My soul craves ritual. I have seasonal rites of passage that must be observed, and the interruption of one can lead to chaos. For example, I had a stomach virus on New Year’s’ Eve last year, and I still write 2008 on all my checks. Every year on the last day of school or the night before, I have a Burning and Release Ceremony. It involves candles, incense, matches, and watermelon margaritas. I say a word or two about each kid, or about groups of kids (such as “the Mean Girls” or the “Lost Boys”). I light a candle for that person as I talk about him/her/them. Some people have bigger candles than others. If I’ve experienced great pain in a year, or I’ve deeply connected to someone, or I’ve tried and failed with someone, they get a bigger candle. A longer speech. A deeper severing of ties. I have to do it. I can’t carry all of them along with me from year to year. If I did, I wouldn’t have any room for the new ones, and that wouldn’t be fair for anyone. I am not a perfect teacher, and I don’t write this to play the Hero card or the Martyr card. I wish, sometimes, that teachers could just be like every other job – that the most skilled would be best paid, that the goals could be specific and measurable, and that negotiations could be pursued for vacation time. (I want to go to be able to go to Disneyworld in January!) These are not necessarily popular views.
I have many weaknesses as a teacher. I’m easily distracted, slow to return grades, preoccupied with other jobs, sometimes. But when I’m on, I’m on. When I am invested and in the flow, I help kids learn. I am still so humbled by that, not one bit lessened after this, my fourteenth year. When I was finishing college and living with Ben and Elise in Rolling Green, I prayed for this. I wanted to be a teacher with my whole heart and soul, and even though it was so challenging to get there, I always knew that eventually, I’d have to be a teacher, and I’d have to do a good job. My first class ever, the Dillon/Amy/Nicholas/Etc. class, taught me that I was allowed to love them. I was allowed to just be myself, and not adopt some Teacher Persona just because I was supposed to. It was safe to just open my heart, be real, and by doing that, I might be able to convince some of them that it’s worth being. Whatever they are is worth being, and that their tribe is out there. As I taught, I learned that if I was going to teach that, I had to be that, too.
All of that “realness” all the time is freaking exhausting. Draining. Energizing and draining at the same time. And so, at just the very end of the year, I Burn and Release. I sat on my back porch tonight after grading my last Portrait Project – the personal reflections of a boy whose mother died when he was six, whose best friend moved last year, who had a wounded little heart and a flock of angels on his shoulders all the time. I watched the swallows, and the bats, and felt that loosing in my chest begin. That first breath of summer. In Tuck Everlasting, which I teach religiously to every class, the author says life is a wheel, with the first week of August hanging motionless and hot at the very tip top. I am on the edge of that…the cusp of languid, spacious, dreamy, slow, my favorite stops on the wheel. Yes, there’s my camp. Yes, there are still children to discipline, and daughters to discipline, and a house to clean and a basement to declutter. But I have space in my spirit to do it. I release the ones that cling to me, knowing that some of them will never leave…Ashley and Sarah, the twins, Noah, Dillon, Jimmy…some always linger, and I value that. But leaving a little more space for my children, for my husband, for my own voice is what I value more. I think that’s how it should be.
Welcome, Sweet Summertime.