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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Back to School Blues

Yesterday was a gloomy second day of school. I watched the clouds roll through the sky and the rain drops fall into the puddles making ripples. I felt like one of the people from the Rexulti commercial
holding a smiley face on a stick up to their faces. There's something about rainy, cloudy weather that makes me want to curl up and go to sleep. I didn't really have a relaxing summer. Most of the summer was spent doing work around my parent's house or in physical therapy. Since I didn't take much time for self-care, I'm left feeling like it wasn't really summer at all and I'm zapped of all energy. I'm sure other educators, parents, and students get the Back to School Blues. Educators are back to lesson planning, faculty meetings, and grading student work. Parents are back to chauffeuring their kids from school to extracurricular activities in between their own work commutes. Kids are back to child care before and/or after school, school rules, and homework.

Usually, I feel sad when the school year ends because I'm going to miss "my kids"/ students. My purpose in life is my job as a school counselor, so when I don't have to go to work over the summer it feels like something's missing. Summer never lives up to the hype. I think it's going to be exciting and relaxing. It's over in a flash and I didn't get to do anything. I listen to everyone's stories of what they did over the summer and I realize that mine kind of stank and I'm just happy to be back at work.

For me, it doesn't actually feel like the school year started. Part of the reason for that is I don't have a school to go back to. I'm usually like many other educators: excited to be back to school to welcome the kids back. I can't wait to see how tall they got over the summer and say hi to them. I like to hear about how their summer was  and I'm excited about seeing them five days a week again. Right now it still feels like something's missing. I know I'm not entirely excited about the prospect of subbing. I'm not certified as a teacher and I don't know all the classroom routines. I'm afraid I'll order the wrong lunch for a student or I'll mark the wrong student absent. Math isn't my strongest subject and I don't know how to teach anything other than school counseling lessons. I thought I could bring books with me to read to students that I would have used as a counselor, but the reality is, the school day is too fast paced and structured for me to whip out a book on friendship while we wait to go to specials. I mean I wouldn't expect a science teacher to sub for a school counselor just to get a job as a science teacher. Subbing at a bunch of different schools takes out the relationship building piece that is the cornerstone of school counseling. I'll be entering uncharted territory every day.

While watching the clouds and rain yesterday, I realized there was a deeper reason for my Back to School Blues. Five and a half years ago, I began my school counseling journey. Three and a half years ago while I was in grad school and working as a teacher assistant at Spring Garden Elementary in Bethlehem Area School District, I covered a first grade class during recess and would read to them. They loved when I read to them and they talked to me every day during lunch. They were some of the nicest kids. Many of their parents were teachers at other schools in the district. Sometimes they would call me over to their table just to tell me silly jokes or show me what they were eating. These kiddos are now on their third day of Fifth Grade. I miss them tons. Towards the end of the 2015-2016 school year when they were in third grade, I started to prepare the kids for the idea that I might not be at school with them next year. They pleaded with me to stay and told me I should get a full-time job with them as a teacher. Kids are funny. I cried watching them perform at the talent show because I knew it might be the last time. I made sure to give them all hugs on the last day in case it was the last ones I got from them.

When I left Spring Garden last year to take a  part-time job at a charter school, I missed them all year. I went back to visit in October, but didn't get to come back at the end of the year as I had hoped. It's hard knowing this is their last year at Spring Garden. This will be the last original grade that was at the school when I started interning and working there. I guess part of me feels like if I just avoid the school year, it will stop time and they won't move on to middle school. Having students transition to the next school that I formed relationships with over 6 years is the hardest part of this job for me. I hate to say goodbye. I guess the other thing that's difficult for me to accept is that I'm getting older. I started at Spring Garden when I was 21 turning 22. Now I'm... gulp... 27. It feels like life is flying by too fast.

As a school counselor at the beginning of the year, you may be helping students beat the Back to School Blues.

  • PBS suggests helping students with transitions. Have a Kindergarten Orientation so students can see their classroom, meet their teacher, and get a tour of the school, maybe even let them ride a bus. 
  • PBS and APA also suggest allowing students to practice the back to school routine. As a counselor, arrange for new students to come in to meet teachers. New students and students making the transition to middle and high school could be invited in to try their locker combinations and for a tour. 
  • Allow returning students some time to chat with their old friends before hitting the books. 
  • Talk to students about what is making them nervous and help come up with an action plan. If a student still seems anxious, offer a list of counselors in the community to their parents. 
Educators experiencing Back to School Blues can prepare for a new school year by dressing professionally (and picking clothes out ahead of time), be prepared and flexible (have back-up plan), don't expect perfection (mistakes will be made), plan ahead (don't just wing it), and engage in self-reflection.

The sun being out today has me feeling a little more refreshed. Things may not have gone according to my plan, but that's life. I look forward to subbing at the school where I started out and seeing some familiar faces enjoying their final year in the building as fifth graders. I hope everyone has a wonderful 2017-2018 school year!

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