It starts in early July every year. The cicadas sing their long strained songs, and I know that summer is past its peak and on the downhill slide. In 4-5 weeks, I’ll be back in school for teacher in-services, and in six weeks, I’ll be welcoming students in my classroom again.
Usually, my CIA is a mix of excitement and anxiety. There’s so much I want to do each July, but I’m excited to get back to school.
This year, I’m not ready.
June has been crazy good. I danced until my feet blistered in Chicago, acted like a robot to get into a Safehouse bar in Milwaukee, and finished my oral exams here in Nebraska. I caught up with teacher friends I only see in the summer, met new colleagues that I can’t wait to know better, and enjoyed workshops and sessions that will make me a better teacher. I’ve gone down some rabbit holes with new tech tools that might fit well with my classroom goals.
But I’m also juggling six hours of classes. I’ve watched a colleague and a great uncle laid to rest in the same week. I’ve started studying for my GRE. And when I was driving the other day, I counted up at least 40 hours behind the wheel during June–not counting the hours I’ve spent on planes, shuttle buses, and subways.
And now, the cicadas are mocking me.
I have so much I want to tweak and improve for next year, and I feel so behind. Going to conferences makes me compare myself to the amazing teachers I meet–a dangerous thing to do.
Maybe some of you feel this way, too. This anxiety, this need to make this year the best ever, the unattainable desire to get it right this year. To be organized. In control. And if you’re like me, the desire to be less stressed during the school year only leads to more stress during the summer.
The past few days I’ve been feeling better. I don’t have all the answers to make anyone with CIA feel better, but here’s what works for me.
- The list. I took this idea from Mel Robbins, motivational speaker and author of the 5-Second Rule. Write down everything you need to do in one big list. It took me a while. I keep returning to my list days later and adding more. Then Robbins says highlight the ones that need done today–3 or 4 at most. Do those. Don’t worry about the rest today. Each day, I take on a few things on the list. Many of those things can’t be done in a day, but I can work on them for a little while. (And some of them I have to accept may not get done this summer, like deep cleaning my carpets. The world will continue.)
2. Stop waiting for the time to make it perfect. Even writing this post, I wrote sentences in my head for days. I thought about what I would do for images. Finally, I had to tell myself just start. Don’t even worry about finishing. Just start it. Write down some ideas. And here I am, already over 500 words in a mere 20-30 minutes. Even if I only work for 5-10 minutes writing down ideas or an outline for a project, I can rely on my subconscious to start doing more work on it, especially if the ideas swirling around in my mind are finally out on paper and I don’t have to worry about them anymore.
3. Stop and breathe. Easier said than done, but I hadn’t done much yoga in the past month except for a little stretching here and there before workouts or in my hotel rooms. I hadn’t really sat down with a yoga video, which is what makes me slow down, focus, and just breathe. After just a couple sessions, I already feel calmer and more in control.
4. Stop comparing. If I get caught up in what other amazing teachers are doing, I start to feel lacking. I’m not creating enough amazing looking games, or I’m not connecting my kids enough to other classrooms, or I’m not personalizing or creating enough learning paths. I can get to the point where I look at social media and think, Wow, that’s such an amazing teacher. I wish I could be as amazing. I forget that social media isn’t real life. How often have I posted about a bombed lesson or a student project that fell far short of standards? Rarely (though maybe we should…) All teachers have areas to improve. No one has got this occupation figured out and in the bag. The best we can do is own where we are, focus where we want to go next, and accept that we can’t do every fantastic idea that we see.
And don’t be afraid to talk to someone. Find colleagues who can remind you how awesome you are. Or if you need to, find a professional. It took me months to get up the courage to talk to a doctor about my anxiety, but after doing so a few years ago and being more conscious about my anxiety, I’ve learned how to recognize my signs of increasing anxiety and what steps to take to slowly reduce it. (Plus, full disclosure here, Lexapro helps me out, too!)
Whether you can relate to any of this or not, enjoy this summer, embrace your own cicadas (well, not literally), and don’t forget how awesome an educator you are.