13 Years in the books!

Despite the fact that "book" was in the title of this blog post I am not going to talk about my novels (edit: I did at the end). I am talking about my day job.  In case you are unaware, I teach orchestra to a very fine group of students at a public high school. Today was the last day for the students, and the classrooms and halls were eerily quiet, allowing a lot of time for introspection during the latter half of the work day while I, free of students, went about the various tasks required to batten down the hatches for the summer break.

I have learned to never complain about my vacation time versus payment when not in the company of fellow teachers. People like to say that teachers are the among the most underpaid of all professionals, and this is true, but when you consider that the average person works about 260 days a year (before vacation and sick days) and my teacher year is 187 days...Let's just say that I'm not complaining about the number of vacation days I get. 

But there is a certain, I don't know, malaise that settles over me when the school year ends. The whole year often feels like a slog, a marathon-length run to the finish line. Sometimes your students are all jogging alongside you, and other times you are dragging them along. Sometimes a few of them will either deliberately throw a stumbling block in your path, or will run headlong into an obstacle (with the full commitment and dazzling aplomb that is characteristic of teenagers), toppling it in front of you. (See misplaced equipment needed to perform classical music on a violin/viola/cello/bass/harp, misplaced aforementioned instrument, academic ineligibility and the inability to perform in contests that it brings.)

When it's all over, you feel like you've given everything, and you're exhausted, emotionally and physically drained. The last few days of school are spent gathering inventory items, collecting paperwork, signing yearbooks, and saying goodbye to graduating students who seem reluctant to leave, knowing that they are about to fly on their own for the first time. You also say goodbye to students who won't be coming back because they can't fit orchestra in their schedule or are just quitting.  You think you should go and shake the hands of these departing students, make a big deal of it, and/or accept a hug. Some of them will stop by to say goodbye, shake your hand or give you a hug, ask you to pose for a picture with them. And some of them just slink out of the door as quick as they can, perhaps because they are just done. Maybe they are afraid that they might not be able to contain their emotions, and you realize that you might be a little afraid of that yourself. 

As an orchestra teacher, I tend not to complain too much, about my students at least. I know that 99 percent of them chose my class, and that makes it special. Students don't choose math or science, though they may truly love those subjects. I'm not saying that students can't form bonds with their math teachers; I just think that elective teachers have it a little better than core teachers in the makeup of their classes. Also, you get to share emotional connections and countless poignant moments with your students through the collaborative creation of music. You get to be part of the evolution of a beginner to a full fledged classical musician, and that's pretty cool. 

So you complain along the way to your wife, Marti Rickaway, and friend Phillip Hintze (who are both fellow music teachers) about how hard it is throughout the year, and you listen to their complaints and commiserate.  Then, just like that it, the freight train comes to a screeching halt, and it's over. That's where the malaise comes in. You start to realize that maybe you were really enjoying what you were doing the whole time even though sometimes it made you angry, frustrated, sad, tired. You realize that you kind of miss the excitement, the movement of it all, the challenges that are sometimes like pleasant but complex puzzles to solve.

It usually takes me a week or two to adjust to having absolutely nothing to do, a luxury that I know most working folk would love to have. It's a period of light depression, where I think to myself often that I should be doing something productive when I'm not. 

Eventually, usually halfway through June, I crawl out of my pity-party-of-one, and my friend Paul Meiller just rolls his eyes at me, and I start to feel a little more like myself. The healing phase kicks in and I enjoy time with my family a little more. I am concerned less with filling my days with projects and tasks, and I decide that it's ok for me to play legos with my kid for as long as I want to, or indulge in a little pc gaming, or take my wife out to a nice dinner. I have the luxury of being being allowed to dive deep into my hobbies of writing my silly stories about green space bears and talking swords, and making music. I have the privilege of devoting time to these endeavors during the day instead of waiting until the kid is in bed. (If you've ever tried to make art while a 7 year old is in the room, you know what I am talking about.)

I look forward to a great summer of relaxation and spontaneous adventures. My plan is to finish the first draft of my next novel, the third and possibly final novel in the Letho Ferron series. It was originally a planned trilogy, but I like to give my characters a little room to breath and be themselves, so who knows? Sometimes the places they end up surprise me. maybe I'll make a little music, and of course prepare myself for the coming school year. 

Wish you all the best!

Doug