A Tough Time of Year

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You’d think being a teacher would make me apprehensive of August.  August brings its own set of anxieties, sure. But that’s almost a good rush, waiting on a new adventure with a clean (for the last time in 9 months) classroom fully stocked (for the last time in 9 months) with shiny new school supplies.  I’ve always liked that time of year, in a bittersweet way.

No, the toughest time of year for me as a teacher is mid-April to mid-May, that roughly 30-day window when everything you thought you knew about your school gets a thorough shake up.  Upcoming retirements that were discussed hypothetically for the last seven years become official.  Resignations are announced.  Transfers.  Pink slips.  Budget cuts for the next year.  Interviews.  Speculation about interviewees.  Next year’s schedule.  How many periods will we have?  How long will they be?  What time will the day start and end? What will I teach?  How big are my classes?

I swear, the person who christened “Teacher Appreciation Week” must have been a teacher.  It’s too perfectly positioned right in the middle of all this chaos for a layperson to have randomly picked it.

I always try not to get too emotionally invested in this tough time of year, because I know that it will all settle down quickly.  I know I will most likely be very happy “next year,” and I know I will forget about all this drama because I have forgotten about it every single year thus far.  But I like my job and my colleagues and my school so much, it’s hard not to get swept up in the shake up and the potentially negative implications for myself and those around me.

The good news is that my school works really hard to do what’s best for kids.  Am I looking forward to spending the latter half of my day next year at the STEAM academy across town?  Not particularly, and for a lot of reasons, not the least of which include the inconvenience of basically having two classrooms and not being on the main campus when my daughter gets off the school bus at the end of each exciting Kindergarten day.  But I have to re-frame the issue.  Is the STEAM academy, where students’ specific interests will be met and their passions hopefully ignited each day, good for our kids?  Will it be an amazing challenge to work with those subject areas to create an English class that incorporates STEAM skills and concepts in order to make the content exciting? Of course.  And so I tell myself that I will soldier on, that it won’t be that bad, that I can deal with the traffic and the snow and giving up part of my planning time every single day to drive back and forth.

Next year is going to be exciting and different.  And instead of seeing exciting and different as exhausting and overwhelming, I guess it’s time for me to embrace the fact that I chose a career path that will always lead in different directions. Yes, sometimes those directions are fads that fizzle or poorly planned treks into too-big projects.  But at least I’m doing what I love. And I can ignore or rise above the factors and factions that try to make me not love it as much.

Not to mention the fact that next year I won’t be trying to balance my career and family and graduate school and pregnancy.  As my friends and colleagues here know (since I won’t shut up about it and let them forget), I’ve taken 18 hours of graduate English courses in the past ten months to finish up my MA and teach College English next year.  For seven of those ten months, I’ve been pregnant.  I haven’t been the most effective mom or teacher this year.  So next year has to be better, right?

Right?

Right.

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Making Time for “Leaving Time”

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cover image courtesy of www.jodipicoult.com

cover image courtesy of http://www.jodipicoult.com

Let me start by saying I’ve spent the last ten months immersed in British and American literature, from the classic to the obscure.  It took me an entire agonizing week to trudge through a Forster novel, so when my final semester started winding down, I decided to reward myself by purchasing a Kindle Fire and Jodi Picoult’s October 2014 release Leaving Time.  Seventy-two hours later, I’d read all 400+ pages…for the most part.

I’m always intrigued by Picoult’s conflict and style; that’s why I stay engaged with her work.  She manages to create intricate conflicts that dip low and rise high as realistic characters evolve individually and in relation to one another along the way.  I love the alternating chapters that shift perspective amongst the various main characters.  And the Law & Order junkie in me is a sucker for the legal twists that are usually involved in the plot in some creative way.

Leaving Time is characteristic Picoult in regard to the conflict and style, though the legal aspect that is usually served by some court case or battle actually manifests as a former detective who helps thirteen-year-old Jenna search for her mother following her disappearance ten years prior. Add to the cast the washed-up celebrity psychic Serenity, Jenna’s institutionalized father, and her mother’s presence in chapters from her journals, and you’ve already got me hooked into Picoult’s world.

But wait, there’s more.  Picoult also loves to work a good angle, which provides a motif and a relevant context for her poignant tidbits of reflection woven into each story.  In House Rules, the background is the intricacy of autism.  In The Storyteller, it’s World War II.  In Handle with Care, it’s the rare disease osteogenesis imperfecta.  The angle in Leaving Time?  Elephants.  Yes, elephants.  Both Jenna’s father and mother study elephants, work toward their preservation, observe and record their cognitive abilities and habits–especially in the areas of memory and grief.  Appropriate for a story about a girl looking for her lost mother, right? That’s what Picoult does.

Overall, I enjoyed Leaving Time.  It was the perfect reward for passing my MA exit exam and relaxation prior to finals week.  I sincerely enjoyed the “elephant chapters” and how they aligned with the human characters’ emotions and situations.  The mystery that unfolds is compelling, and the resolution completely unexpected.  The explorations of motherhood and loss were resonant.  I will admit, I rushed through the last 7% of the novel (not sure how many pages…Kindle reading…sigh), but that was mostly out of my own anxiety to get to the ending and get to bed at a decent hour on a Sunday night.  I do think maybe Picoult dragged out the elephant info in the end, and it interfered with my reading experience.  But then again, maybe I was just in a hurry.

I didn’t post any discussions on Blackboard all weekend, and I definitely didn’t start my final proposal paper for Theories of Teaching Writing or my research paper about the importance of chronology in James Joyce’s short story “Araby.”  Instead, I made time for Leaving Time, and overall I’d say it was worth it.