I just opened the freezer on a dreary Thursday morning during winter break and grabbed the cookie dough (I don’t bake by choice). It’s nearing time to go back to teaching but today I’m ’bout to eat these cookies in the middle of the day. Let me tell you why…
See, I never learned much about vacationing as a child; I didn’t know how to rest. It seemed optional and my revisionist history would like to assert that almost every time I sat down, a grown up told me how damned lazy I was. Can I get an amen? But then I became a teacher. Let me break it down a little bit and explain why authentic people must value rest and rejuvenation. Notice I didn’t say sleep as that is a clear given. Americans are always in a state of sleep deficit from overcompensating at work or play. As we embrace rejuvenation, however, we create space to think about purpose and all of the motivations that either enliven or pollute us from day-to-day.
Crawling to the halfway mark of this school year, I went to winter break reeling from some of the interactions I’d had with various adolescents. Most of my episodes with students are generally positive but when confidence is lacking and more specifically when a person has only known “put-downs” and emotional destruction they erupt in class sometimes with soundbites like, “Fuuuuuuck, can you just stop talking Mr. Coulter?” or “What the Fuck Mr. Coulter? I gotta answer all these questions?” Sometimes I get, “I’mma fuckin’ throw this book at you…watch.” To the young lady who threatened me I probably stepped out of line when I dared her to make good on that promise. She opted not to do so. As a note of clarication, I don’t work in a “problem school” or a “Low-income” neighborhood.
These students are not as anomalous as you might think; they’re just more expressive than most. They aren’t the bane of my existence but what has made them cynical, self-proclaimed helpless and jaded is my crown of thorns. I’m almost physically ill at the sound of a child choosing failure because he or she has never been ushered toward triumph.
But the most difficult posture for a teacher to maintain is one of hope. Teachers (which could be a metaphor for “humans”) probably lack hope for their own lives on any given day. It’s not a merit-based system in teaching so there is a point of no return career wise and once you’re in and all the way to the right of the pay scale, then what? And money aside, what of personal loss? Teachers lives get turned upside down because the rain ain’t ever played favorites. The teacher is like the Giver who can see the end from the beginning. Teachers can see in color but 180 days of black and white will absolutely dull a vibrant spirit . Kids are a little different now, often less respectful and even less optimistic despite all of their admirable traits. So if you’re not fulfilled or at least rejuvenated regularly, you’ll be blunted by reality. This is the looming threat for people ignoring…wait for it…themselves. Being blunted means being weakened in force. God gave you “force”. In my faith tradition, force in our human frame is rooted in having been created in the image of God. But alas, when that force is muted, dilapidated or siphoned by the vitality leeches, the outcomes are usually harmful to self and others. That’s why so many teachers hate their jobs and perhaps even their own mundane lives.
At any rate, the cookies smellin’ really good right now and my windows are open here at home. I’m drinking coffee out of one of my fave cups and while I need to grade papers, I’m just enjoying the space, the quiet, and a reading a Catholic friend shared with me at a retreat last week. I’m not saying teachers need vacations. I’m saying WE humans need to prioritize the things that bring color back to us. Vacations make you hate work. Rejuvenation reminds you of the real you that should be going to work everyday and/or invites you to stop compromising and move toward the work meant for you. Eat cookies, rest (from TV and noise as well as work related activities) and see if you start to breathe. You can’t give to others what you haven’t nourished in yourself.