Summer break for teachers is a dirty lie. Those who don’t teach always talk about how nice it must be to get three months of vacation time every year.
Start with the fact that it’s actually only two months, three weeks are inevitably spent in required training or training you were duped into, and the remaining five weeks are spent overcommitting to people and plans because you feel useless without young minds to mold, and summer break adds up to nothing but an urban myth.
I won’t trip though. My two months were well spent with family, friends, trips, music, and memories that will give me the steam to teach until Thanksgiving break.
Also—and please don’t tell anyone this—but I am actually excited to go back to school. Tomorrow, my desks will once again be filled with many of the same students I taught last year (I moved from the 7th to 8th grade, which puts me on track to become the Mr. Feeny of my school.)
Though my summer slumbers were sometimes interrupted by visions of my trouble children haunting my dreams, I was glad to see them on my roster again—maybe not glad to see them in my 8th period, but glad nonetheless.
I have a reason for this anticipation. While visiting home this summer, an older woman at church asked me what I am up to these days. I told her I was on summer break, and she—like all adults older than me and store clerks who eye me funny when I ask for the teacher discount—assumed I was still a student.
After convincing her that I am actually a teacher, and letting her know that I teach in Oak Cliff, she replied, “Be careful in Oak Cliff. I went there when I was a kid, but nothing stands still.”
I hear people tell me to be careful in Oak Cliff fairly often. If people don’t say it with their mouths, they say it with their shocked expressions when I tell them I teach there. If you aren’t from Dallas, you may not know about Oak Cliff’s bad reputation. One Google search of Oak Cliff on any given day turns up a litany of results about recent crimes in the area. Indeed, even my students—who are only 12 and 13 years old—are acutely aware of the perceptions surrounding them.
I don’t know when the woman at church was in Oak Cliff, but she’s right about something: nothing stands still. Oak Cliff, when founded in 1886, was originally designed to be an elite neighborhood and vacation resort. Now, people call it the “wrong side of town,” both because of real issues it has but also because of negative stereotypes that reinforce those issues.
I’m not ignorant enough to think that I am teaching in an elite neighborhood, but I am also not naïve enough to think that I am teaching on the wrong side of town.
No, I am teaching in a place where—like any place on Earth—nothing stands still. My students are no longer the wide-eyed kids they were when they entered middle school last August. They have done some growing, some learning, and some maturing. They have made good choices, and they have made bad choices. They have made incredible gains and seen heart-wrenching losses. They are not really the same kids that I met on my first day of teaching.
I am not the same kid either. Last year, absolutely everything that happened in class was the first time I had experienced it; now, I am a teacher with one year of experience in my supply bag. When I think about the person I was before teaching, I barely recognize that wide-eyed kid who had no idea how to handle a student crying or a parent conference.
It is far too easy for us to believe that things are how they are and that they will never change. My least favorite idiom of recent years is the phrase used for seemingly uncontrollable moments: “It is what it is.” We all fall victim to the lie that life will always be how it is now, people will never change, and bad neighborhoods will always be bad neighborhoods.
Nothing is as what it was yesterday. People are entering and leaving your life faster than you realize. The words you say today to your students, your children, or your friends are affecting who they will be tomorrow.
That may seem scary, but there is comfort in knowing that all is temporary. The kid I sent to the office last year will be the kid who steps his game up this year. The grief you have held for months on end will fade in time, and you will see brighter days again. The anxiety you feel over a relationship or a job will be resolved. Our debts don’t have to carry over throughout our entire lives.
This also means that the success we had yesterday doesn’t pay for today. I experienced a lot of proud moments in my first year of teaching, but I also saw my fair share of disappointments. I remember the looks on students’ faces when I told them they didn’t pass the STAAR. I remember the last day of school when some kids walked out of the door without shaking my hand or hugging me because I didn’t develop strong relationships with them. I carry those moments with me, and I know I have to do better tomorrow.
Whatever season you’re in right now, whether joy or pain, remember that nothing stands still. We have to work a little harder every day to ensure that the stories we tell about ourselves and our communities are better than the ones we told last time. It will be difficult, yes. But at least nothing is static, and the page can always be turned.