Archive | June, 2012

My Semi-Annual Existential Crisis (and how my students help me survive it)

25 Jun

Deep Speaks!At the end of every semester, two things happen like clockwork:

1. I lose my voice. We call it the “Deep Sick” at the office; we all crash after the wild scramble of throwing 20 end-of-term parties and editing 200 kids’ portfolios during the last week of class (and yes, those are actual numbers, not exaggerations.) Deep’s newest employee, Jo, discovered the Deep Sick to her chagrin last December.

2. I fall into an existential funk where I start asking myself questions like, “What am I doing with my life? Is this work important? What is important? Is this my highest and best use? Why does creative writing matter? Why do I matter? What is the purpose of existence?”  &c., &c.

Yeah, I know–it’s mostly self-indulgent navel-gazing. Still, as hippy-dippy as the questions sound, I think that it is important to ask them–I’ve got only another 65 years or so on this planet, max, and I’d like to use each one of them as well as I can. But that doesn’t change the fact that asking those questions can be a little crippling, sometimes.

So here’s how I get over it: I host Deep’s book release party, where we publish our students’ writing from the previous semester (see photo).

There is nothing in the world that cures me as quickly as watching my students share their work with their family and friends. Seeing that they have created something that they are proud of, and that is meaningful to them, is enough.

I think that if every teacher found a way to publish and celebrate their students’ work–even if it was just stapling some poems into handmade books and having a reading in the school cafeteria–it might go a long way towards preventing burnout.

What do you think? How do you feel at the end of the school year, and what do you do to remind yourself of why you teach?


8 Jun

Check out my first guest blog for another site, posted on Lessons from the Middle this week!

Lessons From the Middle

I’m so excited to have another guest blogger join in at Lessons From The Middle! I asked Catherine, today’s guest blogger, to tell me a bit about herself. She runs a nonprofit called Deep, which offers free after-school creative writing workshops to 400 public school students every year. She’s been teaching writing to middle school students for four years with Deep, and she also blogs about it at That Writing Lady. She also studied English at Yale, and finally, she told me that she does a great giraffe impersonation. Catherine obviously has a great sense of humor as well! Thanks again Catherine for insightful blog post.



We all know that students love to be recognized and rewarded for their hard work. We teachers do this every day through good grades, pats on the back, and gold stars. But what…

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How to Recover from Burnout this Summer

1 Jun
Timken Roller Bearing Co., calendar, September...

Timken Roller Bearing Co., calendar, September 1950, teacher at desk (Photo credit: George Eastman House)

It’s a pretty well-known fact that the first year of teaching is nearly always a disaster. Becoming a competent teachers takes at least two years, and becoming a master teacher takes around five.

Yet, it’s also a pretty well-known fact that most new teachers quit the profession within three years. (Interestingly, one of the few professional careers with an even higher turnover rate than teachers is that of nonprofit development directors–my other job–at 18 months. Who knows how I get myself into these situations.)


Avoiding burnout and sticking around is absolutely key in making a difference in the lives of our students–so here are some ideas for things I plan to do this summer to rejuvenate myself:

Take on a side project. It’s best if it has nothing at all to do with your current job–try gardening, singing, running, or scrapbooking. Some teachers like to take on another job in the summer, and this can be fun, too, if you let it. Just be sure that whatever you take on iis something simple and achievable, if also challenging (I know that I’ve bought years’ worth of knitting supplies before realizing that I actually hate knitting and am terrible at it.) It’s important to feel successful at the end of the summer. I’m planning on finishing another draft of the middle grades novel I’m working on, and helping out with other cool nonprofits like this one.

Focus on relationships. Having a network of people who love and support you makes every school year easier. I know I would have quit long ago if it wasn’t for the unflagging support of my family, my friends, and my fella–so I plan on taking some time this summer to support them, too, and spending some quality bonding time together.

What do you do to avoid burnout? How do you spend your summers?