Back to School: The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

By Adrin Fisher

I have a confession to make.

Sometimes I walk through the school supplies aisle just to smell it.  It’s just the BEST.

I know, it’s odd.  School supplies are my vitamin D:  they strengthen my bones.  I love choosing from bins of highlighters, glue sticks, pencils, and pens.  Those fresh, smooth binders arranged by size and color, the stacks of perfectly neat spiral notebooks, the on-trend portfolio folders—oh, be still my heart!  The back-to-school aisle demonstrates the power to organize, to take charge.  I’m in love with the potential.  Those new supplies remind me of a full classroom—buzzing with kinetic energy just waiting to be unlocked.

But, school supplies are also my kryptonite.  The August sales mean one thing:  summer is done.  Gone are the days of reading purely for fun.  Gone are weekday pancakes, blueberry picking, 2 pm naps, floating-in-the-pool-without-a-care, midday dentist appointments.  Gone are endless descriptions of the nuances and history of favorite video games in the voluble chatter of my two middle-school-age sons.  Gone is the time for summer projects, the list partially finished.

But, I do love being back on a schedule.  I love the satisfaction of daily tasks accomplished, the time pressure which drives me to plan for my students’ best learning and my family’s best life.  I love creating and developing instruction.  I am not one to do the exact same thing year after year—like my high school biology teacher who simply unclipped old transparencies from her binders and ordered us to copy them; nor am I one to purchase prefab units—I’ve found through experience that I can’t do justice to a story or a novel or an assignment unless I’m invested in it.  I love being inspired and then working something out.  I love reflecting on what worked and why, and then tweaking the whole beautiful mess.

grading papers
Correcting essays points students toward growth, but takes time.

But, I know I will get bogged down.  Last August, I gave three diagnostics to each of 140 students—including a timed essay.  It was October before I got them all assessed.  The diagnostics got buried under regular classwork—summer projects, notes on each student, essay prewriting, Beowulf and “The Lottery” and the thousand other demands of everyday life in a high school.  Like most English teachers, I spend at least one weekend day (and many very early mornings) on school work.  Like most English teachers, I feel that it’s not enough.  Like most English teachers, I feel that it’s too much.  Sometimes I wish I had a job without homework.

But, I love my job.  Teaching is beautiful and meaningful and satisfying and it’s a whole lot of fun.  When I see former students out and about, they always ask, “Are you still at the high school?” “Yes,” I say, “of course! Where else would I be?”  I love my students:  the connections, the laughter, the discussions.  I love investing my life in their lives.  Every year I’ve impacted someone positively.  I know this because I hang on to every scrap of positivity and file it away for reflecting on the days when the “worst” creeps in.

My advice?  Embrace all the emotions that surge through the beginning of your school year—the joy, the anxiety, the anticipation.   Find ways to improve your work management.  Cultivate good habits.  Seek people who’ll encourage you and challenge you—but mostly encourage.  And create a scrapbook or a file folder for your “attagirl” or “attaboy” moments so that when your BEST job slides into a WORST moment, you can fight back with true facts.

positive note
Tangible reminders go a long way to reminding me of the BEST.

Because if teaching isn’t the best job out there,  I don’t know what is.



WVCTE is wondering about your back-to-school bests and worsts. How do you focus on the best? What advice can you offer your colleagues? Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!

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