Guest column: Saying goodbye to summer — a note for teachers and staff of the Roaring Fork Valley | PostIndependent.com
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Guest column: Saying goodbye to summer — a note for teachers and staff of the Roaring Fork Valley

Jonathan Phillips
Guest column
The sun sets on the Garfield County Fair and Rodeo earlier this year.
Courtesy/Jonathan Phillips

Summers for teachers and staff in the Roaring Fork Valley bring a rush of freedom unlike any other. The last bell rings, and it’s off to the races, literally, spending time in pristine mountain ranges, world-class waterways and protected hiking trails that can give parts of Patagonia a run for its money.

Stepping out the door, you arrive, at some level, in an idyllic location filled with leisure and beauty unlike any other place on earth, doing activities that most people in the world won’t ever have the opportunity to experience. A welcome respite from the everyday sterility of the school hallways, you summer hard, you summer right, full-tilt and on blast. Spa of the Rockies, anyone? 

This intense level of freedom, as magnificent as it is, makes saying goodbye to summer all that much more difficult, and working where others vacation isn’t making the reality any easier cope with, either. Bidding farewell to paradise while living in paradise is rough, and, for teachers and staff of the RFV, getting back to the daily grind is, without exaggeration, a peculiar kind of life hangover — one that carries with it bigger implications than just the trouble of finding a bottle of Tylenol. 



The space between summer and school isn’t just the sharp hit in the head you’d expect but more of a jolting full-body implosion. It’s the kind of event that has folks regularly thinking about retirement. For teachers, summer’s end in the RFV doesn’t come to rest on the gentle sloping plains of the Peruvian grasslands. No, it’s a screeching halt, a crash, a bang and a whelp. As the kids would say, it hits different.

For the purposes of this column, the abrupt end of your leisure time has the the ability to cloud your vision as a teacher, divide your attention and effectively make you both be here and away — both present and distant on a trip, at the lake, with the sun and the family for just one more week.



It’s where you’d like to be, but it’s not. Deeper than daydreams, but more functional than all out escapism, the summer fog lifts slow and long. More than just dragging your feet, the mind can feel like an incomprehensible weight to be lifted and thrown two stories high.

Getting your brain out of summer waters is a lift that requires deep commitment, courage and fortitude. Failing to master this transition has implications, not just for yourself, but for the students in the seats, which isn’t good for the young minds you’ve been called to sharpen. So, you know you’re sick for more sun; then, what’s the cure for the big summer season hangover? 

Please allow me in the next few paragraphs to explain, in three ways, the art of the embrace: 

  • Embrace your limitations. Your “friends” on social media took a better trip than you in July. Who cares? You did with your friends and loved ones what you could, and the memories you share of the life-enriching experiences you had will last a lifetime. That’s what matters. Not how much coin was dropped, how many miles were traveled or how the photo reacts piled up — it should be measured by how much meaning was added to your life. Comparison only boosts FOMO (fear of missing out), and there’s no sense in fretting over what experiences weren’t had. Wishing you would have done things differently is a special kind of futility that only perpetuates delusion that you have more summer than you actually do. No one has unlimited time. So, decisions were made and time was spent. The frank truth is: You can’t do it all, you never will and trying to cram more life in won’t ever work. So, instead of reacting to your particular limits by indulging in a stew of jealousy (more salt?), leverage your constraints by allowing every ounce of your life spent in this valley of paradise to matter, not because it was better than someone else’s, but because it was yours. Embrace your limitations. 
  • Embrace your schedule. The spirit of the West is really an embodiment of the spirit of the valley, that is: freedom. Freedom, like the wild horses on the upper mesas, means free of bridle, free of bit and free of care. A return to school brings with it a daily saddle of a schedule, and you find yourself bucking harder than a bareback bronc at the Garfield County Fair on Saturday night in protest. The truth is, schedules don’t stop freedom; they’re just a limit. You prize the value of freedom, but the constraints of time don’t mean the dictation of your time. Finding freedom within your particular parameters by actualizing your creativity where you can allows you to embrace your reality and not allow resentment to build. Being where you need to be, when you need to be there can help you reach goals and build needed consistency in your life. Champion the beauty of structure and parameters, knowing they’re building you up to become a stronger person. Embrace your schedule. 
  • Embrace your change. It’s the only constant in life. Even as you read this column, you’re evolving. Resisting necessary changes will do your evolution as a person a massive disservice. Avoiding change causes your life to become maladaptive, rigid and stiff. And, while the winds of change are disruptive and can make things unstable for a time, adapting to new circumstances is what keeps life moving forward in a positive direction. Change keeps you growing. Fear of change stunts your growth. To find good things in the future, you’ve got find joy in saying hello to whatever is next. The courage to forge ahead takes optimism and hope in what you cannot yet see: The new people you’ll meet, the relationships you’ll further and all the things you’ll learn along the way. Evolve as a person. Embrace your change.

All in all, practicing the art of the embrace is the opposite of avoidance. As such, the cure for summer blues isn’t more of summer on the weekend runs, or highlight reels on the GoPro. It’s a glass of reality. Tall, spilling over and with all the limits, all the schedule and all the change that a single semester can muster. Summer may be closing its doors, but the school year is just opening its arms. And, while the still warm weather is beckoning you back, the future is calling you forward. You love summer, but you became an educator because you believe in bettering others, academic success and scholastic achievement. 

Teachers and staff: The students deserve all of you, not just the summer you. These young minds need you fresh, well-rested, present and sincere. The students in your classroom want you in your prime, and they don’t deserve the cheap seats because, hopefully, someday, they’ll be enjoying their summers in the valley, too. Gainfully employed, you’ll pass them at the trailhead, with the tip of a hat, and possibly a family in tow, they’ll thank you for preparing them for lifelong success, and that experience alone makes the summers even more worth waiting for. Mountain life is a special kind of culture that’s worth passing on in the best way possible. 

And so, as August winds down into September and, like the leaves in the High Country, you try to fall back into place, take the art of practicing the embrace with you. Leaving avoidance behind, you can truly flourish in the life you know you enjoy, with colleagues you labor beside and cherish, as well as with the students entrusted to you. Instead of summer knocking you off your life’s focus as an educator, your summer hours can be leveraged to reset your focus. Recharged, you welcome all the newness that awaits, and so you become the teacher your were destined to be.

Jonathan Phillips has lived in Rifle for nearly 10 years.


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