We have just finished our first full week of school.
Any teacher can tell you, the first week is a harrowing experience. You get a room full of energetic kids, made up of equal parts excited and resentful. Excited to see their friends after summer, resentful that summer is now used in a past tense context.
Exhausting as it is, I love the first week of school. It’s rife with opportunities. It sparkles with magic. It’s filled with hope and promise and beauty. The first week means I have new lives to touch and new teachers to learn from. I love that my students have things to teach me, and worlds to introduce me to, and personalities and opinions and experiences that will help me see the world in a more complete, more focused way. I love that I am still filled with wonder when I meet a new kid, and I hope that I will never think that I always have kids figured out.
The first week of school also means a lot of work. It means more work in one week than most people complete in a month. Seriously. It means running copies, writing letters, planning lessons, team building, seat assigning, pencil sharpening, board writing, and everything else it takes to make your room perfect and ready for your new babies. Personally, I spent ~40 hours just painting my classroom and setting the tables up the way I want them. That’s not even to mention the amount of money I’ve spent on my classroom thus far.
It’s no secret that teachers don’t make a lot of money. And anyone who’s ever met a teacher knows that we spend a lot of time at school. In the eyes of many, teaching is a thankless job. So why do we do it? Why do we spend countless hours grading papers and staying after school to tutor and calling parents and checking in on our students? Why do we spend countless dollars buying pencils and markers and paper and food and clothing for our kiddos?
Sometimes it seems we spend more time at school than at our houses, even in the summer.
Because we love kids. We love what we do.
I love nothing more than helping students, offering them the chance to do something amazing, to be whatever they want to be. I love being the person they share victories with. I love being able to watch them mature and grow and change. I love watching their faces light up the first time they understand a difficult concept. I love watching their smiles as they find their tribe, find where they belong.
Teaching’s not a thankless job. People just don’t know how to look for thanks. Kids don’t always speak their appreciation, but they always show it.
I have a student in my English class, for instance, who has a history of being a handful for other teachers. For whatever reason, though, this student loves me. She’s never been an issue for me; in fact, she helps her classmates. This girl who is known for her negativity in other classrooms is a leader and a nurturer in my classroom. It’s her way of saying thanks.
And stories like this line the paths that teachers walk on. This story with this student is not unique. Every day we are making differences in kid’s lives. And watching them change is thanks in itself. Watching them listen to and apply the things they learn is the best way to witness gratitude.
So much about what I do is misunderstood by people. Outsiders think we have loads of free time, with free nights and weekends and holidays and summers (it sounds like we’re an early 2000’s cell phone plan.) None of that is accurate, for the record. I worked all summer long, and I wasn’t alone. I am usually grading papers or reading or lesson planning into the late hours of the night. We spend holidays worried about our kids, hoping they’re safe with their families, hoping they’re taken care of when they’re not in our sight.
And I wouldn’t change any of it for the world.
So, sure. My feet hurt. I don’t get the opportunity to use the bathroom from 8:00-3:00. My lunch is 22 and is, every Wednesday, eaten while I walk around and make sure kids don’t get into fights. I pull long hours and I’ve got bags under my eyes that would make Coach envious. But it’s worth it.
Every minute is worth it.
The Plucky Reader