It is the start of a new semester and the second half of the year. I was desperate to get back to school. I was desperate for routine and constant community. I was desperate for hallway hugs and gossip. For the smell of coffee and copy paper. I was desperate for the self-centered world of teenagers whose lives are as complicated and messy as my own. “I like your head-scarf Ms. Coyle, now listen to why the world is against me.” I love my job more than anything. I would give up a lot of comforts and pleasures in my life, but I will not give up teaching. I need it.
I was bummed to have to miss the first two days. I think it sets the wrong message for the students. Absence becomes the precedent. But there was simply no way to postpone my treatment and surgery. So I reluctantly wrote out sub plans and relinquished control (something I am VERY VERY bad at). I had these grand plans to conference in for each class. That wasn’t possible. Reflecting on my cancer journey thus far, one of the most difficult aspects is my lack of control in numerous situations. Looks like I have many more years of therapy left in me. Nevertheless, I was proud of the fact that I only checked in on classes once and didn’t answer emails until Sunday. That was a big deal for me. And I didn’t write fluff plans, either. I trusted that my kids would get to work regardless of my absence.
Monday finally came and I felt pretty good. I had my first day outfit all picked out, including my red 1920’s head covering. I was jazzed to be able to drive to school and start off the week on the right foot. I was so wired that I got up when Mom left for the airport (4:30am) and watched two episodes of The Good Wife to calm my nerves down a bit. Yes, teachers get nervous, too.
When I got to school it was quiet. That is one reason I love coming in early. A school in the morning is like a city. You come into darkness. Everyone is sleeping but you. And slowly the world wakes up. Noises start to circulate down the hall. A handful of kids come in to leave backpacks. Teachers start to arrive. There are greetings “Buen Dia, Good Morning” and then the city is in full swing as the warning bell rings. I didn’t realize how much I missed this morning school routine until I had it back again. I am a much better teacher when I have an opportunity to ease into my little school city.
Then came the students. I love the days after breaks. Some kids get haircuts, some have grown in feet not inches. Six weeks is a significant amount of time when you are 15 and 16 years old. My lessons felt good. My kids were amazing. I think they were a little scared of me at first. My head coverings are physical signs that I am sick. I may look well overall, but that one symbol of illness is a bit daunting. But I know they will get used to it and things will go back to normal. They are teenagers, after all. But currently, they tip-toe a bit like I am going to break in front of them. And maybe I will, but for now I am strong and okay.
I would be a liar if I said that I wasn’t exhausted by the end of the day. I felt like I walked ten miles around my classroom. I only got a 10 minute nap in on my new bean-bag chair during lunch. And I got home and crashed hard. But I am ecstatic to be back. The tiredness was an accomplished tiredness. My brain was going to what I would do for the next lesson not to my health or my next treatment. I am excited for this new semester. These kids, my school will make me well long before anything else because teaching isn’t just what I do. It is who I am.