Many years ago, Charlie came up to me after class and handed me a small folded-up paper on their way to the door.
The note, block letters surrounded by wavy lines, said quite simply, “I hope you feel less February.”
Like many people with anxiety and general mental health issues, I find winter can be especially rough. This is especially true in Minnesota, especially in February, when the cold is aggressively an asshole. Sure, the days are getting a little longer, but also winter has been going on forever. I have a sun light on my desk at school and do my best to take care of myself in general, but very often, through much of the month, I really just feel very, very February.
I’m often open about these struggles with my students, and they have never once used the knowledge as a reason to be hurtful to me. More often, I use my own stuff to model that it’s OK to have stuff. So my students know, that just like they shouldn’t be embarrassed for having a fever, they shouldn’t be embarrassed for feeling anxious or depressed, or just for feeling really, super February.
I Love Teaching Because of Students Like Charlie
The year I got Charlie’s note was a year of a whole lot of struggle for me. My lows were awfully low, and for weeks I felt like I was walking through my day underwater, with sound and colors muted, with breath hard to come by, reaching up, but always shy of breaking the surface. I had gotten quiet about it, but I had also gotten cranky at work, at kids. I was getting through, but I was not well.
One day, Charlie came up to me after class and handed me that folded piece of paper. Through a scheduling fluke, Charlie and I were in our third year together, and we understood each other nearly completely. With some people, sometimes, the language we use to love each other sounds a whole heck of a lot like being an asshole. This was me and Charlie. But I would have gotten in a knife fight with anyone who caused Charlie pain. This was something we both understood, even though we would never say so out loud.
Had I been having a regular old bad day, Charlie would have simply said, “Oh my God, man up!” The joke would have been both about what big jerks we could both be and about gender norms and how we both worked against them.
But that little goofy sign, that hope that I feel less February, was actually pretty deep, actually pretty beautiful.
Anxiety, or depression, or whatever February can be for you, is not the kind of thing that can be fixed with the right words. February cannot be defeated, only outlasted. Along the way, the best that can be done is to be told, “I see you, I care about you, and I know you’re going through a thing. It sucks, and I hope it’s better soon. It may feel like it, but you’re not alone, but also you probably don’t want to talk about it, but I support you.” That’s a whole lot to say, but I think “I hope you feel less February” captures it nicely.
In the run-up to #LoveTeaching week this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about this note. One of the reasons I love taking this week to share love for our work is that February totally sucks. Looking back at the last few years of essays written around this time, I realized that, even though I’m one of the co-founders of the week, I don’t tend to write full-on warm-fuzzy things. For example, two years ago, my piece was called “I Love Teaching, But I Worry that It’s Killing Me.”
So, to be clear. I do love teaching. I love teaching because of students like Charlie, because of notes like that one. I love teaching because, as often as we are there to help our students, they take care of us. I love teaching. I just hate February.