Reflection: annus horribilis

I think I’ve finally discovered the reason why I haven’t been speaking to you lately — and by “lately,” I mean with any regularity since last September. I should have noticed it or connected the dots long ago, but at 3:00 this morning, as I flopped around like a trout, unable to shut off my brain, it came to me: I’ve been too sad to write. Too angry, too disappointed, too worried, too wounded — too tired. In short, as I told someone last week, of the 22 years I’ve put in as a public school teacher, this one goes down as the absolute worst. And that can make a person mighty weary.

Writing RtB is an expression of my fascination with life. “Lately,” being me hasn’t been so fascinating, so I resisted writing about it. It’s that simple, and it starts and ends with what’s been happening at work.

I’ve watched my students endure abusive and wrong-headed testing to the point of simply giving up on school and choosing to no longer care. Many of my colleagues — some of the best teachers I know — drove home every day feeling more defeated, devalued and beat down than they ever imagined was possible. I will stop there, as I won’t share any more details in a public forum, but those of you who have walked this journey with me these past months know what I mean. Suffice it to say that the consummate failure of education policy in this country has steamrolled more than just careers. It’s affected everything.

Disasters like 2014-15 can’t help but seep into one’s personal life, but I’m delighted to say that my family and friends are wonderful, proving over and over that they are a safe port in the worst of my storms. They made my time away from school peaceful and fun, which made going into work less stressful than it could have been. Furthermore, in spite of all the poison around them, my students made some great music and gave a wonderfully supportive community two fine theater productions. They persevered, and truly inspired me in my dark hours. And there were plenty of dark hours.

I have struggled with not feeling bitter and angry, because I know it just hurts me. Those at fault couldn’t care less about how I feel (or how any teacher feels), so why am I wasting time and energy allowing them to control my day? That particular epiphany landed hard at around 4:30, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since, with increasingly positive mental results. And now, at 6:22 a.m., I’m happy to report that basically, it’s fine. I’m fine. I plan to make 2015-16 the best year possible, and I will begin by completely excising all toxic, negative, destructive forces from my professional life. We can control only so much of our “space” at work, and the goal is to make the best of what I can control, and stop raging so much at what I can’t.

That’s not to say that there’s no fight left in the dog, mind. If I’m an advocate for my students, I’ll never stop campaigning for their fair treatment with regard to people with no knowledge or experience in education making policy decisions, and since I’m now president of my local teacher union (shocked, are ya?), there’s plenty of advocating to do on the teacher side as well.

For now, though, it’s all good, fiends. The real stars of the school year were the kids, who made me happy and proud. A huge shout goes out to their parents as well, and to my fellow teachers. We will weather this storm, and the forces that caused it. Le jour de gloire est arrivé!

9 thoughts on “Reflection: annus horribilis

  1. Mavis

    Yay for those early morning epiphanies! I hate it (yes, *hate*) that you’ve had such a tough year, Bird. I have watched you struggle all of this year but, as always, you and those wonderful kids have made many folks happy with your performances.

    We’ve talked a lot about CC, and you’ve helped me to understand it. I have to say that I’m relieved beyond belief that I have no school age children!! I do, however, worry about my grandchildren and yours. Something has to give.

    Another thing that hurts my heart – I’ve watched the absolute joy you have in your work, fade from your eyes. You and those students gave such beautiful music to the people, but the shine in your face and the ever present sparkle in those hazel eyes – just wasn’t there. I pray that this summer you can relax, work on letting things go (with the help of your wonderful sis ;-) ) and start anew in the Fall. We all love you, Bird, and we’re behind you 100%!!!

    1. Rat Fink Post author

      Thanks Mave — you’re the best! And I will bounce back from this. I think I just need a change of scenery for a few weeks, then I’ll be back to my old crusty self! HUGZ

  2. David

    My Dear Friend…it is always hard to see good people going through struggles, whether personal or professional. It is doubly hard when that person is someone close to your heart.
    We, as your fiends, would like nothing more than to help alleviate the hurt, stress and frustration. Unfortunately we cannot. What we can do is support and encourage and love on you through whatever comes…you have mine!
    I want to encourage you that you hit upon one of the secrets of life and that is to spend your energy and talents on that which you control. Life presents us with all sorts of battles, knowing when and to what degree to engage in the fight is crucial for living to fight another day. A lesson I learned some 48 years ago…still applicable today.
    In the absolute mess that is present day education you are likely the brightest , most caring resource in their educational life…and that is significant! Your legacy are all those young boys and girls that for a spell every year decide to follow you work hard and make the world a more beautiful place! You…are simply the best!

    1. Rat Fink Post author

      I love you, fiend! I agree with Mavis — well spoken, and all we can do is control that which is controllable, and we just can’t own everyone else’s decisions. But we still live to fight, and that is what I plan to do. It’s either that or throw in the towel.

      Two more days and I’m done for a bit. Thank you for your wise words, old owl!!

  3. RD

    My heart went out to you as I read this. I am dismayed by what is taking place in education, and I see it only from a distance. When you and teachers like you–highly creative, deeply committed and passionate about truly teaching youth–are so demoralized, I ask why don’t the powers that be perceive what’s happening and do everything possible to right the ship. I’m glad that you are the president of your local teachers and hope it will give you a platform from which to speak. How do you feel about your place in this position and what plans do you have for it?
    Thanks for being so vulnerable about your past year. For what it’s worth, I affirm your intentionality to not allow this to sabatoge your summer as a time of refreshment, rejuvenation and fun for you. At the very least, some java is in order :) I would have loved you as a teacher, and I know that your students are much better people and more appreciative of music and the arts because of how you teach and what you draw out of them. Please do not throw in the towel. I’ve written this using my new tablet typing one character at a time. Thanks for letting me practice on you. You know–practiice, practice, practice.

    1. Rat Fink Post author

      That’s how to get to Carnegie Hall, my friend. :-D What would I have done these past 20 years without you?

      I don’t know what the next year holds, but I can tell you that I will be prepared to fight for these kids AND their teachers, if a fight it what’s called for. I hope not, because I don’t want fighting, but I have absolutely no fear about the prospect, if that’s what it takes to right the ship. I wish I had an answer to your question about why people can’t see what’s best for kids; maybe it’s because they’re too high and it’s too hard to see what’s really going on down below.

      Thank you for the encouragement and hugs! Java date is ON.

  4. Suzanne

    This just makes me want to cry. To hear that teachers are being made to feel defeated at their jobs is a horrible thing. I understand you not wanting to feel like you “bog” us down with it all but dearest we are here to help pick you up and lend a listening ear. This is YOUR blog and your space to share with us your life.

    We miss you when you go away for awhile.

    **HUGS** Have a fantastic summer, just take it easy and enjoy your family and those cutie pie dogs. :)

    1. Rat Fink Post author

      That’s one of the things I love about RtB! You guys always give me bigtime encouragement. And I plan to have a somewhat relaxing summer. (OK, you know that’s crap. hahahah) ;-) Hugs from across the pond!


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