I am tired. Bone-weary, lay on the floor in corpse pose, fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow, tired. It’s amazing how we reach our limit and then can continue past- discovering that what we thought was our finish line is actually only one of many milestones in the day. I remember being amazed that I could get up and function after having a baby and living on 2 hours of sleep at a time. (I thought I was functioning, but my co-workers informed me later that I was incoherent the majority of that time!) Regardless, I was able to do what I needed to do- wake up in a split-second multiple times during the night, sleepwalk into the baby’s room, change and feed them. I was able to get up when it was time to go to work, clothe myself, and drive to school. Any higher cognitive functions were beyond my grasp at that moment but still, it’s pretty amazing what I could do on restricted sleep and in physical recovery. These days my babies are growing up and allow me to sleep (usually) 8 hour intervals- if I’m lucky to get to bed that early. Aside from the occasional ear infection or nightmare, I am blessed with uninterrupted sleep, which I will never take for granted again.
This past week, however, I was visited with the inevitable back to school respiratory illness that appears as soon as all the students and teachers are back in close proximity. With a child in pre-K and 1st grade, as soon as my adorable cherubs walked through the door that first day of school the countdown for succumbing to a virus and transforming into coughing snot-nosed germ bags, bless their hearts, began. Not only does a hacking cough and splitting headache make a teacher miserable, sore, achy, tired, and present in and of itself a challenge to productively engaging students and effectively teach math concepts, but a teacher that can’t complete a sentence without breaking into a coughing fit is presented with a unique challenge for teaching.
Why didn’t I just take a day off and recuperate? This is the question my husband was asking me every morning. The answer, as every teacher knows, is that it is easier to suck it up, pop some Tylenol, and go to school rather than prepare for a substitute, basically sacrifice an entire day of instruction, and put my meticulously planned scope and sequence out of whack.
In addition to my own physical issues this week, the copy machine sputtered and coughed it’s last dying breath after braving the abuses heaped upon it by teachers intent on getting ahead at the beginning of school, after being off for months. There is nothing quite like trying to teach without one-to-one technology and not being able to make copies. Again, our limits are always beyond where we think they are. There is still quite a bit to be accomplished with a single computer, document camera, pencils and paper. I pulled out all my tricks this week with Plickers and my own phone, students’ phones, good old power-point, and textbooks. Did I feel like I was on the leading edge of teaching strategies? No. I was in survival mode, in more ways than one. But I survived and my students learned what I needed to cover this week.
Even as I type this, I’m interrupted by my son screaming in the adjacent room because his big brother whacked him with a stuffed animal; I had to take a moment to listen to my daughter bumble through a list of sight-words, which tries my patience as she guesses at the majority of them with only a cursory glance at the actual letter making up the word. After a day repeating myself patiently to high school students about the difference between inverse, converse and contrapositive conditional statements, I must dig deep to find the dregs in my reserve of patience as I help my own children with their homework and get them ready for bed, along with (or in spite of) their OCD demands that the water spraying them from the shower has to be a perfect 82 degrees, their pajamas have to be Spiderman (which are in the dirty clothes hamper) and not the batman pajamas which are currently clean and folded in their drawer. That I sing the exact same list of songs that we sing every night, despite the fact that I am croaking and coughing between each word, which only makes them more agitated.
At times like these how I long to throw up my hands and say, “I’m done.” Yet I still find a reserve of strength to make it five more minutes. Teach one more class. Be patient with one more child. Complete one more task. A human’s capacity for resilience and endurance continues to amaze me, and recognizing that miracle makes me feel like I have accomplished a feat as impressive as climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, running a marathon, or swimming the English channel- because at the end of this week that is what I feel like I have done, and I deserve a medal just for finishing upright when I walk out of the building Friday afternoon to begin my weekend. Even more encouraging is that I know I’m not alone. There is a host alongside me, fighting the good mommy-teacher fight. Kudos, star stickers, chocolate, and wine for everyone, just for completing one more day with the daisies rather than under them!