Well, yesterday was my last day of work, and it's now summertime! Hooray! This has been quite a year, truly one of the most difficult I can remember. I've been teaching for 15 and 1/2 years, and goodness knows there have been plenty of ups and downs along the way. Without getting too long-winded, I'll just say that due to many factors, both school-related and life-related, it has just been a stressful year. A difficult group of students, aging and sick (one physical, one mental) parents, the death of two pets, and honestly some mid-life issues (43 year old woman here) that aren't exactly helping either. Everything culminated into what can only be described as a nervous breakdown about a month and a half ago, during which I took a week off from work and with the help of my best friend (bless her), fought to regain my sanity and grip on life. The remainder of the school year was pretty much the same as it had been. I was uninspired. The kids were uninspired. I basically counted down the days, and was even toying with the idea that I was going to have to quit teaching and find another career. Of course, looking into that idea was even more stressful, as there just aren't many opportunities in the small rural town where I live, and anything besides teaching would either mean a pay cut or forking over more money to continue my education. One of the things I HAVE had under control this year is my financial situation, and I finally realized that despite the slump I was in at school, keeping a decent-paying, secure job at a school 10 minutes down the road from my house in a community that I grew up in, surrounded by people I've known for most of my life was actually a GOOD thing and exactly the stability I needed. One night, I can't even remember why or how, I realized that I needed to invest in myself as a teacher. I started doing some serious reflecting about the reasons for my bad year (teaching-wise), and I knew I had to revamp and reinvent myself. I had been moved to English II from English I, and though I had taught English II back at the beginning of my career, I really had been "winging it" since getting back into that level. So, even with a few weeks left to go in the year, I began making plans. I bought many resources and materials using money out of my own pocket (actually felt good). I've been planning, creating, and getting so excited for the "New and Improved" English II class that I'll be teaching next year! Then, during the last week of class with the students (exam week, actually), we had an "incident" that resulted in a lock down and a lot of anxiety among the staff. For the first time in my 15 years of teaching, I went to school the next day uncertain about my safety. And I wasn't alone. Many colleagues expressed the same fear. It was traumatizing. Not only have I taught my entire career at this school, I graduated from this school! I've lived in this community for 30 of my 43 years. This is home. And home didn't feel safe. It really zapped my enthusiasm for next year. Slowly I got over it, but the joy that I usually feel at the end of a school year wasn't there. I was tired, both emotionally and physically. Yesterday I went in for my last day of work with a ho-hum attitude. We had our annual end-of-the-year luncheon, which I'm usually so excited about, and I was just "meh". I didn't even want to be there. Then something kind of amazing happened. Three seniors (actually graduates now, I guess) dropped in for a visit. I hadn't taught them since freshman year, but they always come see me when they are in the building (they are dual enrolled with the community college and earned associate degrees along with their high school diplomas). They were reminiscing about their English classes. I'm in the room where they had English II (different teacher), so they were fondly recalling where they sat and one pointed at the class set of Things Fall Apart on my shelf and said "I never read that book, even though we were supposed to." Another said she read it but didn't get it, and the third said she read it all and was trying to explain to them what it was about, LOL. So I mentioned that I'd read it in college and hated it, but I'd recently re-read it a couple of times and had found good teaching materials to accompany it, and I was really getting into it. I asked them if they'd read/studied the poem "The Second Coming" by W.B. Yeats when they did the book in English II, and they couldn't remember. So, I pull out the poem, read them the part with "things fall apart" in it and we talk about how Achebe got the title for his book from the poem. Then I said, "You've got to hear the last lines though!" and I read them: "...but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?" And their little eyes lit up, and they smiled, and one of them said, "Oh man! You're making me doubt my major!" Turns out she's struggling between whether to major in Biology or English. "You're really making me want to be an English teacher!" she said. Well, needless to say my heart, much like the Grinch's, grew three sizes right then and there! We chatted a bit more, and then they went on their way. I continued working a little, and then went to the luncheon where my gang of friends/colleagues and I crammed ourselves around one table with plates mounded with delicious food and ate and laughed and had such a fantastic time. I was so giddy, and I realized that I was finally "released" from the dreary slump of a year that had sapped my joy. I know it's a long story, and it may not be that monumental, but I thought I'd share it. Because sometimes we do get so mired down in the bad stuff that it's hard to see the good stuff. But the good stuff is there! It is! And it will break us out of the bad stuff when we are least expecting it.