Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bipolar Work Disorder

Bring Down - Midlake (mp3)
Suppose - Buffalo Tom (mp3)

May is the cruelest month.

The long year of routines, assignments, obligations, ideals, hopes, goals and opportunities is pulling into the garage. The joys of new and successful experiments have begun to fade. Attempts at getting others excited about new ideas run into deaf ears and tired eyes. Some things didn’t get done. Some things didn’t get done well. Friends are retiring or leaving for other schools or different locations.

Everyone is desperate for an ending, even as many of us will continue to return to our school every day over the summer, even as the work of preparing for another school year must go on.

At the beginning of the school year, I find myself reeling in a panicky sense of vertigo. Work feels like one of those games where someone stands in a glass-walled booth while money flies all around them, and the stress and excitement comes from just trying to snag and grab onto as many of the possibilities and ideas as you can. In the fall, the dollar bills are flying all over the place, but by May, it seems like there’s just a few bills in the air, and you just can’t seem to get your hands on any of them.

In the fall, amidst trying new things and breaking new ground, all the standard parts of previous years come and go, and dozens of unexpected fires and challenges emerge. Fall becomes about time management, about prioritizing, about keeping your head in the chaos.

May, for me, is about next year. What can I do to improve? What changes can I make in our routines to increase efficiency? What new concepts or angles must I pursue, and what can I afford to let go of?

The problem is, getting momentum on this kind of thinking, for me, requires cooperation, conversation, discussion. I’m in a position that relies largely on the buy-in of other people. And, in May, few people give a shit about next year. They care about four beautiful letters -- J-U-N-E -- and call out to her like they were in a Calgon commercial. "June, take me away!"

Mostly I’m very zen about these things. I sympathize with the frustrated voices, the tired eyes, the listless posture and slumped shoulders, the comments about how ready everyone is to get the frick outta Dodge and enjoy a nice summer break. I get it, and I understand it. And not all of it is negative and tired. Some of the looking forward to summer is positive and eager and excited, and even though my job remains basically the same all summer, to be utterly spent in May just happens in this biz.

Yet in a flash, my peace and calm can turn to anger, or deep sadness. I get angry that better-compensated coworkers are checked out. Or sad that other schools are busy making big ambitious announcements while we’re just staring at those big letters: J-U-N-E.

Then I get happy again, because a coworker is retiring, and all these people stand up and say great things about him, and his life is such a testament to what we’re trying to do here, and his words bring tears to my eyes, and I’m so very proud of what I do for a living and where I do it, because we are a legitimately impressive community.

Then I get angry again, because the goober five chairs away from me doesn’t know how to silence his phone in a faculty meeting, and it erupts twice during the retiree’s emotional speech. And his techno-ineptitude serves as a reminder of just how many people around me have no friggin’ clue about technology, nor do they seem to feel the slightest bit of discomfort about their ignorance.

In fact, they sometimes act angry that the world refused to freeze in place and instead expects them to keep learning shit. Just because your passion is history or physics and a student’s is Call of Duty or YouTube doesn’t make you any different than they are if you can’t open up and learn stuff you find boring. Some teachers are to technology what dumb jocks are to chemistry: This is stupid. This has nothing to do with me. This is for nerds.

Educators, of all people, should enter their workplace every day expecting that they’re gonna have to keep learning shit. You know, “lifelong learners” and all that? It ain't just a tag-line. It's fer real, yo.

Frustration becomes sadness because we’re losing some amazing veteran teachers to retirement. And, even if they were a little too embittered at times, they were still dazzling and amazing teachers, and their gifts in the classroom will not be easily replaced.

And then I get tired, because switching from one emotion to another so quickly and unexpectedly and constantly is exhausting. Not to mention it’s friggin’ hot outside, and I hate the heat.

It’s a cruel month. So then I, too, think it: J-U-N-E...


Bob said...

Other jobs don't have this kind of yearly cycle. I think it makes us weird.

John said...

Anyone up for a matinee of The Hangover II today?

Bob said...

John, we still work.

troutking said...

Correction. We are still AT work.

Daisy said...

I don't think it's the yearly cycle that makes y'all weird.

Bob said...

Touche, Daisy!

Todd said...

Ten years ago, I had a friend I played "Suppose." He liked it so much, he bought [big red letter day] and was mad at me the rest didn't sound like "Suppose." Maybe selfish of me, but I'm still happy he even liked "Suppose." He didn't like much I played him.