The Real Deal with the Back to School Blues

Well folks, it’s August — the Sunday night of months. When summer starts to feel like it’s slipping away and many teachers start to feel the “back to school blues.”

Oh sure, we still have a few weeks left to wake up when it’s light out and to use the bathroom whenever we darn well please. But August is when BTSD sets in for real and the back to school blues are in full effect. For you non-teachers, “BTSD” is Back to School Disorder. It’s characterized by pervasive dread and a vague sense of guilt that getting nine straight weeks off somehow leaves you in mourning instead of thankful. If you don’t believe this ailment is real, do a Google search for “back to school blues”, and enjoy reading the 28 million hits.

And speaking of those 28 million results, there’s clearly no lack of advice on how to treat this serious malady.

“Go out for one last hurrah,” they say.
(I’ve been hurrah-ing for a month and a half. And soon I’ll have to stop hurrah-ing. That’s why I’m sad!)

“Get an early start on your prep work,” they say.
(Um, why do you think I have anxiety in the first place?)

“Buy a great back to school outfit,” they say.
(Unless Kohl’s is letting me use a 30% on Katniss Everdeen’s getup, what I’m wearing on the first day is going to have absolutely no impact on my mood whatsoever.)

So here’s my two cents on how to transition well this September.

First, acknowledge that the condition is real. The death stares of year-round workers notwithstanding, it’s okay feeling that going back to work after so much time off is difficult. In fact, because we have so much time off, we build a completely different life in July and August. And giving up that life is different than going back to work after a week’s vacation. That doesn’t make you an ingrate or selfish. It means that you know that you’ll be mourning a whole way of life you’re leaving behind.

Next, figure out your individual causes of the “back to school blues.” Maybe it’s because you are going from a busy but flexible routine to a busy and inflexible routine. And that just makes life harder. Maybe you aren’t altogether comfortable in front of a classroom (even after 20 years!) and you are anxious about being back “up front”. Or maybe it’s the thought of being “on” all the time- having to smile when you’re sad, having to be enthusiastic when you’re disinterested, and having to constantly exert your will on the behavior of little humans. Whatever your reasons, own them. And forgive yourself for not totally wanting to go back.

Plan an outing with your colleagues before the end of summer. Now I know not everyone has the same quality of relationships with their fellow teachers. I hope that you, like me, love your school squad and see them as a second family. Or maybe, for you, the faculty room is like Season Two on Lost- you can’t stand the people on the island, but you need them to survive. Either way, catching up with your work friends before the end of summer is so helpful. Because when it comes to BTSD, they get it.

And together, make a plan to deal with the things that drive you nuts on the first day back. How are you going to avoid “How Was Your Summer Rage?” You know, the uncontrollable resentment you feel at 9:04am on the first day when the 50th otherwise friendly person asks you that question. And how are you going to survive the opening meetings and in-services? English teachers print your crossword puzzles. Math teachers print your Sudokus. Or may I suggest my personal favorite, Buzzword Bingo. Whatever you do, heading into that first day with the right attitude will pay dividends when the students arrive.

Finally, appreciate that the life you’re getting back is special. As teachers, we have the potential to do world-changing work every day. Oh, I don’t mean the whole world. I mean one child’s whole world. So, sure have that hurrah and buy that outfit, but if you’re going to do one thing, if you’re going to try one thing on, let it be remembering why you became a teacher in the first place.

And don’t let the “back to school blues” ruin what time you have left this summer.

And more importantly, don’t let summer ruin going back to a job that can be so great.

Here’s to a fantastic year, for all of us!

-Todd Curtis 

Todd was named the 2018-19 Monmouth County Teacher of the Year.'

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