I have reached the all-too-familiar place of emotional overwhelm here at the close of this very strange school year. I know the signs well; I feel frozen, even small, normally mundane tasks seem monumental, leaving me feeling like a deflated beach ball. My mind is scattered and it is extremely difficult to concentrate, only making the anxiety even more intense as deadlines loom. A frustrating cycle that pops up in my life (and my journal) over and over again. As a dear friend and I joke, “Is there no end to this?”
I have gone through the end of 35 school years as a teacher. 35. Where did the time go? This school year has been nothing like any of those in the toll it has taken- and I went through some pretty darn tough life experiences during those other 34 years. The pandemic has taken so much from so many; from teachers, it took away our ability to do the work we love in the best ways we knew how. For musicians, it took away what we do- live performance.
For music teachers, I think I speak for many of us when I say we feel set adrift, missing performing on stage, the wonderful sound of applause and cheering. I miss the sounds of students practicing, ensembles rehearsing down the hall, the crush of students talking and joking as they gather in the halls between classes, running into colleagues and being able to visit with them. I miss seeing smiling faces and sitting next to my students to teach them and demonstrate to them, something I have always done, leaving me feeling like I’m teaching with one hand tied behind my back. I feel separated from who I am and it feels deeply unsettling.
I do feel hope all around, though. Maybe it’s the beauty of spring, new life popping up all around us…or maybe it’s finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel as more and more people are vaccinated and we see a path forward to whatever our new normal will be. Having even that little bit of hope makes such a difference, doesn’t it?
I think the hardest thing about this year has been pushing ourselves to make it through; make it through the end of last school year where everything was suddenly new and different, filled with fear of the many unknowns. Then it was months of isolation, followed by pushing to make it through the fall semester, holidays without friends and family, pushing through the spring semester- all while seeing students and colleagues suffering, dealing with my own ‘stuff’, mixed with a seemingly endless dose of political strife. All of us bubbling over with a mixture of overwhelm, blind hope, and dogged determination.
We’ve all found our own coping mechanisms, healthy and unhealthy. We’ve done our best to be there for our students, even on days when we had to wipe away tears and paste a smile on our faces. We have cared enough to uplift and encourage our students and each other to get through, one day at a time.
And then, the school year, the strangest of all school years, has ended, leaving us feeling like we’ve pushed and struggled to get through a battle whose deep scars can only be felt. Fellow teachers can see the invisible wounds we all carry. The determination, the exhaustion, the feeling of failure because we tried our best and it still wasn’t good enough for our ourselves or our students. We are filled with concern; will we ever get to teach and perform normally again? We will ever feel like ourselves again?
As in everything in life, there have been good things mixed in with the not-so-good. I learned to use a lot of technology that I never would have touched had the pandemic not happened, some of which I will keep as we move forward. I enjoyed lots of quality time with Dan and the animals. I focused on my health, working to shed 50 pounds, giving up alcohol. I did my best to focus on being there for my students while trying to face my own fear and uncertainty about everything, trying to hold myself together. I can’t even fathom what health care workers are feeling after the horrors they have lived through.
I don’t know what the future holds for us. I have to believe that this will all pass, that someday we will talk with knowing looks to each other about ‘that awful year’ that was. It’s difficult to think of that time right now when we are all bone weary from it all.
I will keep looking for the lessons, hoping to grow from these sad days and hold onto the many lessons learned during this time. I don’t know what else to do, except to hold tight to my friends and family and believe that there are much better days ahead for us all. As my mentor Kal Opperman would say, Next…onward, on to the next.