The Countdown: For This Teacher, School is Almost Out

It is 4:55 a.m. This is not a time of day that I normally see (and based on my current observations, I’m not missing much), but insomnia has come to call. When my youngest woke up around 3:30 calling for her “bobby”, a name she at some point gave to her pacifier and by which we all now call it, I couldn’t get myself settled again. Perhaps it’s my giant belly or loose, painful pregnancy joints that are keeping me from getting much-needed rest. More likely the culprit is my over-worked, over-active brain that just can’t fit all of its worry and anxiety into the waking sixteen hours of the day.

I’ve heard other insomniacs refer to what they call “the list”- the items that occupy their mind like a revolving door during the hours when they should be asleep. Mine contains a litany of baby-related chores, most of which I have not yet gotten around to completing: order a better baby carrier, make sure my pump is in working condition, unpack and take stock of newborn clothes, get a “labor day” game plan in order, buy a leash for my one-year-old. On top of that, the stomach virus made its way into our home early yesterday morning, and though at this point we’ve only had one man down, I can’t help fretting over who might fall victim next. Finally, I’m attempting to process the very recent news that, due to changes in funding, our four-year-old’s fabulous, public-school pre-K program will now accept only children within a certain income bracket. This puts “find a new pre-school for Maggie” way up there on the list of things stressing me out. But there’s one major item I’ve left off, which for me encompasses almost every conceivable emotion and is never far from my racing mind: what I have termed “The Countdown”.

18. The number of school days remaining before my due date. The amount of time I have left to be a teacher- at least for a while. I have always had a love-hate relationship with my profession, wishing I could leave the meetings, planning, and paperwork to someone else while I bantered with my students and did my best to make sure they left my room having learned at least one new, valuable piece of wisdom or information. I have whined about the low pay, the innumerable hoops we teachers have to jump through, the hours after-school and on weekends that have been sucked away from my family and funneled into English or Social Studies prep. I have vented my frustrations about school dynamics (adults being just as cliquey and mean as middle-schoolers much of the time) and worried that my colleagues didn’t respect me or recognize how hard I was working.

Over the past ten years, since I joined AmeriCorps as a mentor straight out of college, I have been either Ms. Dunn or Mrs. Pray to over 1,000 young people. I have done my best to make my subject matter to them and to serve as a model of respect and concern for others. I have worked with and commiserated with some amazing, amazing, men and women. I have attended plays, musical performances, ball games. I have told my husband countless stories about kids that he would probably never meet, but who I couldn’t help talking about when I got home from school. For the past several years, at least since having my own children, I have taken a moment out of every morning to say a quick prayer to God: “Lord, let me put aside my own worries and problems and be present for these children today.”

When I made the choice to step out of the classroom for the time being in order to be more present for my own family, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Other moms I know who have made the same transition tell me that I’ll never look back. I’m not so sure about that, but I can say that I am looking forward to each of the 18 days left on my school calendar. The ticking clock may be one more source of stress, but it is also a blessing, a rare opportunity to once again appreciate what it was that drew me to teaching in the first place. Maybe tonight, when sleep is once again eluding me, I’ll try counting my blessings instead of sheep.

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