“If I can’t give this team that enthusiasm, I said I would get out. And that’s honestly how I feel.”
That’s what Basketball Hall of Fame Coach Dean Smith said at the press conference to announce his retirement. He still loved basketball, but he was 66 at the time. He was just ready to do something else.
I’ll be 31 in about a week, but I know that feeling that he’s talking about. Ready for something else. I’ve never met a teacher who wasn’t excited about the coming of Summer. Even the best of us, who love every child and smile every day, need a break. The end of a year brings testing [groan, sigh, stomp, groan again], weird schedules, squirm-in-your-chair assemblies, inventories, cleaning, remediation, packing… But worst of all, the kids know it’s over. They’re mentally checked out, leaving them with little motivation for anything constructive.
I spent 7 years working full-time. Nate (our third child) was born last August, and I took the semester off. I started working part-time again in January. Less than five months of only 3-4 hours a day. So why am I burned out? It’s not the students. It’s not the curriculum. It’s not the administrators. It’s the end of the year. This is normal, even in the very best circumstances.
Q: Why did Dean Smith wait to have this press conference on the first day of Fall practice?
A: Wisdom. Every basketball season –unless you win the National Championship– ends with a let-down, and he knew that he shouldn’t allow that to cloud his decision. He was in a unique position in knowing that if he stepped down, the program to which he’d dedicated his life was in good hands. He waited out the end-of-the-year blues and waited to see how he’d feel when practice started up again. Normally, he’d feel “charged up” again. But October 1997 rolls around and for the first time, the enthusiasm wasn’t there, and so he left. I really admire that. I wish everyone had the option to walk away from a job that they aren’t loving in order to do something they do love.
Unfortunately, in my school district, teachers are asked to sign on the dotted line in April or May every year — right as the descent into the muck begins. Are you coming back or aren’t you? And unfortunately, things like paychecks and benefits and lack of immediate options can force our hand to the contract page. Furthermore, we don’t all have a Bill Guthridge waiting in the wings to take up where we left off without a hitch, so it wouldn’t be fair to students or administrators if we waited until the first day of class to say, “Um, nah. Not feeling it.”
We teachers have to do this thing on faith. While staying late to clean up cumulative folders, make a point to remember the high points of the year. When you are still tracking down that lost power cord that belongs to someone down the hall, be grateful for the rest you are just about to receive. When it hurts to think about doing this all over again, ask yourself if there is a child who is going to wake up soon and wish they could be at school with you. And if you are a believer, be sure of your calling to this ministry called teaching. If you’re not sure, it’s time to get that settled, because it could be time to step out in faith in a new direction. You don’t want this end-of-the-year feeling to be your beginning-of-the-year-feeling, too.