The Semester from Hell

Let me preface this with the fact that this story does have a happy ending.

I wasn’t so sure that was going to be the case while I was living it, but miracles do happen. You’ll notice my last blog post was in August. It posted the week my semester started. For me, there were two semesters. To become a full time teacher, I needed a different kind of license than I had. I have been working on a substitute license for the past three and a half years in Colorado. I did four on a sub license in North Carolina. Thanks to the pandemic and the need for teachers, my excessive education (she says because she took classes just because she wanted to know things) finally became something that would allow me to get an actual teaching license. The catch being that I had to enroll in a teacher education program.

I lucked out. Because of the number of credit hours I’ve accrued over the years and the number of years I’ve been in a classroom, I qualified for an accelerated program. One year, instead of two, at a local university. The program is not offered online. This becomes important later. I lucked out even further in that one of the programs in my area actually offers financial aid for this experience. Woot! I don’t have 7,000 lying around. It’s just not a thing. I’m a teacher, after all.

The first week of class, they let us know we’d be allowed two absences. For the entire semester. If we were late, that’s a third of an absence. If we left early, a third of an absence. In the midst of Covid numbers rising and the fact that I do work in a school, I became instantly paranoid about preserving my two absences in case something happened. My parents are older, I have a teenage son, and I help my bother out with some things…. there was always the chance I’d need those absences.

At the same time, my son’s father reached out to me. After 18 years of silence. This is a man who opted out of our lives when I was two months pregnant. A man who spread lies about me and then disappeared from planet Earth… or at least the part I was inhabiting. He was dying, he told me, and wanted to connect with my son before it was too late. So started a painful experience of reconnection, because I felt my son deserved the right to speak to him.

There were multiple other stressful, painful situations occurring throughout the semester but I won’t bore you with the details.

So here I am, dealing with all this, going to school (actually driving the hour commute to attend class), all while teaching. I love my kids. They’re a bright spot. But I stress myself out because I feel they deserve the very best class I can offer and I felt like the rest of life was so big I wasn’t providing anyone with my best. Not my university, not my students, not my family, and for sure as hell not myself.

I felt like I was drowning. I was still paranoid about my absences. I was stressing about every paper I had to write, every observation I had to get through, every lesson plan that would be graded. I was certain I was failing since I was struggling to see how the public school perspective of our classes fit with the alternative education nature of the program in which I teach.

And then my son’s father died. It was more sudden than anyone thought. He went in to the hospital for something relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, but big enough to worry us all. The coma lasted less than a week before he passed. Now what? I didn’t know how to handle this. I’d become a pro at handling my son’s grief over never having a father. But then to meet his, to start that relationship, to open that door, and then have it all torn away? How was I supposed to handle that? I’m grateful I have parents who are caring and understanding and help me. I’m grateful my son’s school has teachers and admins and an awesome school nurse who love him. I’m grateful he has friends that care about his mental health. Because this was huge.

I had a paper due that week. It was late. I emailed my teacher, with the paper (because, honestly, I’d forgotten about it) and explained the situation. Not only did she accept it late (without having to), but she didn’t knock off points for the lateness.

We navigated Thanksgiving. We navigated the following weeks. It was difficult, but there really isn’t another choice, is there?

Grades posted yesterday and, somehow, I pulled out a 4.0 GPA. The kids at school passed their final with flying colors, learning so much more than I thought I was teaching them. My family is looking forward to celebrating the Christmas holiday tomorrow. We did it. We survived the semester. I even managed, recently, to start writing a new book!

Now, we’ll see how Spring goes 😉