By Maeve Siu
What New Year’s do you celebrate? There have been two constant New Year’s throughout my life. The start of the calendar year brings the promise of fresh personal resolutions. The start of the new school year brings its own resolutions, grounded in a refreshed, post-summer teacher and students. I gained one more New Year after I met my husband, who is of Chinese descent; Lunar New Year has become a wonderful time for family gathering, delicious eats, and thoughtful reflections on our ancestors who came before us and all we owe to them and are thankful for. As a teacher, Lunar New Year had been a welcomed addition since it comes during the difficult winter slump.
Most of us only encounter the new school year from the ages of about 4 to 18 or 22, but as a teacher I have celebrated early September as a time for renewal my whole career. This is the first new school year that I have skipped since I was 4 years old. I went straight from high school to college and straight from college to teaching, with new school years as a beautiful constant each fall. My first new year as a teacher came with a feeling of disbelief, almost like I was a fraud, “they are really trusting me with the math education of 165 students?” In the years that followed, I traded in my insecurity for a feeling of empowerment, making small (and sometimes big) improvements each fall. Changing the seating arrangement, cleaning the piles of crap the former teacher left behind, placing fresh pictures and words of encouragement on the bulletin boards, reorganizing my teacher cart, creating a new system of grading homework -- these may seem small, but they are markers of a fresh start and were wonderful, manageable ways to celebrate the start of the year.
Today, however, I sit in my living room. My twelve week old is on my lap passed out after nursing, and I have no papers to grade. Woah. It doesn’t even feel like fall, although partly that’s the weather’s fault. 80 degrees in October? Really? My reminder that indeed there is school going on around me and that others have started their years are the children that wait for the bus outside my house each afternoon. Loud and full of energy, they are a welcomed reminder of how much I love working with teenagers, because to be honest, most days I am filled with deep sadness when I think about returning to work. I thought I would miss my teacher-self more, but I don’t. I look down at my daughter and I think of how much I have learned about her, how close we are because I have taken this time at home, how bonded I feel to her. Then I think about how much I will miss when I go back to school, and my heart aches.
To be honest I haven’t thought much about school. I’ve tried to keep up with emails and have promised seventeen students and counting that I would write them a college recommendation.
My new year will be celebrated after Thanksgiving when I go back to work. Now that I’m sitting and reflecting on that prospect my mind is flooded with a list of questions:
The professional and the practical: How will it feel to be out of step? Is it going to be weird to learn my students’ names partway into the second quarter? How will the students react to me after having had a different, and highly qualified teacher for their first term? (yes, I am lucky, my long term sub is an experienced math teacher!) Will they buy into the culture I’m trying to create without their own adrenaline from their new year? Will it even feel like my classroom? How will I manage the workload with a growing, teething, sweetie pie babe at home? How long will my daughter scream the first day I’m back at work? How long will it take her to get adjusted? How do working mothers of little ones do it!!!? Will I be able to give my students as much attention and love as I have in the past, now that I will be spread more thin?
The more personal: How long will my heart ache without her? (I can’t even leave her for 20 minutes without feeling a part of me is missing) Will I be able to function on the little sleep I get? As it is, my brain still feels like mush from the sleep deprivation even though my daughter is giving me longer sleeping chunks at night. As a nursing mom, will all my prep time at work be spent pumping? And will that even be enough to “keep up” my supply? Where the heck am I even going to pump in our overcrowded building with no private classroom and really no privacy at all? I’ve been told the pumping spot is the nurse’s office. Gross. Kids are sick in there, and what if I’m pumping and a kid needs to see the nurse? Again I think, how do working moms do it!!?
And the more superficial: None of my clothing fits, what will I wear? How am I ever going to fit in exercise to lose this baby weight on top of everything else?
I get overwhelmed as I list all the questions with very few answers. Motherhood is brand new for me, but teaching isn’t new. I’m reminded that teaching is always a series of questions and reflections, of thoughtfully making changes to be better for ourselves and for our students. This year, my questions will just be different, be shifted to include what’s best for my child too, and certainly have a different timing and pace thanks to my delayed celebration of the new school year 2017.
Working mamas everywhere, I praise you! I’m humbled to be joining your ranks soon.