Getting Schooled

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Neatoday.orgOne month from now I’ll be teaching high school in Oakland, CA. I’ll be teaching awesome subjects like digital photography, animation, and game design. I have experience with each of these subjects in my professional and academic career, but next to zero experience teaching them with actual students. Therefore, the reality that I’ll be “on duty” fairly soon has left me feeling a little panicked and underprepared. That specific fear, the one of being unprepared (for whatever potential outcome you want to imagine) is kind of like my kryptonite: I do not ever want to encounter it. For this reason, I’ve put preparations for how to become the World’s Best First-Year Teacher Ever into overdrive.

This morning as I marinated in my cauldron of stress-induced cortisol stew, I started to wonder whether there was a limit to the human brain’s capacity to take in information. Not a limit on intelligence, or of one’s own capabilities per se, but like what happens to a glass pitcher if you kept pouring once the water’s reached the rim. Or what happens when a levee breaks. Or when a blood vessel bursts. I ask with a little anxiety about the answer…So…is there a hard ceiling on how much focused learning a person’s brain can handle? Like, at some point will it just explode

In addition to being the learning junkie that I am—I always want to learn more, more, MORE!—I also have a mind that functions a little like a mental pinball machine. While I have never formally been diagnosed with ADD or anything, I’ve gotta say, I’ve always wondered…

In any case, I am able to devote laser-like focus and complete tasks on-time when there’s an external motivation to do so, but in the absence of that, sometimes I struggle to resist all of the shiny objects in my periphery. But, just to be clear, when stuff needs doing, I’m a girl who gets stuff done. I mean, how many other 40-something mothers of three kids do you know who went through graduate school with one kid in diapers, while serving on a nonprofit board, while simultaneously serving as PTA Co-President, and managed to 1)Potty-train the Kid, 2)Not Get Divorced and 3) Earn a 4.0 g.p.a?  Still, that doesn’t mean the struggle isn’t real.

My innate need to get a platinum-level Girl-Scout badge for Preparedness—if there even is such a thing…And I can’t tell you how hard I’m trying to resist the urge to Google it RIGHT NOW to see if there is one and, while I’m looking, research the other badges one can earn as part of a Girl Scout Troop. Gah! — routinely makes life incompatible with sanity.

Sometimes, when I have multiple irons in the fire (I’m just going to go on and keep mixing metaphors here because this train of thought is still on-track) it feels a little like entering a snail racing contest where there are 20 snails racing and I’m competing against myself.  As the sole participant, I have to run up and down the starting line, nudging each slimy, tiny hopeful along and then scurry over to do the same to the next one, and the next one, and so on. By the time I get to the end of the line and start heading back to repeat this all over, I’m just too damn tired. That’s when it all starts to unravel:

What was I doing out here anyway? I start to ask myself. Snails, that’s right. Hey, wasn’t there a kid’s movie about snails out a few years ago? Turbo or something? Turbo…what an ironic name for a snail. But it’s an awesome name for an ultra-marathon runner. Hmmm…whatever happened to that show ‘Boundless’? I used to love that show. Simon and Turbo and all of their crazy races. I think it was on the Esquire network. What the heck is Esquire anyway? Some kind of guys’ magazine? Ooh, I almost forgot I need to go to the store to get the ingredients for that recipe from Sunset Magazine for dinner. What else was it that the kids wanted me to pick up for them? 

When this happens it’s like one of those tubes of super glue where you clip off the end just a tad, but then glue just starts oozing out of the hole and it won’t stop and you can’t just put the cap back on because now there’s freaking crazy glue stuck in it and what if you have to use it again and you can’t get the cap back off?

It’s often difficult for me to describe to other people (for instance to my Do-One-Task-At-A-Time, Set-A-Goal-And-Slay-It Husband) just how exhausting it is to have so many different mental plates spinning at the same time. And yet, if I’m being absolutely honest, it’s also a little bit exhilarating. I have some AMAZE-Balls ideas. I’ve designed the most epic game (my professor said it had bonafide commercial potential), and I’ve written 60% of two very different but equally compelling screenplays. I’ve sewn dolls, and made tote bags, and refinished furniture. I’m fully capable of making things happen. Most of the time. Oh, okay, some of the time. But when they are finished they are perfect and shiny expressions of my soul. The way I see it, one major benefit to my super-sonic synapses, is that there’s at least the potential for a clever design, a witty blog post, an engaging class activity, a plot line for that screenplay—around the corner of every mental detour.

This is all an indulgently long prelude to say that because of the characteristic way in which my brain will just follow any train of thought down the long dark tunnel in search of the light at the other end, I feel that embarking on a new job or project requires me to absorb absolutely everything that’s available about the topic so that I can become an almost-expert. There’s just no “throttle-back” with me. I don’t have any other speed. I guess I forgot to read the “Fake It ‘Til You Make It” Memo.

To circle back to the beginning—let me refresh your memory, it was some time ago—All this hyped-up learning has me worried I’ve hit my mental capacity limit. My temples actually hurt from the knowledge bouncing back and forth between my ears.

So, with a month to go before I stand up and teach to a group of expectant students, I think it’s safe to say I’m about as prepared as I’m gonna get. Which is to say, not as prepared as I’ll ever need to be.  In that way, it’s kind of like the other definition of expectant: about to give birth. Aw, I remember all those birth plans I made. So adorable. As if. Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, HA!

Well, this time, instead of bringing a new life into the world, I’m giving birth to a whole new me, and to my new life as a teacher.

I only hope I can remember to BREATHE.