Notes for a Post I Haven’t Time to Write

Koyaanisqatsi-11Grade report writing weekend: Again, I made plans to work in advance of my deadlines and compose my Saturday post before Saturday, but alas. I have these notes and nothing more.


Censors trip the hallway lights near my office. Most mornings I set them off—they surge to a steady fluorescence as my key turns in the lock. A kickstand holds the office door open, but no one arrives or visits for a while. I have silent moments to put away my coat, stare at the class schedule I’ve posted on the bulletin board over my desk, and fight inertia.


Because I’m on the fifth floor and take the stairs, I always begin a little out of breath.


I relish the moments I’m not “on,” but it sometimes seems I’m always on. Even alone, lists haunt me. If I’m not making progress, I’m falling behind, and if I’m distracted, I’m off the rails and careening down an embankment carving a trench tough to escape.


Sometimes, when students can’t find a mutual free period, they arrange to meet me in the morning, and I prefer that. It’s a strange other time. I almost forget it’s work I’m doing and just talk. I wonder then what work is.


Teachers like to joke that school would be a great place if it weren’t for the students. That’s not really true, of course. Time spent with students is the heart of my day, and, if it’s good, it pumps vitality into every aspect of my job. When that time is frustrating, tedious, baffling, or soporific, all my limbs buzz, my head swims in haze, my vision dims.


My workplace isn’t unique, but imagining another as arduous seems impossible. I always have it hardest, no matter what—because any other place is abstract, because I look for value in my struggles, because I scramble for some theoretical and dubious pinnacle, because when do I ever get to pause and reflect, because it’s hard for me.


Have you ever imagined living time lapse, the tidal filling and emptying of space, the stream of people trickling and flooding, the appearance and disappearance of figures standing before them, the whole day speeding to a blur?


Sometimes, when I remember my day, I can only focus on transitions from copier to class to assembly to grading to conferencing with students, meetings with colleagues, and appointments with panic.


My secret name is Major Exhaustion. My forces include fatigue, distraction, anxiety, distress, aggravation, defeatism, cynicism, bewilderment, ennui, disappointment, gloom, contempt, giddiness, paranoia, dejection, bitterness, resignation, despair, neediness, misery, and hysteria. I started to say they’re under my command but, clearly, they’re not.


Occasionally, when students work in class, they start talking a little louder, which means others talk louder too. Soon the room is too loud. I ask for quiet because I don’t want noise to reach the hall or the next classroom, but it’s hard, asking anyone for less, asking to slow down or pause. You don’t know what’s too much.


We were discussing stress at school once, and I used an analogy I like: whitewater. Nobody minds the times we know we’ll be hurried, harried, and full-out as long as we see that time as finite, and calm water lies ahead. But when whitewater is constant…

“That again,” a colleague harrumphed, “if I have to hear that whitewater thing one more time…”

I hadn’t realized I’d said it so often before. I didn’t realize how annoying it was. I left with another worry to carry.


The milder version of one of my favorite expressions is “five pounds of crap in a three pound bag.” I don’t know how it was invented and would rather not consider how it might be enacted, but I recognize the smell.


Soon it will be Monday. It was Monday, and it is going to be Monday. I’m sitting at home, staring at this screen, waiting for Monday again.



Filed under Ambition, Anxiety, Doubt, Education, Essays, Experiments, High School Teaching, Identity, Laments, Lyric Essays, Modern Life, Sturm und Drang, Teaching, Thoughts, Work

7 responses to “Notes for a Post I Haven’t Time to Write

  1. I like your whitewater analogy – teaching in schools is so demanding/draining. I still have the occasional nightmare about it.

    • dmarshall58

      I have those nightmares too, usually in the late summer when I’m preparing to begin again. For reasons I don’t really understand, this year has been particularly exhausting. I love working with my students. Class is tremendous fun most days. But all the routine is wearing, and seems relentless at times. I’m on spring break now–that’s why I’m finally able to catch up on comments–and I’m trying to use the time to reorganize my efforts and maybe protect myself a little more from my job’s stresses. Thanks for visiting and commenting. My delay in responding might make you think otherwise, but I do appreciate it. –D

  2. “Even alone, lists haunt me.” – It’s a well-worn, mental groove that I too have to escape from. Sadly, even the creative, just for fun stuff gets ‘listed’ at times.

    • dmarshall58

      Such a fine line separates what’s listed and what’s fun. An article in the Chicago Tribune last week suggested scheduling your fun as well as your work and putting your child’s birthday on the calendar so you wouldn’t work through it. The whole idea of needing to do such things seemed odious to me. One of the authors quoted in the article said that schedules free us, and I just don’t buy that. Wouldn’t it be nice just to enjoy everything, whether it was work or not? Maybe in another world. Thanks for your comment! –D

  3. I have been out of the classroom for 26 years, yet reading this entry places me back in school, classroom, with students and cohorts. Everything you say here has a ring of truth, as I experienced it about teaching. The thing that used to get me was the time-table, as predictable as a tide table for sailors, only more frequently oscillating with in and out flow of persons. I hated the rigid regimentation and control of time, would get irritated that the bell would ring a signal to end a class just when things got absorbing and there was a marvellous flow happening. often the students resented this interruption that was more of an order to march onward to the next activity. Totally inhuman!

    • dmarshall58

      Teaching does seem artificial at times. The most troubling casualty to me is how we train students’ effort. They work very hard but often look to me, asking me if this or that is okay, and, if I give them a formless task that tries their own resourcefulness and initiative or asks them to apply the spirit of an author, they seem altogether new at it and lost. The underlying and unstated assumption is that no one would do any of I assign if she or she weren’t compelled. And they don’t desire success so much as not failing. Even in activities specifically designed to reward creative and individual problem-solving, they ask if they’re “doing it right.” Teaching in that sort of environment isn’t as much fun. Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to respond. I’ve been so busy! –D

  4. Just noticed your reply. Hope you manage to get some rest during spring break – training for a half marathon doesn’t sound very restful. I really appreciate your comments too.

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