Tag Archives: Universal Life Church

The Going-Back-To-Work Blues Is A Real Thing

back-to-school

20 blog entries later, and the summer break comes to a close. Teachers report back to their schools in my district on Monday. Time to take stock. Time to look ahead. It’s been a strong summer. I blogged, I wrote fiction, became an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church, agreed to marry a couple of former students, taught my son to ride a bike independently, took a trip to the beach, a couple of weekend camping trips, writers camp in Moraga, California, attended my 30th high school class reunion, watched two seasons of The Walking Dead, one season of Orange Is The New Black, recorded vocals for the new Here Comes Everybody album, helped my wife paint the bathroom, and did some reading. No, I did not finish Moby Flipping Dick. But I did finish a novel by my friend Rob Yardumian, The Sounds of Songs Across the Water, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, and a book by another friend, perhaps the best book on the writing life since the famous one by Annie Dillard, Joan Frank’s Because You Have To: A Writer’s Life, oh, and I drank some good bourbon.

It’s been, I suppose, a relatively busy, productive, satisfying summer.  Partly because of this, perhaps, because I’d love it to continue on forever, I am now coming to terms with a serious case of the going-back-to-work blues. I suspect even if my summer was not nearly so stellar I’d feel it nonetheless. The beginning of the new school year has always been bittersweet.  On the sweet side, the rhythm of the school year gives a structure to life once again, because, as I wrote about earlier regarding the summertime blues, unstructured time can be the surest way into the pit. I’m anxious to see my colleagues again, lucky and blessed as I am to work in a school where I am hard pressed to think of anything negative to say about a single soul who works there.  I mean, to be honest, I could do it, but it would be a stretch, and it would be minor stuff, never anything that makes being there anything but pleasant and happy.  And, with new systems and revised curricula and strategies, each year brings with it a healthy dose of adventure, novelty, and thrill. Finally, I’ll end the list of sweet stuff and begin the list of bitter stuff with the same item: it’s always a wild ride to meet so many brand new human beings who will now become a huge part of my life for the next 9 months.  You never know what you’re going to get.

Because for the past two years or so I have taught 11th graders and only 11th graders, when I go into the classroom on the first days of the new school year, I will be faced with nearly 200 individual students that I have never met before in my life.  So I would say that the thing that creates the going-back-to-work blues for me more than any other thing is this sense, a very real sense, of the monumental task I am about to undertake.  The amount of energy or gumption or confidence (and maybe skill) it takes to acquaint yourself with and direct the intellectual habits of 200 brand new human beings–and sustain that over a nine month period–is daunting, to say the very least.  That kind of power, if harnessed, could perhaps solve the energy crisis. Just wire up a bunch of teachers to the grid, man.  Problem solved.

I’ve got to learn all my students’ names.  I should like to know something about them.  I need to find out what makes them tick.  I need to figure out which ones of this group of 200 are on top of their skills and which ones will need extra help.  I need to assess which ones will be allies and which ones of them will be, not enemies, never enemies, but something like, uh, I don’t know, let me start over.  Which of them will be allies and which of them will provide particular challenges? I need to build a “community of learners,” supportive, respectful, safe, comfortable, and committed to the task at hand.  But then there’s this pesky thing called a curriculum.  I wouldn’t turn up my nose at any teacher who spends a full two weeks (which in our district is five 87 minute periods) doing nothing but community building activities.  But we can’t afford that kind of time!  With furlough days continuing to shorten our school year and absolutely no lightening of the load (in fact the load has become heavier than it has ever been and the stakes higher than ever), we’ve got to hit the ground running.

So, perhaps by October I will know all of their names.  I will never be able to pronounce some of their last names.  When we have our first parent teacher conferences toward the end of Autumn, I will be terrified of not being able to place students in my mind’s eye when the parent tells me their names.  In March, I guarantee you that I will mortify some student by calling him or her by the wrong name. And then next fall, when I see some of these kids for the first time after another lovely summer break, their names will have escaped me.  This is the reality.  I wish it were otherwise–because I believe in the core of my teacher heart that the surest way to help a student academically is to KNOW a student personally and meaningfully, and this is especially true of the students who need extra help.  The kids who are good at being students would be successful in spite of or despite almost anything I do. But the kids who struggle need me–but they don’t know it–and they will hide from me, try to disappear, and some of them will be successful at this–because in that single class of 35 kids amongst a teacher/student ratio of one to nearly 200, it’s easy to do.

So my going-back-to-work blues has to do with a certain amount of anxiety about how difficult the job is and how mentally and emotionally exhausting it can sometimes be, and also with not just a tiny bit of stage-fright.  A reality of the teaching profession, I think, even for veteran teachers, especially for those who care about doing a credible job, is that those first days are kind of scary.  And I think the thing that gets me through that fear every time is the knowledge and deep belief that what I am doing is the best thing I can do.  I am one of the lucky few that has found a profession that is rewarding, invigorating, challenging, and profoundly important.  So, despite the blues, which, as I’ve said, are hardly completely blue, I say to the new school year and to my colleagues and to my 200 brand new charges: bring it on, baby.

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#46: Call Me Reverend

Ministry

Call Me Reverend

Call me reverend, call me padre or father,
man of the cloth, pastor, minister, oh wise one,
leader of men, shepherd, or guy who became
an ordained minister on-line in less than
five real live human minutes.
Call me the guy who has credentials
to marry and bury and a parking permit
and a press pass and a free pass
and a bumper sticker that says,
“We are all children of the same universe”
above the symbolic representations
of all the faiths on the planet,
some of which he recognizes,
many of which he does not
and none of which represent
a faith he belongs to or practices.
Call me the Atheist minister,
the guy who became ordained because
someone asked him to officiate a wedding
and he said yes,
who believes in the basic goodness
and dignity of every living thing,
who believes not in an afterlife
of heaven or hell,
but of an afterlife in the memory
of those left behind and whose
lives he touched, for better or worse,
the guy who believes, in a nutshell,

that this is it,

and heaven or hell,
heaven and hell
are right here and now, baby,
and that one can be
exchanged for the other
with the right or wrong
kind of practice or with a good
or a bad kind of luck.
His ministry or creed:
be good to people and the planet
and all the living things upon it,
and that will go an awful long way.
It’s all we’ve got, in the end.

Coexistence-Children-of-the-Same-Universe

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#44: Sure, I Will Marry You

used-wedding-rings2

Sure, I Will Marry You

Sure, I’ll marry you, if you’d like.
That’s what I told a student of mine
who sent me this message out of the blue
fifteen years or better after he’d been
in my classroom reading some Shakespeare,
saying he had asked his girlfriend,
who was also a student of mine
fifteen years ago, to get hitched,
and for some reason, they thought
their high school English teacher
would be the perfect guy for the job.
Will you marry us, he said,
and I said, sure, I will marry you.
I was honored and happy.
I didn’t have a certificate to marry anyone
so I got on the internet and
in five minutes I was ordained
as a minister in the Universal Life Church.
I was pretty pleased with myself.
I’m not religious any more
but the Universal Life Church makes
no demand and sets no standard
for any particular flavor or level
of religiosity, no dogma to follow,
inclusive of even the Agnostic and Atheist.
Well, that’s my kind of church, I thought,
as I ordered up my legal certificate
to certify my reverential self to the State
and to the world.
I told my former students
that I wouldn’t be talking about Jesus
and they were all right by that.
Despite my lack of religion,
despite the fact that it’s probably
been thirty years since I last said a prayer,
I think of myself, still, in spiritual terms,
think there is a big difference between
spirituality and religion, and find much
in the world and in life to be reverential
and even worshipful about. So
I find myself pretty darn excited now
to be a man of the cloth, of some kind of cloth;
hell yeah, I’m now a reverend, and if you ask me
to marry you or bury you or make a blessing
of some kind, I’ll do my level best
to bring some thought, some levity,
some seriousness, and gobs of respect
to the occasion, because that’s what you deserve.
That’s what we all deserve.

Reverend Michael Anthony Jarmer

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Filed under Culture, Poetry, Religion, Self Reflection, Teaching