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Build It Brick by Brick

In a sea of back-to-school positivity (well-founded) and hoopla (well-intentioned), I often feel overwhelmed and ill-prepared.

Blame a jam-packed teacher preparation week, a summer of mindfulness that limited a deep dive into my lesson plan book, procrastination, denial, or crippling avoidance in the face of too many awesome options. I’m stressed out. Already. And tired.

Honestly, most of it is that last option. I do pretty constantly think about teaching. Ways to improve my content base, opportunities to more deeply understand my students, and countless resources to pour through in order to refine lessons all populate my summer.foolish How then does it all seem to come crashing down so quickly? Where does that raw enthusiasm for “the new” become wide-eyed, survival-mode, toss-me-a-life-jacket exhaustion?

It reminds me of those early days of parenthood. When you are “supposed” to feel overwhelming joy and revel in the breathless beauty that is a new and precious life, but few (if any) people prepare you for just how emotionally and psychologically challenging the change can be. When compounded with minimal sleep, mounds of self-applied pressure to be brilliant, and the feeling that every decision is make or break, you’re never very far from the edge.

So, just as parents want little more in those early days than to do right by their kids, teachers want to start the year by forging relationships, making connections, and presenting students with opportunities to learn that they can’t refuse. We want to learn their names, find them the best books, spark their enthusiasm with the perfect discussion question, change a life with the first kind smile. I’m a bit tired just typing it. However, stop someone on the street and say, “This new school year has me exhausted already,” and I would imagine they would be tempted to remind you of June, July, and August. But, the struggle is real.

I’m here this morning with a quick reminder. A reminder that I too need to hear as I furiously capture moments of a student bio gallery walk to share on Twitter, check in scads of summer homework, collaborate on new curriculum with multiple colleagues, adjust to a new schedule, less sleep, and more stress:

Rome wasn’t build in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour. 

Our work at the start of the year is certainly important. It’s foundational. That said, it doesn’t matter if it’s year one or year thirty-seven, remember to breath, remember to rest, and remember that our students are overwhelmed at the start of the year too. They need a bit of ease, understanding, and comforting as much as we might.

Epictetus once said, “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” I might add that one should be content to be exhausted as well, but loving students is exhausting. Most things that we truly value demand much more from us and are thereby far more valuable in the end.

Hang in there, friends. We’re in this together, and the mission is worth every ounce of weary we might be feeling.


Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of incredible English educators at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. She currently misses long afternoon naps, but squeezes in catnaps here and there, on her couch, under a book, and with her eyes open during stoplight stops. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum 

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6 thoughts on “Build It Brick by Brick

  1. […] just leap into the tough conversations a few weeks into the school year–you have to build community, and trust, and a sense of values […]

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  2. #TwitterTeacher | Three Teachers Talk September 21, 2017 at 8:34 am Reply

    […] As often happens with open ended assignments, we got a wide variety of participation. Tweets ebbed and flowed throughout the summer, but each time a student posted, I made it a priority to comment, retweet, like, and/or tag an author to promote connections across the world of reading. When Ishmael Beah, Allen Eskens, and Matthew Desmond interact with your students over the summer, I call that a solid win for starting to build readers and a community with enthusiasm around reading. […]

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  3. Shana Karnes September 19, 2017 at 10:17 am Reply

    You of course are speaking my mind exactly in many parts of this post, but especially the new parenthood paragraph. I am so over feeling what I am “supposed” to feel–as a parent, a teacher, a wife, a woman, etc. I’m wondering about how having Jane will go in comparison, but I don’t feel the pressure I did with Ruthie to be perfect–just as we shouldn’t as teachers.

    Thanks for this one, mama!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. mrsturnerblog September 14, 2017 at 5:20 pm Reply

    I’m finishing our first month of school and yes to all of this. We can do it!!

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  5. Amy Rasmussen September 14, 2017 at 10:58 am Reply

    You write this just for me, didn’t you? Thanks, Lisa!

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  6. Gretchen Egner September 14, 2017 at 6:32 am Reply

    This!! Exactly.

    Liked by 1 person

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