“Wisely and slow. They stumble that run fast.”–R&J 2.3. 100-101
I’m an Aries, the leader of the zodiac, and I have heard that we generally like to sprint across the finish line. That being said, I don’t think anyone will disagree that the academic school year is most definitely a marathon, not a sprint. I have found that it makes sense to see the nine months of the school year as a relay race between months each with a distinct personality, or vibe. In light of this, endurance is the baton passed between each leg of the race. Every month first semester has a mirror (or twin month) second semester to which the baton gets passed. It takes strategy, determination, and strength, to see the race through to the finish line and beyond.
August (September) // January (February)
“Who is this lady?”
In August and September, I’m usually just trying to get to know students, unless I’ve taught them before and we have an established relationship. The beginning of the year in my classroom is definitely the honeymoon phase. I’ve heard it said that in relationships, this lasts about three months. In the classroom, I think I can safely say it lasts about three weeks. As the glow of summer/or winter break wears off, and people get resistant to the controlled environment in most schools, things can very easily start to crumble if practices aren’t grounded in patience and love.
I see these first few weeks of both semesters as being built upon a foundation of strong relationships, fun and uplifting classroom culture, and (because I work with kids) establishing necessary routines. I used to work with a woman who was also my neighbor. We taught together and lived by one another. We would hang out, soak up the summer sun, or brunch it up over winter break, and then go back to school and talk about the difference between our summer selves and our school selves. Such is the vast difference between one’s life when school is in session, and the way we all feel when it isn’t. Sometimes, I reach the end of September or February and barely recognize myself, so much have I changed from the lazy days of summer, or winter. I always have to give myself time to adjust my thinking, and my habits, and to be mindful of the fact that the students must be encouraged to do this too. The need for patience, understanding, flexibility, and always–more love, is key.
October // March
“What can I do to get my grade up?”
October and March, for me, are the hardest months. There is usually a non stop series of testing that goes on in March, and in the Fall, “October count” [the week where every child counts–quite literally] is an awkward middle month. It is usually in October and March where everybody starts to get very antsy for the breaks that we know are coming, and we also begin to feel the pressure of the end of semester approaching. In October, we know Thanksgiving is around the corner, but it’s not quite within reach.
In March, the month we are in as I write this, Spring Break is coming, the birds have started to sing, the days get a little longer, the sun burns a little hotter–tempers flare. People have generally lost all patience for dealing with the small irritations that have continuously plagued them over the previous 7 months. Inevitably, and predictably, fight season arrives. Our current grading system contributes to students and teachers feeling huge amounts of stress, and anxiety, as the end of the semester looms. People get a little short with one another and grapple with what it means to reach the finish line at the end of the race. Tapping into inner strength and endurance is really the only way to make it through.
November // April
“All we do is eat. Literally and figuratively.”
November is so short, with Thanksgiving break at its end. Holiday parties (and random cakes appearing in the staff lounge) all begin the week before Thanksgiving break, and they really don’t stop until we leave for Winter break. We all comfort eat to break up some of the monotony, tension, and grading drama around the end of the semester, but everything has to be eaten (and graded) in moderation, which can be challenging. “Pace yourself” is the motto I live by in November.
In a way, April is the very same. The parties and celebrations in education are some of the things I enjoy the most. I absolutely love celebrating students, getting ready for graduation, awards ceremonies to recognize all that my students have fought so hard to achieve. As a bonus, prom is always a major highlight of my year, because we definitely know how to do it in Montbello. Celebrations are food for the individual and collective soul. But again, I always caution students, “everything in moderation”, because towards the end of the year it is so easy to do too much, stumble, and fall.
December // May (June)
“Are we there yet?”
December disappears into just two weeks of instruction (prepping for exams), and one week of finals. All of a sudden, the semester is over, and we’re done. To contrast, May feels completely, unbearably, terribly long–unless you teach Seniors who check out (or complete all work necessary before graduation) in the second week in May. I hate saying goodbye to my Seniors. It breaks my heart every time. So, it is bittersweet to come to the end of a school year, even though everybody wants the end so badly they can taste it, in the months that are the final lengths of the race.
A friend of mine yesterday gave me some incredible words of wisdom that seem perfectly applicable to the month of May. He said that the last month of the year is really the first month of the coming school year–and I agree. I always end the year a bit tired, but also inspired with so many ideas for new books to teach, new and better ways to explore the content I am responsible for teaching. We turn in year-long maps for the year ahead, and we’re off!
I love June, and the start of summer, when I am free to indulge in the things I love most: travel, reading, napping, gardening, cooking (and eating) are just a few. As I see it, setting goals for the future is a hopeful, and good thing.
Passing the baton
from the old year
to the new
is an act of courage
Crossing the finish line,
we pause for a breath–take a beat,
to honor how far we’ve come
and just how far
(with passion, and fire beneath our feet)