As many of you know, I am a full-time teacher. What many don’t know, however, is what that all entails.
Being a teacher is early morning alarm clocks and half-eaten breakfasts as you run out the door. Being a teacher is late nights in a classroom, grading papers and listening to your favorite music. Being a teacher is phone calls to parents to share good news, and sometimes bad news. Being a teacher is paperwork and planning and curriculum and scripts and meetings.
There is so much about being a teacher that I never realized before I became one myself. I never realized that being a teacher meant weekend emails and texts, PTA meetings, painting classrooms. I didn’t understand what it meant to design the perfect zone for students to feel like they belonged; I didn’t realize that it meant more than placing your tables in exactly the right place.
What I didn’t realize about teaching is the impact you leave on a kid long after they’re not your kid anymore. I didn’t realize that when you’ve made a positive on a student, they may call you years later to thank you (or what happens to me more often, ask for help or advice.) I didn’t realize that once you show you care, they always know you care. And you care forever.
I also didn’t realize that when you’ve failed to reach a kid, that also makes a lasting impact. They remember you for your apparent hatred for them, whether intentional or not. When you fail to reach a kid–or worse, make a truly negative impact on them–it’s hard to recover. And for some teachers, myself included, it’s hard to get past the wrongdoing. It’s not like I have to be every student’s friend–in fact, I don’t want to be friends with any of them. But I do want them to know that I love them. From the tops of their heads to the bottom of their feet, I love them. But it doesn’t always show. I don’t always make it apparent to them.
And so much of that is my fault. I react poorly to situations. I allow stress to get in my way. I allow myself to become easily angered. And those things are on me. Those things are my fault.
And they stay with me. Long after the kids have left the building–when the air is still and the halls are silent–I sit in my classroom, working and pondering and wallowing in my own worries.
Why can’t I connect with this student? Where did I go wrong teaching this concept? Why aren’t they writing as strongly as I want them to be at this point? Where have I failed?
Unfortunately, I don’t even have long to ponder these issues, because it’s quickly time to pack my things up and move to the next thing I didn’t expect about teaching. Off to chaperone a dance or work concessions at a football game or cheer for my students at a basketball game or listen to them sing at a performance. Off the watch a student shine on the soccer field or accept an award for this or that.
And when that is finally over, I can take what’s left of me home to see my wife and to pet my dogs and to sit in silence and recharge. I think about writing on the novels I’m working on. I consider breaking out my paints. I contemplate turning on my PlayStation or my Switch and getting a little bit of gaming in. But I typically decide to crawl into bed and fall asleep reading a book.
Fractions of my time are spent on deadlines for the yearbook, on taking pictures at events, on planning and attending fundraisers. Breaks are spent planning for something coming up or creating something amazing to keep my kids engaged.
Summers are spent in workshops and meetings and planning and trainings. Summers are spent in classrooms, remodeling, reorganizing, repainting, recovering
And suddenly, teachers are just spent.
We being to realize exactly what it means that teaching is a full-time job. It’s a full-life job. You don’t get to escape being a teacher. You’re never off the clock. You are a teacher 100% of the time until the moment you’re no longer a teacher.
And while this may sound like complaining, please don’t take it that way. What it is, instead, is a request that you find a teacher you know, give them a hug, a handshake, or a bottle of wine, and thank them. Tell them you see them. Tell them you see how hard they work. And tell them they are appreciated and loved.
And tell them to take a nap, because chances are they need it.
Love on a teacher today.
The Plucky Reader