Some days teaching feels like an exercise in avoiding spontaneous combustion. At least one day a week all the mental juggling I do gets tangled up causing me to have the urge to a) scream at the top of my lungs, b) throw something, and/or c) spontaneously combust. I realize the last sentence implies I possess the ability to spontaneously combust at will which, while not true, would be super cool. Though I cannot willfully erupt in flames that doesn’t mean teaching can’t make feel like I’m about to sometimes. Usually the urge to scream, throw an object or combust occurs during class which is actually a good thing because I wouldn’t want to do any of those things in front of my students. It would be embarrassing for me and terrifying for them. For example, a week ago during first period I was in the middle of a latitude and longitude lesson, and giving instruction on a worksheet. My first period is composed of 35 freshman students and two senior TA’s. As I finished giving instructions on the worksheet and turned the freshmen loose to work on it my mind started to drift to the field trip dilemma I had to solve.
Our freshman field trip was inadvertently scheduled for the same day there was an away football game and a home volleyball game for the freshman teams. This meant that about 20 kids would have to miss the field trip. Fortunately several parents volunteered to pick up the athletes from the field trip early and transport them to their games. While this was helpful and awesome, it added a whole new layer of logistics. Parent drivers had to fill out forms to transport students that were not their own, we had to figure out which kids were going to ride back with whom, which ones were going to ride the bus to the field trip but ride back with a parent, and which were going to ride both ways with a parent. Who was going to ride with whom seemed to change every day, but I had a deadline to meet for the coaches so I could inform them where they’re players would be arriving from and with whom. Additionally I needed to know which students were not going to go on the field trip because I’d have to prepare the alternate assignment materials and find them a place to go during the day as three of their regular teachers would be gone on the field trip.
While I was mulling over the field trip issues I was also monitoring the class making sure all the freshmen were on task, not having side conversations, or needed help. I was also trying to anticipate potential problems students might have completing the worksheets and wondering if I had given enough instruction. Amidst all of this my TA’s started asking if I had something for them to do, which I didn’t. Being helpful kids and bored because I had nothing for them to do, they began offering suggestions as to what they could do, which was great but a lot of what they were suggesting required actions on my part to organize and/or explain. At that moment I said I really couldn’t listen to their suggestions or find something for them to do because the freshmen were about to finish the worksheet, and my brain was busy working on field trip solutions. What I actually said was, “I really cannot handle any more input right now.”
“What?” rightfully questions TA #1.
“I don’t understand this question.” Asks a student.
“I am feeling overwhelmed right now, and cannot handle any new input.” I said to TA #1.
“I don’t get it.” said TA #1.
“Sigh.” I said.
“This one’s confusing.” said another student.
“I’ll be there in just a sec.” I replied to the student. Feeling the muscles in my next tense, my body stiffen, and my brain swirl wanting to help my bored TAs, my confused students and solve my field trip issues I tried to convey to TA #1 that I just needed her to find something to do quietly but all I could muster to repeat was, “I’m sorry I just really can’t handle any more input right now.”
“I don’t understa…”
“He means, he’s busy and can’t help us right now.”
Phew! TA #2 to my rescue! Spontaneous combustion avoided! Thankfully just as often as I have near meltdowns there is always someone around to snap me back into reality. This time it was TA #2, perhaps he should now be TA #1.