I listen to several podcasts, and one in particular references attitude-adjustment walks (AAWs) as a way to handle stress. Basically, it’s telling yourself that it’s ok to just get up, walk out, and go for a walk with no purpose other than to lose whatever icky mood, unhelpful internal monologue, rotten mojo, frustration, or overwhelm in order to reset and get back to doing the things that need doing.

The first time it was referenced, I thought to myself that it’s like sending kids on a “very critical errand” to another teacher’s classroom as far away as possible with a sticky note in a folder that reads “Please keep Joey for like 5 minutes–pretend to look for a book or a paper or have them show your resident Pokemon Trainer their favorite card…I don’t care, but just let them be with you for a bit so we both get a break.” Except it’s for adults…and self-imposed.

The last technical day of school was Friday. An AAW has been long overdue for me. This has been one hell of a school year, to put it bluntly. When we came back in the fall, I made the assumption (wrongly, btw) that we would just get back to somewhat normal while including social distancing, masks, and the few events we would have held outside as COVID cases allowed until COVID calmed down and we could get closer to mostly normal.

I was reminded that even the smallest things that we used to do as part of our routine took a lot more effort.

Are the kids far enough apart in line? in the classroom? in the bathroom? Oh God, how many did I send to the bathroom at once? Who else sent kids at the same time?

How can I have them work in teams when they can’t be near each other? Stand up-Hand up-Pair up requires a classroom three times this size and everyone wearing hula-hoops to ensure safe distancing.

What do you mean they’re playing Fortnite when they’re supposed to be using the computer to research the first clock?

You googled WHAT?

Discord? Are you serious?

How can I teach the kids to project their voices when they’re masked and I can barely hear them from 3 feet away?

Conflict doesn’t mean that you beat the ever-loving crap out of each other, kids…it just means you disagree about whether Star Wars (IV – VI, not those stupid prequels) is better than Star Trek (Picard, not Shatner).

Kids reminded me daily that two years of pandemic learning did no one any favors–not academically and not social-emotionally either. The public reminded me that our education system is flawed, inequitable, trying to meet the needs of everyone and failing. What would have been a typical ask of a teacher was a bridge too far now. For some, that ask was the last straw.

Kids requested that we use different names, different pronouns. Some advocated for friends and some pushed boundaries. Every. Day. Others kept their heads down and their mouths shut, uncomfortable with all of it. Some were uncomfortable and did not keep their mouths shut…but weren’t kind either. Some parents were on board with the requests, others weren’t, and some simply couldn’t wrap their heads around it all. Kids found their voices and brought issues and concerns to school that hadn’t even visited before this year much less taken a front-row seat in class.

Families struggled with modified, sudden quarantines, changing guidelines, and symptoms that could be allergies, a cold, the flu, or COVID, or just dust floating around.

Everyone struggled with kindness. All year long. All the people. And the last few weeks, it was one mass shooting after another it seems. (https://n.pr/3x0WYlZ) Kids and parents were once again unsure if school was safe–or the grocery store for that matter. And schools reevaluated everything all over again, including end-of-year activities–do we have continuation and graduation celebrations? field day? conferences?

And we wonder again, who is next? Which school? What level? Will it be random or in retaliation for bullying or a bad day? Will it be about race or gender identity? Will it be because their mother shushed the shooter when they were four? (IYKYK) Will it be about being pro-life vs. pro-choice (always an ironic thing…you say you’re pro-life yet you’re shooting at people with the intent to unalive them…) Or will it be about lost jobs, lost elections, lost relationships?

Many of us have stopped asking those who can make changes to make the damn changes. We know they won’t–their religion says that hate, racism, and murder are sins yet having the weapon-based means to harm others was somehow a right given by God. Heaven forbid a personal arsenal becomes a legal issue or the mental health of everyone becomes a priority. Some are back to “thoughts and prayers” because everything else requires accountability.

So yes, an AAW was in order today. I loaded my dog into the car and drove 20 minutes out of town to essentially the middle of not-quite-here and not-there-yet where a big open space exists in which my unemployed freeloader can run and sniff and generally be her goofy self and I can get sun..and quiet…and fresh, relatively non-smoke-from-fires filled air. Sometimes big open spaces are good for AAWs. Few people, lots of space, and greenish prairie until it stops where the mountains start.

I will take an AAW when I need to going forward. I won’t put it off. Holding on to all of this for so long hurts. Just like for kids, sometimes a change of scenery can make a difference in how we approach the world around us.

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