The pangs of waking up to bright lights creeping underneath the crack of my door as they light the way to the bathroom for me churn deep in my gut. This morning I will not breathe the stale hotel room air and bend to pick up the newspaper that’s been slipped through the crack of the door at an ungodly hour by a no doubt too tired hotel worker. It almost all makes me wish I was not home. This morning, there is no newspaper. This morning, I woke in the comforts of my own bed; in the darkness of daylight savings time in Northern New Jersey.
Most New Jersey public schools close the second Thursday and Friday of November each school year, while tens of thousands of Garden State educators descend on the popular boardwalk of Atlantic City for four days of professional development and a pedagogical high. The professional tradition has long been a part of who I am as an educator and during my eighteen years of teaching, I can name four times when I did not attend.
The role of board member for the NJMSA (New Jersey Middle School Association) kept me away guilt-free as we represented our organization at the National Middle School convention in Philly the same weekend. September 11th, 2001 was the second time. The idea of being engulfed in large crowds was understandably too nerve-wracking and kept me home. A medical leave of absence as I battled cancer in 2007 stalled me for the third time. Finally, a new position of a semi-self-contained classroom in 5th grade paralyzed me, leaving me home in 2015 to balance my world, center my mind, and prevent me from leaving the profession altogether. Until now, middle school teaching had been my entire career. Elementary school teachers are superheroes.
I have always believed strongly in the obligation to attend the convention each year, especially since schools were closed in its honor. This year marks my second year as a 5th-grade classroom teacher. I MADE IT THROUGH YEAR ONE…and it wasn’t easy. With a calm cool breath, grounded in confidence, I gratefully sit here typing guilt free in my home on this morning when all the fun is beginning in AC. I type not without regret, knowing hordes of my colleagues are preparing to wake to newspapers under their doors, breathe that lovely stale hotel air, and begin their exploration of knowledge.
This year I will once again miss the cool salty air stinging my lungs and the crisp November wind tearing my eyes as I stroll down the boardwalk with my backpack slung over my shoulder to catch the shuttle to my first workshop. No rushing for me this day. I had navigating the convention figured out long ago. My schedule was set with all workshop times and back up courses dog-eared and mapped out in the event of overcrowding. My sacred time was not to be wasted.
To write about the exhibit floor is too painful: Author’s Alley, Main Street NJEA, Digital Boulevard. Ugh, this is really painful. I am compelled to hop in the car and take the three-hour drive just to be immersed in the splendor of it all.
What keeps me home writing about this momentous gathering is the recognition of my need to be still. If you’re a teacher, you need no further explanation. If you’re not a teacher, please keep an open mind. There is nothing that can explain the first two months of the school year. I say this with love in my heart, compassion in my veins, and patience seeping from my pores. Being a second-year 5th-grade teacher has been the single most rewarding position I have held in the history of my teaching career. I am over the moon with where my path has taken me and often wonder how many others are fortunate enough to stand in the same space and absolutely, unwittingly be in love with what they do each day as they contribute to society.
Five o’clock last night, I pulled away from my classroom door with my SUV packed to the roof with boxes of papers in need of filing. Looking like a kid on her way to college for the first time, I navigated my way home with enough visibility to get me home safely. Last night’s rain has left my car still crammed. The contents of that car, in addition to the new iDoceo classroom management application, the online Mindful Schools course I’m enrolled in, and a new ELA curriculum is my convention this year.
I love that I have arrived at a place that is guilt free. I realize while being at the convention is where my heart lies, staying home to complete what is already in process is my acknowledgment of self-care and dedication to health and wellness. I will return to the convention one day, and hopefully, it will be next year. No matter how many years you have been teaching, no matter how many different hats you wear as an educator, there is always something to learn. There is always something new and improved or old and steadfast you forgot about in your bag of tricks.
I wish for all my colleagues who are home, in Atlantic City, or elsewhere learning how to be the best they can be, a wonderful long weekend of learning, innovation, and most importantly, some rest and relaxation to rejuvenate your spirit.