“Summer breeze, makes me feel fine…” –Seals & Crofts
As another school year ends and summer begins, I am left as usual with a muddled mind full of questions, analyses, and contemplation. Part of this is due to the mental and emotional exhaustion that accompanies the end of the school year. Part of this is due to the massive shift in daily life that occurs for a teacher during the summer. Most teachers look forward to the summer because it means more relaxation, more vacations, more family time, and more down time. While I enjoy all of those things as much as the next educator, I am also left slightly sad.
I love teaching! I love being around my students! They bring me tons of joy and remind me of the care free attitude of youth. My students give me a hard time and I return the favor. They make me laugh and provide me with a daily purpose. They push me to find new and better ways to help them navigate life and grow holistically.
Teaching is different than many other professions in a multitude of ways. One of the biggest differences was just made apparent to me recently. Teachers spend the majority of their day not with adults, but with children and teens. We interact daily with these adolescents, laughing, crying, disciplining, and celebrating. We develop inside jokes. We share routines. Teachers invest themselves in the lives of these young men and women. If you build relationships with people, they become a part of your life, and you become a part of theirs. This is amazing because a camaraderie and culture forms that makes working with people all the more enjoyable. I work with some amazing teachers and administrators, and the friendships that exist between them and me are very rich and fulfilling.
I also work with some incredible students with whom I share a very strong bond. As they go off to do fun things in their summer, I am left a little sad because I must hit pause on the interactions with them. Seniors are headed to college, and I will never get the chance to teach them again. Some groups will transition to new courses taught by new teachers. Others will return as my students in a few months, but it is still weird that I have a two month sabbatical before we can pick back up with the student-teacher relationship. Now, I don’t think my students all share the same angst. They are pretty excited to shed school for a while, sleep in, and hang out with friends. But I am left trying to make sense of my mind basket full of mixed feelings.
Students are not my friends. That would be weird. They are also not my children, my nephews and nieces, or my family friends. They are simply my students, right? No. They are part of my extended family. I care about them. I love them. I spend more time with them than most of my family. This is why it is so tough to not be around them or live life alongside them.
What is also true is that I put a lot of emphasis on my identity as a teacher. This is great in some aspects because teaching is a force multiplier. The more lives that I impact and the more minds that I help switch on to learning, passion, respect, diligence, and love, the more that these individuals encourage others to do the same throughout their lives. Teaching is a profession, but it is also a mission field. I can share love to those who need love, safety to those who are afraid, and motivation to those stuck in an endless mire of apathy. I can be a part of something much bigger than myself. This can also be dangerous.
If I put all of my efforts into being a great teacher, I take away from my roles as a husband, a father, and a follower of Christ. I rob myself of the potential for physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health to serve my students. This is not good or sustainable. It is also not fair to my wife and kids. It is not fair to God.
I am thankful for the summer, so I can re-calibrate my priorities, shower my wife and kids with the quality time that they deserve, and seek first the kingdom of God. As the Bible says, when we do this, “all these things shall be added unto you.” If I seek God first, my wife second, my kids third, my health fourth, and then my teaching career, things will work out much better. It seems simple now, but things get out of whack in the craziness of a school year.
Just writing about this helps me to process through my weird jumble of feelings. I will miss my students this summer, but I will also use this time to invest in the other relationships in my life. I will jump in the pool with my wife and kids. I will play trivia with my friends. I will also barbecue and laugh with family. I will pray, read the Bible, and journal in the mornings. I will also try to just take a chill pill and enjoy life. As Andy Bernard said in The Office finale, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good ole’ days before you’ve actually left them.” Wherever you are in life, and where I am right now, it will one day be considered the good ole’ days. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could fully enjoy and appreciate the beauty of life right now instead of dwelling on the past and planning for the future. Maybe you are better at it than I am. Maybe you know exactly what I am talking about.
Either way, have a happy summer!