After nearly 2 months of traveling, volunteering, hiking and camping, my first summer as a post-grad and public high school teacher is winding down and coming to an end. My second year as a teacher starts in two weeks and I feel ready, excited, and most importantly, restored. The time I have spent away from school-related work was not an effort to be intentionally evasive and withdrawn but rather, an effort to reconnect with myself, regain my energy, practice self-care, and remind myself of what makes me happy and why I love the job I have.
Aside from seeing new parts of our country, meeting new people and making lifelong friends, giving back to local communities, and creating unique memories, I wanted to make sure that this summer was restorative. The everyday stressors of my first post-grad job mixed with living in a brand new part of the country, finding a new community to be a part of, learning how to teach high schoolers, and discover who I am as a teacher, had me nearly burnt out when it was time to close my classroom door. I tried my best to sustain my energy throughout the school day, work week, and semester, but it was hard to deny how mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted I was. By the early spring I knew I needed to create a summer for myself that allowed for ample self-reflection both personally and professionally as well self-care and of course, adventures. I wanted to go somewhere new, explore states I’ve only seen on maps and Google images, and bring back exciting and unique stories to share with my students. So, before the school year was over I made sure I had my plans set in stone, saved enough money to afford almost two months away, and felt prepared to go off on my first post-grad adventure.
At first I felt guilty for leaving for the summer, especially as a first-year teacher who has much room to grow and would benefit greatly from additional professional development. Should I work in my classroom all summer, reorganize my paperwork, and redecorate my classroom? Should I find additional professional development opportunities around the state to attend? And then I realized that I could do those things this summer but they didn’t need to be my summer. Having an entire summer off in any job is a rarity and I might as well take advantage of having that opportunity. I also realized that I shouldn’t feel guilty for taking time to practice self-care, re-energize myself so that I can be better at my job (and be a better person), explore new parts of the U.S, and volunteer. These are things I should feel proud of and celebrate.
So I did. The first part of my summer was spent in southern Utah volunteering on an organic ranch and vineyard through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). For a month, I lived down in a canyon, worked alongside and shared a cabin with some of the coolest and most interesting people I’ve ever met, and helped with the everyday maintenance and responsibilities that come with running a ranch and vineyard. I learned how to prune vines, protect the grapevines from pests with organic alternatives, plant the vines, and most importantly, how to promote and inspire healthy, sustainable, and organic ways of living.
Even the volunteer work itself (no matter how grueling and tough it was under the desert sun) was restorative, relaxing, and invigorating. While out in the vineyard, I could indulge in deep, meaningful, and challenging conversations with the other volunteers or I could work on my own and spend time self-reflecting, learning new things about myself, and relaxing. Being fully immersed in nature like I was and getting my hands dirty were freeing in a way. I wasn’t confined to an office or a building. Instead, nature was my workspace and my work was to help living things grow and thrive. It’s amazing and surprising how being outside everyday can improve your mood, enhance your senses, make you more aware, and help you appreciate the world you inhabit and the nature that surrounds you. Needless to say, my month spent in the rural, removed, and beautiful canyons of desert Utah was one of the best (and unforgettable) experiences of my life. Towards the end of my trip I could observe subtle changes in myself. I wasn’t stressed, I didn’t feel bound by anything, and I felt like my experience in Utah was leading to more growth and self-discoveries. I left Utah on July 1st feeling more at-peace, fulfilled, aware, curious, and excited for more challenges and adventures.
…Which lead me to my second leg of my summer: Montana. This trip too, was not a typical tourist experience as I was living and traveling with a friend of mine who is also a local Montanan. We explored a cavern, national bison range, quirky art galleries, the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River, and my personal favorite – Glacier National Park. Although my experiences in Montana differed greatly from my stay in Utah, my time spent there was just as restorative, fruitful, relaxing, and full of self-growth and self-reflecting. The natural beauty of Montana left me in awe. In both Utah and Montana I felt so small compared to the hugeness and vastness of our country. Hiking and camping through Glacier National Park was trying at times but worth every moment – blisters, sweat, sore muscles, bear sightings and all. By the end of our stay in the national park, we had hiked 26 miles, rode 10 miles on horseback, and were surrounded by some of the most gorgeous scenery I’ve ever seen. I left Montana feeling small but in the best of ways. The experience was humbling and reminded me of how big our country and planet are and how much more I need to see.
Now that I’ve had a couple of days to process my experiences in both states, I can honestly say how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to see two very unique, beautiful, and vast parts of our country. Everyday in both Utah and Montana reminded me how important it is to have a sense of adventure, to take action propelled by that adventurous spirit, and to see the world. After all, life is short…and the world is huge. Now I can head back to Arkansas and dive into my second year of teaching feeling restored, energized, and inspired by the world around me. I feel like a better person and teacher because of the experiences I’ve had this summer. Hopefully, my stories and adventurous spirit can inspire my students too.