So, it turns out that I’m not so good at transitions. For years as an educator, I’ve worked hard to meet my students halfway when it comes to transitions, especially the ones who specifically struggle to switch from one activity to another.
To prevent cataclysmic meltdowns, I did what every teacher does:
- 5-minute warnings before an activity change,
- providing a chance to process feelings with support when they were struggling,
- using visual cuing schedules and sensory non-verbal signals,
- and employing strategies that would ensure success throughout the day…the list goes on.
What’s ironic, however, is that I’ve often ignored and ‘pushed through’ my own anxieties during transition times. The beginning of university. The end of university. My first year as a teacher. The beginning of each school year. The end of each school year. The birth of each of my two children. Each new thing I try that might not work or that feels uncertain.
I guess, I never thought much about the need to create strategies and routines to keep myself regulated. These days, as I attune myself more mindfully to my thoughts and emotional state, I’ve noticed how much I feel the weight of big changes in my life, and I don’t think I’m alone.
As I prepare to head back into the classroom after a two-year hiatus at home with my children, I can feel the waves of uncertainty washing over me again, anxiety creeping into my belly, and I seem to be rising just a little earlier each day…all signals, like a canary in a mineshaft, that a big transition is looming. And it is. This year, I’ll be teaching English, which is delightfully exciting to me. I recently heard that August is comparable to a long, anxiety-filled Sunday where you wind up spending a lot of your time fretting about the inevitability of Monday. Sounds about right. You can feel it in the air. September is approaching at a speedy gallop. Ready or not, here it comes.
Two weeks ago, as reality hit me hard, I responded with my best tried and true strategy: panic-induced certainty-seeking. For two straight days, I ventured into my new, virtually empty classroom and prepped my room for the year. The entire weekend, I gathered, arranged, and curated carefully chosen items for my classroom.
Alternative seating. Check.
Matching book bins. Check.
Organized learning areas. Check.
Table lamps. Check.
(This is the “before”)
Although, I really hadn’t planned anything concrete lesson-wise, the room looked pretty and systematized. In other words, my brain was doing dopamine backflips of happiness. Certainty, at last!
That moment of triumph lasted only a few minutes as I quickly realized that I required a variety of books for my students to read and had virtually none because I had given away my old books (which had been in French, anyway). Additionally, many of the toys and learning tools I had used in the past, belonged with my old school. Since my toy and book supply was lacking (as were my dwindling classroom funds), I decided to put a call out to a local mom’s group for help. And that’s when my whole outlook on back-to-school began to change.
The response was incredible. Within hours, my car was brimming with generous donations of books for my classroom library. After a quick search on VarageSale and a few pick-ups later, my once-empty toy bins were filled with affordable, quality-made building sets, Lego, board games, and puzzles.
As I was heading out for one final trip to collect the last remaining odds and ends from my vehicle, I noticed two middle schoolers playing on the school’s playground with their dad. Looking bored as they dangled from the monkey bars, they glanced over repeatedly as I juggled and bobbled bins unsuccessfully on my return to the classroom. Within moments, they were at my side, each taking a box, and accompanying me in the school. They lingered inside afterward, bashfully asking if there was anything else they could do to help. With the permission of their dad, I put them to work, painting lamps to match the colour scheme of the room and helping me align motivational posters on my wall. For about an hour, we listened to music together and worked while they told me stories of their experiences at the school.
Not long after they left, my sister surprised me with a beautiful antique, hand-restored chair for carpet time, which I love more than anything in my classroom.
What had begun as a weekend fraught with anxiety and resistance to inevitable change, was transformed by the genuine kindness of strangers, my new community, and those that I love. No matter what the future looks like, it’s always nice to know that there are people looking out for you. And, I am so excited for this new year!