Summer Me’s Joys Make Way for September
Here’s a post specially penned for all our readers who don’t start school until September arrives. New Yorker Laurie Lichtenstein begins after Labor Day.
By Laurie Lichtenstein
Summer Me looks up toward the sky, a perfect shade of blue occasionally interrupted by the fluffy clouds of my youth. The sky holds my gaze as my kayak drifts along the lake.
I am not in a rush. My mind is empty, thankful for this moment where I can connect with nature in a way that is impossible September through June. I go home and cook a meal. The meal is deliberate and thoughtful, not a hastily thrown together haberdashery of protein and vegetables.
Summer Me thrives on lists. Lists of house projects. Lists of doctors’ appointments. Lists of books that I want to read and lists of recipes I want to try. Summer Me has eyes that are bigger than her reality, and I don’t finish every item on every list.
I succumb to a lazy afternoon on the hammock with a good book (which often results in my book list getting finished!) or I take a nap (which results in nothing getting done, but I forgive myself.)
And sometimes, during a really good summer, the lists dwindle down to next to nothing. And I feel accomplished.
August brings night terrors every year
Then August arrives. I need not look at the calendar to confirm this. Somehow, my internal clock alerts my subconscious and the nightmares commence. There are several scenarios from which my sleepy August self seems to choose – all variations on the same theme.
It’s the first day of school and I can’t control my class. I am screaming, waving my arms, standing on furniture. My efforts are fruitless; no one is listening. In fact, they are laughing at me! Haven’t they heard? I have a reputation, after all; I am not a pushover. A harbinger of a rocky year. If my pupils won’t cooperate on day one, what will day 150 look like?
In another night terror I stand in front of the room without a lesson plan. I run through the rolodex of activities that my sixteen years of teaching has accumulated. Blotto. I can’t remember if I am supposed to be teaching the Civil War or Westward Expansion. How am I going to survive the next fifty minutes?
The lists lose ambition as August slips away
At this point, somewhere between August 1 and August 5, I take out my lists. I revise. What will I realistically be able to tackle in the next few weeks? Sometimes, I berate myself for not being more productive in the early weeks of the summer. Sometimes I am more forgiving, and I demote the big basement clean out, with its August 30th deadline, to winter break.
I can live with clutter for a few more months. My August goal is simple: push the impending school year off to the side for a few more moments, to relish in Summer Me.
But as those dreams begin to gather steam, my focus shifts. It starts with an idea. Usually something creative. An assignment I can connect to a historical theme, which will inspire my students to think deeply about a topic and create.
My wish list begins. Interesting ways to incorporate geography, regular lessons on current events. Then I allow myself to imagine my students. What siblings of former students will be in my classes? How many Emmas or Jacks will be in one section. (The record is four, and I can see the guidance counselors giggling as they build our rosters.) How will I learn all their names? Who will love history? Who will hate history in September and like it by June?
The paths back to the classroom
Finally, I spring into action. I drive to school. I enjoy the quiet of the empty hallways and the shine of sparkly clean floors. I remind myself I better buy some new sundresses to battle the September heat. I start to set up and I pull out two files – one labeled “First Week” and one labeled “Reconstruction,” the first unit of the year.
And in between fretting about that first week, I try to be mindful that there is still a bit of time to take a long walk with the dog or try out a new recipe. It’s a gradual transition, after all, until it’s not.
And as Labor Day approaches I’ll wave goodbye to Summer Me, and admittedly mourn her loss. But I am so grateful to have had a summer. To be my best teacher self, available, creative, awake without four cups of coffee, I need my summer.
Laurie Lichtenstein has been teaching 7th and 8th grade English and Social Studies in Westchester County, NY for the better part of two decades. In whatever spare time she can scrounge up, she writes about education and parenting her three children. Her work can be seen in Motherwellmag.com, the Bedford Patch, and The Jewish Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @thriceblessed. Read her other MiddleWeb posts here.