The Holidays are bitter sweet. Being blessed with a Public School schedule with two weeks off, makes this job worth all the late nights, long hours and emotional investment into the lives of young adults with special needs.
Yet there is a draw back, the investment creates a bit more stress then the typical classroom teacher experiences. I am not done at the end of the contracted duty hours. It has been my choice to become fully invested in this career for the past 27 years of my life. A choice that is brings consequences that affect me profoundly at this time of year.
A longing to travel and skip Christmas has been inside me for the past few years, yet I do not give in. I plug away, put up the tree, ship the gifts, try to coordinate schedules with my small family in TN. and push the Bah Humbug feeling away. I operate on what Christmas is “supposed” to look like.
The three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas in my business are the hardest, in my opinion. The return to the classroom after Thanksgiving is like a hard sprint, put my head down and run to Dec. 20th, sliding into my bed to sleep for two days! After that I wake up and work on recovery in order to return on Jan. 6th for the downhill slide to Spring Break. Christmas and its goodwill sometimes gets set aside in my personal life in order for me to make it through and that makes me sad.
I have neglected my small family, missed life events (Graduations, Military Awards Ceremonies, Birthdays) of my nephews because I was unwilling to take the time away from the students (substitutes are not easy to find for this group and sometimes destroy what took months to accomplish). Until a few years ago I did not have funds to travel from this island I choose to live on, which made it hard to be involved in the families lives in Nashville.
My choices to focus on this career, have consequences today. Now that I am slowing down and can take the time to be with my nephews and their children, have some funds to be able to travel, they are adults and have full lives, responsibilities and Aunt Ruth is not someone they know well. Their priorities are with their families now, as it should be. That is ok, that is the natural way of it and I rejoice for the two boys who will carry on our family legacy.
I redirect my bittersweet feelings and dive into the what is going on with my students, savoring the time with them and enjoying Christmas through they’re loving spirits.
My adult students have the childlike wonder of the season, and are learning the adult life lessons of responsibility. They are continuing to go to the job sites, do their grocery shopping and all of their college assignments, things that are not as motivating as Santa Claus and Christmas Cookies! As a leader, I feel that it is important to keep us moving forward with the IEP goals, keeping in mind that a two week break is on the horizon. Therefore the focus is on lesson plans that are highly engaging for students and staff. This has yielded some awesome student gains in these past few weeks!
While making plans for community based vocational sites and college access, the two week break must be planned for also. The business world that the students interact with is sometimes confused when we stop attending the internship or community learning site for two weeks. It is so important to maintain our relationships with them for the benefit of the students, but so hard to do on this school schedule. Sometimes students choose to participate in the “office parties” on their job sites and need support. It is always fun to witness the communication breakthroughs that emerge via the interaction with natural supports. The relationships become solidified via the Holiday Spirit the students exude.
Keeping my emotions in check, there are some very important decisions that I am making that will affect the quality of my life in the near future, along with affecting this program that has been an extension of me for the past 7 years.
In the recent weeks I have learned that the magic age of 55 gave me some options in my retirement funding. It seems that the 403b that my father insited that I start many years ago is going to come in handy. At 55, it can be rolled over into the FRS system to “buy” the three years of bad choices I made during an attempt to live in Ohio. This means at in June 2014 grand total of my FRS service credit will be 28 years! Which means I work 2 more years and in June 2016 I can retire with 30 years of service or enter DROP.
This is the best Christmas Present ever! I can count on one hand the time I have left to serve in the Public School System! This does not mean I will “retire” from my “kids” It does meant that I will have choices in how, when and where I serve.
As I sit here on my front porch, reflecting on the implications of this news, I fight off the temptation to run away from Christmas. I find joy in knowing that the my service time has helped many others, yet also come to a new resolution that the next two weeks will be about taking care of me. Taking care of my needs for play and healthy eating. Taking time to reflect on how to use the next two years to leave a legacy that the Public School System can sustain if it chooses to. Taking time to create an action plan that will enable me to share all the knowledge gleaned from my students with others.
Counting the blessings, feeling the warm island breezes and taking time to watch the sunrise is driving the Bah Humbugs away!