It turns out I have some really great ideas while driving. So I’m going to have to try getting my ideas out and recording them on my phone to use later so I don’t lose these gems.
I wish I could say I had happy gems today, but after a day of PARRC testing with my most challenging class, alas, I cannot. Let me try and recreate what I had going on in my head earlier.
My teaching career is coming up on almost 13 completed years (minus two maternity leaves). It’s hard to believe I’ve been doing this for that long, but I’ve learned and grown so much in that time. For the majority of those years, we teachers have been inundated with the idea that forming student relationships is the key to student success. And of all the “initiatives” that have come and gone, it’s the one I most believe in and to be perfectly honest, the one I’m best at. I will readily admit that I’m a pretty good (most days) at teaching math. But what I truly have a passion for, is connecting with my students. It obviously doesn’t happen with all of them, and if I’m being honest, I’ve probably let go sooner than I should have some of the ones that may have needed it the most. However, overall, I doing a pretty decent job.
But during all those institute days, school improvement days, workshops, staff meetings, and department meetings, I feel like they’ve left out a really key component of those student relationships: they can be incredibly exhausting and painful. And that’s not to say it’s not worth it, but all that commitment comes with a price.
I had two really great advisories when I started. Kids, many of whom are older now than I was when I started teaching, who I still have a really great relationship with. Kids who were with me during my pregnancy with Tera and her diagnosis. I can’t even explain how important to me so many of them still are. My last advisory started out with some rough students and while I was close with a few, there was a lot of transition within the group. Then there’s my current group. My fourth group of freshmen, and I went in with a new perspective. I decided to do some intense work with them this first year in hopes of it paying off in the next three years. So every week I talk to them about their goals for the next week and if they meet their goal, they get a treat. I check in with their teachers, I work tirelessly to break them of the “everything is someone else’s fault” mentality, and I make sure they know that as hard as I am on them, I care very much about them. Some of these kids asked in the first couple weeks if they could call me mom because I was looking out for them. That’s a seriously intense responsibility. Every week I watch these kids struggle with knowing they want to succeed and not knowing how to change their behavior to make that happen. I see them promise me to be do better and then not want to look me in the eye when they fall short. Those are painful moments. This is an exhausting endeavor. Not giving up on them when I know that’s what they’re expecting exhausts every fiber of my being.
Teacher burnout is a real thing. We are asked by the state, by parents, by students, by administrators, and by society to give and give and give some more to make sure we churn out successful people. And they want us to do this by administering multiple standardized tests that mean very little to the students, with curriculums that we often don’t believe in, in a short amount of time, and many times, in addition to being their parent, counselor, and personal cheerleader. We also have meetings, trainings, and grading. And with every passing year, someone somewhere wants more proof to hold us accountable so that someone who knows nothing about my classroom somewhere in the state of Illinois can say based on test scores and a dog and pony show held once every two years that I’m “adequate”. To be truthful, this year I was proficient and considering my life these past two years, I’m mostly okay with that.
Which brings up my next point: I really am someone’s mom. Two someones actually. And a wife, and a daughter, and a sister, and a friend. But so many times those other roles of mine suffer because I am so completely exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally. Being a parent of two kids who have more health issues than their typical counterparts, developmental delays (Zoey is now joining Tera in speech therapy), and who actually want to spend time with a mom who isn’t constantly on the brink of losing her shit, isn’t easy after days, weeks, and months as an educator also. I’m not lying or exaggerating when I say I feel like I can only be an okay mom AND teacher because either my students have sucked out all my patience and energy or my actual children have.
And this is where I have problems with people shitting on my profession. Are there bad teachers out there? Of course there are, just like any other profession. Do I want to hear yet again about how we get summers off? Not particularly. To slightly modify a George Carlin line, “You want it? You try it!” I want to stop hearing people say anyone can do my job. I don’t pretend to think I could be a waitress: wanna know why? I suck at small talk and in general not dropping stuff. Office job? Maybe, but I like my students (sometimes, but definitely more in October than April…) Referee? I’m a teacher so I kinda already am. Glorified baby sitter? I love that one. Yes, that’s why I have degrees in both Math and Spanish and a masters degree.
I love my job (again, more in October than in April), but I’m tired of the general feeling that I owe people something. But really, I’m just tired. I will always work to connect with my students, but no one will convince me that I don’t pay for it with sleep, energy, and patience. Sometimes at the expense of my own family. Is it worth it? Yes. My students know I am there for them. I know things I don’t want to know, but they feel comfortable telling me. I’m sad that in nine years of education, some of them haven’t felt cared about by someone, but happy that they know I do.
Please do not misinterpret this post. I am not patting myself on the back or looking for praise. Many teachers do all of this and so much more every day. I fall short of what I expect of myself regularly. If you know a teacher that has connected with you, or your child, in a meaningful way, let them know (via email) that way when they have a bad day, they can look back and feel like they made a difference to someone. When you hear about a teacher strike, take a few minutes to consider every angle. And if you meet a teacher, instead of “I don’t know how you do it!” try “Wow! That sounds so interesting. What do you love most about what you do?”