180 and Done

Today is day 180. The last day of school in the regular school year. One would think this day would come with celebration and satisfaction and just, I don’t know, overall over-the-moon joy. But because this is me, all it comes with is a headache. A bad one. Yesterday as the headache quickly grew more and more intense, I decided to skip my weekly Weight Watchers meeting (something I really don’t like to miss) to come home and sleep. I napped for about an hour and a half and woke up with the wish that I could just unzip myself and let these demon headaches be free. But since I can’t allow them their freedom, we remain stuck in here together.

So no, day 180 has not brought with it any giddy feelings of the impending summer. What it does bring with it is relief. No more early alarm clock. No more lesson plans. No more trying to make everyone—students, coworkers, and especially administration—happy. No more worry that I’m not doing a good enough job. No more concern that even though I want to create some sort of change—make a difference is the common term for this, I think—it’s just not happening. No more giving 100% every single day because that is what my students deserve.

People who work year-round jobs are probably thinking “Oh poor you, working your 180 days. I have to work the entire year, thank you very much!” And I get this. I’ve done this. I worked in advertising for years before making the switch to teaching. I worked in a social service office for years before that. I know the feeling of having only two weeks vacation and gradually, painstakingly working my way up to three weeks. But I can tell you with absolute certainty that teaching is more challenging and often difficult.

Yes, I know exactly when I have to work so vacations can be planned well in advance. Yes, I always get time off around the holidays. These things are awesome. But with teaching, especially teaching special education, there are challenges that you won’t find in any other job. Like how to comfort an nonverbal autistic boy when he begins to cry. Or what to do when a student is on the floor kicking and screaming. Hearing words fly out of a student’s mouth that make you blush, make you cringe, and make you angry but being unable to show any indication of these feelings. Watching a student totally melt down and being helpless because all you can do is wait it out.

Of course the wonderful moments are what make the job worth it. The student who runs up and hugs me. The special handshake I have with another student that we have to exchange each time we see each other—even if it’s five times a day. The smiles I capture in my role as school photographer; I swear sometimes I can almost see their beautiful souls. The pride a student has that she did something as simple as write her name or glue a piece of yarn to her paper, but she did it by herself. The way the students come into my are and greet me. These smiles, these faces, these beautiful souls? They make it all worth it. 100%.

There is not one day in my job that is easy. There is not one day like any other. But at least there are only 180 of them. Giving 100% for any more than that might actually kill me, or at least it would feel that way. Speaking of that, if anyone spots the top of a zipper anywhere on me, please let me know so I can release my headache demons. Until then, ever onward to summer and to sleeping in.

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