Friday, June 17, 2016

Roller Coaster World of Education

Unless you've been in education, I'm not sure one can fully understand what it is like for educators during the 180+ school days. My best analogy would be akin to a roller coaster on repeat.

You sit down and prepare for the ride. Everything is calm. There is a bit of excitement in the air for the upcoming school year. You know what the year will bring. You've seen it before. The safety ride workers come by to make sure you're securely fastened. They spend less than two seconds on this very important part of the trip. Just a quick look, perhaps they pull on the harness a bit, and then they move on to the next person.

You're sitting next to a friend but it just as well could be someone you've never met. You give a "here goes nothing" glance to your seatmate. They smile back. Perhaps they're a veteran for this ride. It could be their first time trying it out. Somewhere amidst the seats, there's a rather talkative individual, sharing their excitement and how they always love the roller coaster experience. Their examples of this "excitement" are beginning to make you question whether or not you want to take this ride after all. Before you can make up your ride, you start to move. The first day of school has begun and the kids are piling into your classroom. It is too late now. Hold on.

It's a slow climb to the top of the tracks. Everyone is pretty excited. The clicking and clanging of the climb is helping build the excitement. Everyone is still getting along. There's a sense of energy in the air. The first time rider is a bit clueless for what's about to begin. The veteran teacher is hinting about the upcoming fall. You're not questioning yourself just yet. This is one of the nicer parts of the ride.

And then it happens. Since you're sitting a bit towards the middle, you see the the riders in the front disappear. You're not sure where they went. You can only hear their screams. Maybe it's the first test they gave with the follow up flood of parent emails about why their student received a B- on the assessment. Maybe it's the departure of a beloved assistant principal who has announced they're leaving the district for a promotion elsewhere. Maybe their three month old twin boys aren't sleeping through the night and they're running on less than empty. Whatever their reason, you're quickly approaching the drop and know you're going to experience the same shortly.

You do. The roller coaster crosses the apex and falls fast toward oblivion. You have your hands clutching the side rails, just hoping for a bit of life-saving security. Your seatmate has their hands in the air and is screaming loudly, perhaps with excitement, maybe with a bit of fear. Who is this guy? You look past ahead of the bouncing heads in front of you and realize that the drop is about to end. You breathe a bit and think you'll be able to catch your breather. You're wrong.

Next thing you know, you're at a forty five degree angle as the roller coaster speeds through a turn. You look to your left and realize your head is about four feet from a murky swamp. Truthfully, you consider your options at this point. How bad would it be to slither out of your harness and drop quietly into the brownish-green waters? You could always say it was an accident and no one would think twice.

Before you can make your decision, the roller coaster is picking up speed and is entering the corkscrew portion of the ride. Your head jostles back and forth. Your eyes react as if they've been struck by a taser. Your mouth and chin tense, giving the impression that you're trying out to play the role of the Joker in the next Batman flick. In the education world, we call this the month of March.

There's a short lull during the ride as you begin to climb once more toward the final descent. The other riders are in various states of euphoria and chaos. The veteran to your right begins talking about how they're never going to ride a roller coaster again. The first time rider a few seats ahead of you is looking around, wondering if their feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are normal. You just continue to hold on, brave through the requests for last minute extra credit, and progress toward the finish line.

Finally. It's here. The roller coaster pulls into its final destination, a place that looks oddly familiar to where you began your ride. True educators, however, don't always get to get off this roller coaster. They've got an upcoming conference next weekend to learn about the new math curriculum. There's an administrative retreat to help you start your planning for the upcoming year. Next year's master schedule needs to be finalized and have all 1,050 students imported into their classes for the next roller coaster ride.

This year, however, it's a bit different for me. I'm getting off the roller coaster for the next few weeks. I'm logging off, powering down, and spending a few extra moments with my family and also just by myself. This year's roller coaster ride was a long one with lots of twists and turns. As a principal who tries to provide 24-7 support through late night email responses, texting replies, NextDoor support, constant community communication, and just everything else I can during the school year, I'm going to take what I think is a much needed and well deserved break from it all. I'm posting my "away for the summer" vacation response for my work email and doing my best to limit my work-related activities over the few weeks. I hope every other educator out there gets their well-deserved rest from the roller coaster world of education we live in. You've earned it.

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