paper Bag. 

This last week I saw myself in Reagan on a handful of occasions. Like me, she has a little Jay Gatsby in her, flatly refusing to embrace the future & leave the past in the past. She told me she wants Mrs. Roberts to, "be her teacher forever." I pathetically attempted to explain to her that we should hold tightly to our good memories, but it is important to move on & look to the future . . . all while I clapped my hands & rejoiced over last year's students returning home for the summer. Truly they never seem that far away what with technology what it is, but sometimes you need to see people's faces & hug their necks. 

In addition to the usual endings (& reunions!) May brings, my emotions are also precarious right now because my time in the high school classroom is ending soon. Don't ask me how I feel about this because the answer changes hourly. I think I have made a good decision. Still, I am leaving a classroom full of juniors in the hands of someone else when the controlling side of me feels like I should be the one to teach them their AP year. The rational side of me knows what it takes to adequately prepare students to take the AP Literature exam, & she says, "Anna, step away. Step away now." I am stepping away, but it is with a reluctant heart. 

There are a few things I think of when I feel especially sad about this transition, or I question my decision. Last May when school ended I had about a week before my online summer course began. It was a good week. I took the kids to the park one day. I made a lasagna. I cleaned out my closet. It was, well, summer. Once my online course began, trips to the park & lasagnas became incredibly infrequent. The course ended about three days before school began again in August. Sigh. 

I am sure at some point in blogs past I have discussed my decision not to get a masters in English. I don't want to rehash all that now. It is what it is. I don't have a masters in English, & in order to keep offering college-level courses to high school seniors, I would be facing several more summers of summer school. I already have a masters that allows me to return to part-time teaching (teaching a subject that does not require essay writing!), & this opens up my summers as well as considerable time during my workweek. From the perspective of time & carefree summers with the kids, I feel fantastic about my decision. 

In addition to my memories of last summer's one summer-school-free week, I have, to borrow a thought from Steve Jobs, been building with plywood for too long, & this leaves me immensely dissatisfied. 

When you're a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you're not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You'll know it's there, so you're going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through. 

Yes, yes. Thank you, Mr. Jobs. One of the reasons I believe Apple's products have been & continue to be successful in the marketplace is Steve Jobs's understanding of and appreciation for aesthetics. He understood a lot about computers & technology, but he also understood a lot about humans, too. Think about the time & money many women devote to the beautification of their home when often no one other than husbands & kids see the inside. Why do we do this, ladies? Most of us would do it if we lived alone & rarely had any houseguests. We do it because we know. We do it because it gives us a sense of accomplishment, because the aesthetic is pleasing to us even if no one else sees it or appreciates it or even expects it. 

As a mom & a teacher (& a wife & a church member & a friend, etc.) I have been slapping plywood on the back of so many otherwise beautiful chests of drawers, & I cannot stand it any longer. No one has told me I am doing a poor job (as a teacher or a mother), but I am dissatisfied with how I've managed both jobs, & so I have to step away from one. Even if no one else knows (or cares), I know. I care. I'd rather do one or two things thoroughly & well than spread myself too thin & do a lot of things poorly. I am not Steve Jobs, & I am not a carpenter; I do relate to the desire for excellence & thoroughness echoed in Jobs's words. I've used more plywood than I can bear the last two years in both my personal & my professional life. 

Quality over quantity is a common saying, but it is one of my favorites. It is applicable to so many areas in life. I have never cared to keep up with how many books I read in a year, even back when I could make it through quite a few yearly. I care far more about reading a few excellent books even if it takes me all year to read them. I have never craved throngs of friends in the way many females do at various of life's stages. I would rather have a handful of people in my life who know me well, who genuinely strive to understand me, & who're willing to sit across from me & watch me sip coffee & listen to me than to exhaust myself attempting to be all things to all people while truly connecting with no one. As Ben Johnson so aptly said, "True happiness consists not in the multitude of friends, but in the worth and choice." 

I would rather build a few stunning chests of drawers than to slap plywood on the back of yet another as the assembly line blows by me. I hope this makes some sense. 

This is a passage from Dear Miss Moreau:

     He stayed with her in a cerebral way that was intriguing and disconcerting. Edie had never had a moment's hesitation about turning away from a pretty face and a sculpted torso in the past. Facades had never enticed her, and in fact, they galled her; she hated it when a newly built business bricked up the front of an obviously aluminum building. 

     He was not just a pretty face. He stood solid, all red brick and mortar, and she had been gathering her things as if there were a vacancy. 

I am tempted to here insert a sermon on the importance of building restrictions, but I won't digress. 

As I always do, I hope this has made some sense. It of course makes sense in my head, but the degree to which that translates to the word processor varies. I don't know exactly how it will all work come August. I suspect our lives will be a little more ordered, but right now I can't think too much of August. I don't even know how I am going to make everything this week work. Tomorrow is Field Day. Tuesday brings Elementary Awards Day, Henry's end-of-the-year party, Reagan's ballet rehearsal (the non-dress rehearsal . . . because, yes, there's another one!), & high school graduation. The rehearsal that requires costumes is Thursday, & the blessed recital is Saturday afternoon. I don't know what extracurricular activities the children will participate in next school year, but I hope none of them require Reagan's hair to be in a tight, perfect bun. 

The juniors I teach have one more essay that needs to be graded. I need to clean up my classroom & move a lot of stuff home & have a few chats with my replacement. All of this ideally needs to happen this next week, during the week of Field Day & awards & graduation & rehearsal (x2) & ballet recital. Paper Bag. Paper Bag. 

This time next year, I'll have no adult responsibilities pertaining to my job because Delta Community College is now done. I used to think it was such a great idea for me & the kids to have the same school schedule; I no longer think that. For example, come December, I will be done with teaching & grading responsibilities a full week before the kids are released for their Christmas Break. What this means is that I will have a week to drop off the kids, Christmas shop, sip coffee slowly, & maybe spend a few hours in my quiet house enjoying a roaring fire while I ponder Christmas decor. I want to sip coffee & ponder so incredibly much. I'll also have a week off after the kids go back to school in January because, as you may know, colleges take an amazingly long break between semesters. So, more sipping. More pondering. I need it. I need to build with bricks rather than haphazardly doing everything quickly & poorly. 

I am excited about what I am currently slated to teach in the fall (we'll talk more about that later). One of the reasons I am excited is simply that I believe I will have the time to adequately prepare for lectures as well as the time necessary to give students quality feedback on their work. This may sound like the craziest thing ever, but I hate to assign work I know from the get-go I will not have the time to properly grade. I think if you ask students to write a lengthy essay or report or whatever, you owe students a thorough job of grading their work. I learned only from those teachers who took the time to read what I wrote & to tell me (either verbally or in writing or both) what I did well & what I did poorly (& how to improve). Quality feedback is so time consuming, unfortunately. Quality feedback times sixty or seventy is daunting. It rarely happens during the school day, which leaves nights & weekends. I want my nights & weekends; my kids need my nights & weekends, as well as my summers. 

As you may recall, I used to regularly post on Monday mornings. The shift to Sunday nights occurred earlier this school year when I realized I was typically exhausted & crippled by anxiety on Monday mornings. My Monday mornings are about to open wide up, so who knows what the future holds. 

It is with a conflicted heart I address you as a high school English teacher for what is likely the final time. Years ago I was fresh out of college & had no idea what I wanted to do. I was offered a permanent sub position at a local high school. They needed a certified English teacher to step in for a woman who had emergency surgery & would be out for about four months. I had an English degree, & I had jumped through all the state's education hoops, so I fit the bill. When those four months were up, I was offered a permanent teaching position with the high school. I was so young & very unmarried, & so I passed & returned to my true love: college. 

I got my masters. While getting my masters, I had the chance to teach college courses. I fell in love with teaching college courses. Truly the five-day-a-week thing is for the birds, y'all, at least in the age of technology when you can assign & accomplish so much online. I never imagined returning to a high school classroom after leaving that sub job & turning down their offer of employment. Ultimately I did it these last two years because I thought it was best for Reagan, & that was probably true the past two years. When she began kindergarten, Reagan could not even check her own number. Between the knowledge she's gained & what her new pump is capable of, I think she'll be okay. My schedule will allow me to be there daily when she eats lunch if needed. We shall see. To again quote Mr. Jobs, "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future." 

A wise coworker recently told me no one's path is a straight line. You make the best decisions you can at the time. I am beginning to see some of the ways the dots connect, some of the ways I've been changed (I have been changed for the better . . . #sorry) from my time as a high school English teacher. I am sure some things won't be clear to me for months or years. Such is life.

For now, I am not looking much past this next week. I am certain once the award ceremonies & the graduations & the recitals are over, the stages cleared & the lights dimmed, I will think some more about all of this. Students will be scattered to the wind, my classroom walls will be stripped, & I'll be at home with my thoughts & my babies, cleaning closets, visiting parks, & working with aesthetically pleasing solid wood.


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