Mt. Wrightson: Old Baldy Trail

Over the weekend, I tried a trail I’d not yet attempted, Old Baldy trail to Mt. Wrightson, the peak of the Santa Rita mountain range south of Tucson. It was exactly as I believe a true hike should be: long, beautiful, and with a feeling of satisfied exhaustion at its end.

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Old Baldy Trail is not the only path to Wrightson, but it’s one of the shorter starting points. The total path is approximately 9 miles roundtrip and 4,000 feet of elevation gain. It was absolutely stunning all the way through; I can confidently say it’s a new favorite hike in the Tucson area.

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My friends and I were not exactly prepared for the hike, unfortunately. We did not plan to try to peak Wrightson when we began the hike. We expected, correctly, that the peak would cover the trail in snow and ice, so we would probably not be able to reach the peak. We could have made it to the top of the mountain… with the right gear. The trail was completely covered in snow after 3 miles in and, for a portion of the day, was just icy enough to be discomforting. Because the trail was so fun and because it was such a beautiful day, we went much farther than expected (0.9 from the summit), but we’ll have to return when the snow melts for a more practical attempt at the summit.

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It’s halfway through the week, and I am ready for Quarter 4. I am ready for the glowing, promising light of the year’s last quarter shining my way. My motivation for teaching has been decreasing at the exact same pace that my renewed love for hiking has increased. I will be repeatedly searching for more trails like this: more time in the mountains, more time outdoors to ease my mind as I wade my way through the remainder of a low-motivation semester. As John Muir once wrote, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”

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Wind Cave Trail

This week was a long week. I had difficulty with motivation, both within myself and within my students, and each day presented different challenges. By Friday, I was ready for the outdoors.

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I drove up to Phoenix to visit a friend, and around 7am we drove East to the Superstition mountain range. After debating, we’d decided on the Wave Cave Trail, and about halfway up the trail, realized we were probably on the wrong trail – one called Wind Cave Trail instead.

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It was about the same length and elevation gain, both ending in a cave, so not too bad of a mix-up, right? Wind Cave is a trail about 2.5 miles roundtrip, with about 812 feet of elevation gain. It ends with a fantastic view of Phoenix and its surrounding mountains at the top (which is an actual cave).

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It was so beautiful. The perfect hiking day: cool, sun that doesn’t dominate the landscape, and a breeze that danced around us the entire trail. The perfect end to a stressful teaching week, and a reminder that the problems I’d dwelled on were not all that problematic after all.

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Right now, if you are around or planning to visit the Superstition Mountains, try to make a trip! The wildflowers are in full bloom, which I find always particularly beautiful in the desert landscape. I have no idea how long they’ll be around, but they lined the entire trail while we hiked.

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The Good Thing: Sweetwater Trails

Today was an awful day. Like, a really bad, no good, awful day. There was far too much discipline involved, because far too much discipline was needed, and so much of that discipline felt ineffective. Students were snarky and mean and totally apathetic. By the end of the day, holding in my frustration at defiant and disrespectful students (who were being that way while my principal observed me), I was shaking when the bell rang for dismissal.

I’d planned to go on a run after school, and all I wanted to do was sit on the couch and not move. My friend, another teacher at the school, came by my classroom after school ended. We’d planned to run together, and after slightly exploding with frustration during our conversation, I grumbled that maybe I shouldn’t go on a run.

“Yeah, you should,” he said. “I had a crappy day too. We’ll feel better after the run.”

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He was right. We went to Sweetwater Preserve, which is on the backside of Saguaro National Park, for a short run. It wasn’t my best run, and it wasn’t my longest, but I felt like something had washed clean from my mind when I finished.

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Sweetwater Preserve contains a winding, continuously mixing series of trails and loops, and we took several of them to add up the distance. It was right on the brink of raining the entire run (which, in my opinion, makes the desert look just right).

Most of my day was frustrating and filled with pent-up tension. Less than an hour changed that. Note to self: Do the good thing. Whatever that good thing is for yourself, do that. Do the healthy thing for yourself. Especially when you’re mad, and always when you don’t feel like it.

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The Notebook

Year: 2

I am not about to discuss Nicholas Sparks, I promise.

We are deep into the season of stress and disappearing motivation. Although this year is (genuinely unbelievably) so much better than last year, it is still a time of the school year that is stressful. Students are behaving particularly rebelliously at the moment, and teachers are reaching a level of exhaustion. About a month ago, I began looking for new methods of stress-relief and techniques for maintaining a positive mentality.

There is now a notepad in my desk drawer. It’s not fancy, but it sits in my desk drawer, easily accessible. Every day, I write the date; after every class, I write at least one good part of the class. Most entries are silly or small (ex. “A student wrote “BUTTS” at the bottom of my class sign-in sheet). I’m not writing down life-changing teaching moments. I’m writing down the tiny moments that are so often forgotten in the turbulence of November and December.

I try to write down as much as I can for each class, but some days, I only scribble down one note per period. That’s okay. I’m not trying to get to a specific number of notes every day. I’m trying to remind myself how many good, funny, sweet, positive moments exist in a day of teaching.

It is such an incredible reminder, when I sit at the end of the day and glance at this notebook, how good days can feel like bad days simply because of stress. I’m stressed, yes – but, in reality, my days are pretty good. This notebook is just one small way to help keep a healthy perspective in mind.

Self-Care Checklist

It’s so easy to ignore personal health as a teacher. It’s so easy to feel too tired, or too busy, to take care of yourself. Considering that, I’ve made a “self-care checklist.” I try to do one thing for myself from each category, daily, to take care of myself.

Mental Health

  • Meditate. I try to meditate daily, in the mornings. There isn’t a ton of research about meditation (at least, not credited research the way we think of it in the West), but the research that is there suggests you’ll benefit the most from it if you meditate between 5-10 minutes a day.
  • Write in a journal. Vent, reflect, do whatever you’ve got to do.
  • Laugh. Watch a stand-up comedy, listen to a funny podcast, laugh with your friends.

Emotional Health

  • Call a friend. Real communication helps with stress immensely.
  • Go all out on a “personal night.” face mask, wine, favorite movie, whatever it is. Spend the night relaxing.
  • Go out. Get out of the house. Seriously. Depending on what you need, it may not be a night at home alone, but a night with friends.

Physical Health

  • Take a walk outside. Sometimes, I’m so stressed after work that I need a physical separation between my hours at work and my hours at home. Walking for 15-20 minutes helps with that.
  • Exercise. Anything, really, helps you when you’re stressed. I love running, biking, lifting weights, and yoga. (Generally, my rule is that when I really don’t feel like working out, I have to work out that day.)
  • Spend time in nature. A growing amount of research suggests that spending time in nature – even an hour or two a week – helps lower anxiety, stress, and depression.  Take a hike.
  • Eat healthy. This is one I struggle with frequently, but it is incredibly important. The food you eat can drastically impact your mentality, and the healthier you eat, the healthier your mind and body become.

 

One of the habits that improved my mental health, generally, during my first year of teaching was when I began giving myself regular “check-ups.” I started to become more conscious of my behaviors and thought patterns as they related to my health. I began paying attention to the signals my body sent me, trying to figure out what I needed most on different days. I tried as many different ways to be healthy and to lower my stress level, but I focused heavily on physical health because I knew how much it could affect my mental health.

Finding the Balance

Year: 2

Today is a Wednesday. We’re officially halfway through the week.

Within the last week, there have been seven fights in the high school of my district. In my school, there have been two or three fights. One student has been hit by a car. Two of my students have been sitting through in-school suspension. I’ve given four lunch detentions for behavioral disruptive. Generally, students have been highly fidgety, emotional, and disruptive.

Today is a Wednesday. We’re halfway through the week.

This is not normal for my school district, but if you were to spread out all of these incidents throughout a school year, this would not be normal for the average school district’s full year. I work in a district that is in an area of town with high poverty, high trauma, and all the cyclical symptoms of high poverty and trauma within families. This, of course, drastically affects students’ health and behavior.

One of the difficulties of teaching in a school like this is that, in addition to the normal difficulties of teaching generally, you’re confronted regularly with two problems: the problem of incessant worrying and the problem of normalizing. Last year, I had the problem of incessant worrying; I’d go home, thinking about the trauma my students held, feeling guilty about my safe apartment and my healthy diet and all the things I had that my students did not.

This year, I have the problem of normalizing all of these terrible traumas. I still worry about my students and still think about how I can help them, but I have stood close to some extraordinary pain. I have seen students wait for their mothers to be possibly deported. I have seen students under the stress of extreme poverty. I have a seen a student die. I am embedded in this world, this environment, every day, and I cannot help these students to the extent that I want to help them. I regularly have to remind myself, this year, that my students’ behavior is due to these terrible traumas. I have to remind myself that not every school would see this level of trauma in children.

It feels to me that these are two ends of the same spectrum. To worry constantly, and fixate on the pain my students endure, is to drain myself of the energy I need to function well on a daily basis. To normalize it is to dull the natural emotional reactions to witnessing such a trauma. I don’t know what the healthy balance is between these two ends. I don’t know where I should be in the spectrum, or how long it will take me to get there.