School started, and I’ve never been so relieved. It sounds all wrong, but hundreds of children entering the building was a breath of fresh air compared to preparing for hundreds of children to enter the building.
In the week leading up to the first day, I worked pretty much nonstop. I put in 13-hour days at school, drove home, pulled dinner out of the fridge, and sat on the couch working longer until I fell into bed. I went into school and worked all day Saturday. I regularly fell asleep with my clothes on, on top of my covers.
It’s a different kind of work than I’ve ever had to do. First, my normal work schedules were thrown off, since so much of my work had to be finished in order to allow other people to do their work. I had to go through my to-do list in the order that other people needed to use my work, not in the order that I personally would have prioritized things. (Like making posters! I find them much less urgent than most things, but obviously teachers can’t set up their classrooms until those are done.) It’s hard to be a procrastinator and have a whole staff depending on you not to procrastinate.
Then there’s all the mental work that goes into modifying our systems from last year. Our school is new and still growing, so there was a lot that had to change. How will seventh grade look different from sixth grade? Which bathrooms do kids use from which classrooms? What do we want school culture to look like by the end of each quarter? When can kids use their lockers? What’s the consequence for not doing homework? I talked to so many people and debated out so many different options for every little detail. Good systems make everything run so nicely, and bad systems cause chaos. No pressure.
And then there’s the real monster: scheduling. I don’t know how that ended up in my job description, and I’d do pretty much anything to pass it off to someone else. Just building class rosters is the most complex of logic puzzles. Trying to evenly distribute classes by gender, by race, by ability, by behavior, and by previous school is a wreck. You don’t want to stack a class with all the low kids or accidentally make a class with a race not represented, and you definitely don’t want to put explosive personalities in the same room. But you also have to put the kids who need certain classes in the same place, and make the schedule work so that SpEd and ELL can be pulled out in times that work for those teachers. And at the end of the day, it’s really hard to predict which kids are going to work well together and which won’t… especially when there’s an entire grade level that I’ve never met before. And every time one kid needs to move, a million other kids somehow also need to move to re-balance everything. And then it needs to make it from my Excel spreadsheet into the district software, which takes endless hours of clicking names to get kids into each section. But that can only happen after the even more endless hours of creating a schedule that works and carefully clicking so many different boxes to get the times right that I probably got carpal tunnel. And once it’s all perfect, a million kids start adding and dropping in the days before school starts, and everything needs to get changed again and again and again and again. And then rosters need to be printed and schedules need to be made for kids and posters need to go up so that everyone knows where to go.
Our SpEd teacher came to me at 5:30pm on the night before school started to ask me to switch six kids into different homerooms so that her schedule would work better. I locked myself in the bathroom and cried.
There were so many other little odds and ends that had to be done during that week also, but I won’t bore you anymore with my venting. I just want this recorded somewhere so that I remember this exhaustion. The worst part of it all was that there actually isn’t that much to show for all of it. There’s no paper trail of all the debates I had or edits I made or fights I had with the laminator. People notice the one kid who isn’t listed in the right class, and don’t have to think about the hundreds who actually did make it to the right spot. We’ll all see the systems that fail, and won’t think twice about the ones that run smoothly. When I look back on this week, I’m probably just going to remember all the stress and probably won’t be able to list all the things I got done. It’s sort of depressing.
But it’s over, and now kids are back. It was more delightful than it’s ever been to see all their little faces.