Today is the first day of the new school year.  I am absolutely, unequivocally uninterested in being here.  I feel no excitement about meeting my classes, no anticipation of good things that may unfold.  Granted, I also feel no dread.  I’m simply unable to connect with the reality of it all.  The arrival of the new semester is like a vague, neutral, lucid dream: I know I’m in it, and it feels unreal, but I can’t shake myself awake.

I expect this will pass as my classes become groups of real people and my lessons become actual events.  I’m a bit worried, though, that my mind is so completely elsewhere that I’m going to do some things badly at the start  and will be unable to recover.  This has happened to me in the past: bungling the first lesson has led to a sour relationship with the class; failing to proofread early emails has created conflicts with students that never needed to happen.  The art of teaching often involves responding thoughtfully to the unexpected, and the first couple of days of the term are always full of the unexpected, and are also crucial for setting the tone for the rest of the semester.

I can tell myself to take extra care and tread lightly, but I have been nursing a mild headache for several days and am feeling less than able to monitor myself.  I think I need some concrete advice.  What do you do when you need to be in top form but you’re really, really not feeling it?  It could be when you need to teach a first class, or run a 5k race, or deal with your mother-in-law.  How do you ensure that you are ready to face what you encounter even if you don’t think you’re up to the task?

Please hurry!  My first class begins in 5…4…3…….!  (But I’m sure I can apply your advice tomorrow, and the rest of the week, and next year, so no matter when you’re reading this, give me what you’ve got.)

Image by Sanja Gjenero

34 responses

  1. Go to bed early, get plenty of sleep, do not drink alcohol or caffeine, and just try to rest. Your brain sounds like it’s telling you it needs a little down time. Turn off the computer. Go sleep. And good luck.

  2. I’m assuming you’re an English teacher. I am too (as well as a communications lecturer) and here are some of my favourite term starters.

    For teenagers, whatever day our first lesson falls on becomes our designated Code Day (or Puzzle Day). Each week, I provide the class with a code to crack or a puzzle to solve, and it becomes a mini competition. I try to find different types of puzzles, so we don’t always end up with word puzzles (that way, the kids who are better at numbers or patterns get a chance to beat everyone else.)

    Code Day is something they really enjoy doing and can also learn from (crosswords/wordfinds are great for an English class). It’s even better if you can plan ahead and they have a series of codes to crack that, when joined together, form a longer riddle.

    If it’s older students/ adults, I like to test their communication skills with games like pictionary or charades.

  3. It sounds like you could use a little fun in your teaching and life. Try to connect to what you enjoy most about the subject you are teaching. Getting back to our own zest for learning makes a big difference in how we teach. I think playful learning is important for any age. The more students are able to play with ideas, writing, literature, the more they will engage. Engaged students are a joy to teach.

  4. While all the suggestions for in-class strategies are wonderful, I think Dianne has hit on it. You need some rest and some down-time. Try to take it slow, relax about messing up the first week (you’re an exceptional teacher and can recover from some gaffs, especially if your students begin to realize that you care about them as people), and take advantage of the relative quiet of the first few weeks to rest up (even if it means house-work and repairs don’t get done right away. Your house won’t run down to the river and throw itself in if it has to wait). Be good to yourself and recharge your batteries.

    • Oooof – I think you’re right, Maia. A summer vacation that was not a vacation means I’m not ready for all this – some down time is definitely in order. Thank goodness for the Labour Day/Election Day 4-day weekend coming up!

  5. Sounds like it’s time to consider another career! When the first day fails to excite one, something is not right.

    • Maybe! The beginning of the year is definitely a good time to check in with oneself. I’m not sure, though – I know a lot of teachers who love their jobs but still feel a bit heavy when summer vacation is over…

      • I think you’re onto something here, SC. That heavy feeling. A transition. We have many transitions in our lives, and we react to them with our whole selves. A transition is an ending as well as a beginning, and sometimes we fail to honour our feelings for the small endings like the end of the vacation.

        Just some mindfulness might be all I need to ground myself: noticing what I am thinking (darn, the summer is over; darn, what if I screw up like I did in the past…), how I feel in my body (heavy, tight breathing, tight jaw), my emotions (sad, a bit anxious). That’s what helps me.

        I was preparing to go back to teaching myself, with a niggling feeling that something wasn’t quite right. This is a good reminder for me. The “down-time” for mindfulness can be (just was!) a three minute “Breathing Space” (in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s words). I feel better already. Thank you.

        • Mindfulness! God yes. I have been trying to talk myself into settling back into a regular meditation routine – the best I have done is the occasional three-breath pause. Thanks for the reminder!

  6. Wow. I am in the same boat right now. Since I am in the thick of it, I doubt I have any worthwhile advice. Teachers give and give, so if your bucket is not full it can be so hard. I guess I would say to give yourself permission to not be 100%. Because you are experienced and dedicated, the students will have a better experience with you than many other teachers, even when you are not 100%. And don’t let yourself think in a downward spiral. A rough opening does not mean a bad semester. Just a rough beginning. It will be ok!!!! At least that is what I am feeling myself. Good luck!

    • Thanks, Damommachef! I guess that’s the key: give yourself permission not to be 100%. I sometimes tell myself, “Today I am going to be a ‘good enough’ teacher. I don’t have to be great. I just have to earn a passing grade.” Days like that make it easier to give more when I have more in the tank.

  7. I wonder…is there something about the upcoming semester making you acutely anxious in a way that you might not be totally consciously aware of?

    When I’ve felt almost exactly the way you describe when I’m starting a new project, I’ve learned to look around for what’s making me anxious, or what subtle signals I’ve gotten that something is not right…and I usually find it. Until I do, I feel this bizarre combination of lethargic/avoidant/on edge.

    Finding the thing is often not a pleasant development, but then at least I know what concrete steps I’ll have to take to minimize its damage…

    • Interesting. I have been assuming that the main reason for my malaise is that I’ve had a stressful summer and don’t feel rested. It hasn’t occurred to me to look forward and see if there is something I’m worried about. I will give this some thought!

  8. Not feeling rested is a big part of it. Get some sleep, firstly.

    What I do when I don’t feel enthused about teaching that day is find the thing I enjoy most about my job, and force myself to really go for it that day. Usually that means picking the most emotionally powerful piece of music my bands are playing and running/tweaking it so that it achieves new levels of awesome. There was one day last year when I felt really low, and so I had my grade 9 band play the chorale from Holst’s ‘Jupiter’ (one of the most stirring melodies ever written). By the time the French Horn section swelled to their loudest crescendo in the last minute of the piece, I felt rejuvenated.

    Do your hardest to PRETEND like you are loving every minute and you might be able to rekindle that feeling, even for just long enough to get to the restful weekend intact.

    • “Do your hardest to PRETEND like you are loving every minute and you might be able to rekindle that feeling, even for just long enough to get to the restful weekend intact.” This is excellent advice. “Faking it until you make it” is a seriously underrated skill, and one I’m trying to call on this week for sure!

  9. Such good advice! Mostly rest (a major need after a summer of projects–“sing ho! for the life of a teacher!” vacation is code for “attack projects that had to wait till school is out”) and also looking ahead to see if there is something that you are dreading. Remember the fun and do a bit of acting as well. All such good things to remember!

    One other thing that may or may not be a good idea depending on the class: honesty and openness. It may be ok to tell your students how you are feeling about this year and how you are going to respond to it. After all, they’re not the only ones that might feel a little less enthusiastic about school. And you are going to model for them what it means to fulfill your responsibilities even when you may not feel like it . . . or may be tired . . . or have a headache . . . or feel less capable than normal. By watching you, they can see what it looks like to live life and not to run away from it when it’s no longer exciting.

    I said a prayer for you today, too. Hope your weekend is very very restful! (btw, I echo Dianne, even though I know how very hard it, and sometimes uninteresting, it is: no stimulants! And rest as well as sleep. Sometimes you have to be rested enough in order to sleep well.)

    • ATWB: I thank you for your prayers and your encouragement – yes, rest is so important and sometimes so hard to achieve. As for honesty, I struggle w/ this one. I think some lighthearted discussion of ambivalent feelings is totally fine, but I have also seen (and been guilty of) overburdening of students with personal feelings that they don’t really care about (for example, the teacher who overshares or who complains a lot.) I think it’s a delicate balance!

  10. “If you plan for a year, plant a seed. If for ten years, plant a tree. If for a hundred years, teach the people. When you sow a seed once, you will reap a single harvest. When you teach the people, you will reap a hundred harvests.”
    –Kuan Chung

  11. Reblogged this on Teach. Write. Learn. and commented:
    Ho, hum. That’s how I feel right now about school. I’m sure it’s just the draining summer schedule talking, but I am so not into school at the moment. I don’t hate it, I just feel like I’m going through the motions right now, hoping things will click…soon. I came across this blog post today, and thought–she gets me, she really gets me! Anyone out there know what I’m talkin’ about?

  12. I felt a bit similar a few days ago – I think it’s just a normal part of the slightly unnatural structure of teaching – term time is so intense and then we’re cut off from it for so long.
    I wouldn’t worry about it – a couple of days in and a student will say something to make you laugh or smile and you’ll remember exactly why you teach.
    It can be a bit of effort but I tend to start new topics with a CSi style investigation into the characters or settings – I’m always surprised by how excited and engaged the children get just because they have a fake badge or some ‘crime scene’ evidence!
    It’s my first day back tomorrow – good luck for yours!!

  13. what are you doing for side projects these days? writing? reading? fun new activity? traveling? throw yourself into something new and exciting so that you’ll have some authentic enthusiasm to share with the kiddos.

    • Naomi: unfortunately, the side project is part of the problem – my husband and I bought a house this summer, and I have been completely absorbed in repairing it, and it’s been really stressful! I think that’s part of why I’m not ready to go back to work – I haven’t really had a rest. Today the electrician does the last of the major work we have planned – I’m hoping when he’s done I’ll have time to do some fun house things instead of worrying all the time…and maybe home projects will become rejuvenating instead of draining…

      • oof… amazing how dream projects can turn stressful. i hope the work goes well with the electrician and the projects take a turn for the fun and whimsical. good luck!!

  14. I usually feel like this on the first day of a term too. What I do is to pretend that I don’t feel like that, and although I’m never able to fool myself, it does make me feel a little better 😉
    Hope you’re more into it now.

  15. I am only reading this post now as I am a new follower to your blog! I began my year of Teachers College and in May I will be certified to teach 7-12 English & History!

    I appreciate your honesty in this post. I think it is SO important as a teacher (and human being more generally) to reflect on issues like this.

    I guess I am commenting because September is now nearly over and I was curious how this semester has been going? Did the advice help? Do you feel like you are in a better place with teaching & the post-summer vacation blues?



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