It’s my fifth year teaching this year, and I guess some part of me wildly thought that I would be starting to get “on top of things”. Instead I feel like Sisyphus, eternally pushing the boulder up the hill.
Sometimes I feel like this because it is so stressful. We have what feels like 17 new initiatives in my building/district this year, from standards based grading pilots to PBIS implementation. I’m teaching a new course that has only been taught once before in district and is now co-taught when it wasn’t previously. I started grad school this summer and am trying to adapt my life to be able to work and be a student at the same time. (I’m currently procrastinating on my statistics homework by writing this post, so you judge for yourself how well that balance is going).
Yet, sometimes I feel like this because it is so delightfully new. Rebecka Peterson’s post this week really resonated with me.
I love that I have a job I’ll never master. I love that there will always be room to grow. I love that there’s never an excuse for boredom in this field.
I love that every year, I get a new group of students. It’s like a puzzle to figure them out – what motivates them? What are their prior successes in math (usually very few or none)? What do they dream for themselves? How can I break down their walls?
It’s at this point of the year that I’m finally starting to figure that part out. I’m building the relationships with my students that I so treasure, the ones that literally make me get up in the morning to go fight a war for these kids – a war that some people don’t recognize as a war because my battles come in the form of helping them understand math, helping them find academic success so they can achieve whatever they want to achieve.
The relationships are a double edged sword too, though. After the shooting in Las Vegas, my kids came to school and spoke with fear about how many guns the shooter legally had. They note that their uncle, their cousin, their dad also legally has n assault rifles, pistols, machine guns in their home. They wonder how we can be ready if it happens in our halls. They wonder how they can be safe.
As I get to know them, they open up to me. They tell me of the anxiety they feel, the intrusive thoughts, the terrible words spoken to them by parents, by bosses, by other teachers even (hopefully, hopefully never in our building). They describe their parents in jail, the drug use in their homes, the need for them to take care of siblings or their own children with little help. How they have to work from 4-11 after school to support themselves or their family and don’t get home until after midnight, just to wake up before 6 to catch the bus to school.
Rebecka goes on in her post to describe how incredibly hard teaching is, and I’ve had the realization this school year so far that it is never going to get easier. There’s never going to be a point in my teaching career where I don’t have to work incredibly hard. I will never be “on top of things”, which is super hard for my logical, organized, need-to-know-all-information-possible Ravenclaw personality to handle. I know I will always want to tailor my lessons from last year to fit this precious and incredible group of students that I have this year. I will always want to adjust my grading practices, to stay after school and have discussions with my office mate about the best ways to give them feedback, the best ways to give them second chances to show understanding.
I will always build relationships with my students that lead them to sharing the horrors of their young lives with me. I will continue to hear about experiences that I could never imagine dealing with at my own age of 27 (or older, as I continue to widen the age gap between myself and my students) but that they have had to deal with at 16, at 12, their whole lives. I will lie awake at night thinking helplessly about how I can find a way to provide the girl in my second period with some clothes, or food. About how I can make sure the girl in my Algebra class has the right support around her when her baby is born. About the boy who shared with me his suicidal thoughts, and the fear I feel every time he hears bad news, that he will react by giving in to those thoughts. I will continue to bear the burdens of my hundreds of students, how they fear going to a party, even just a bonfire at someone’s home, and never returning because someone showed up with a gun.
It is such a hard job. Those who think that teachers have it easy are delusional, and I am not afraid of using language that strong. They fail to understand that while our contracts are from 7:30 – 3:30, Monday-Friday, August-May, the job follows us everywhere. It’s with us at home when we’re grading or preparing lessons for next week (my students express concern when their gradebook app gives them notifications at 10 pm on a Friday). It’s with us when we check twitter and see news of another shooting in town, hearts beating and hoping against hope that when we open the article it’s not one of our kids. It’s there when we stay in a hotel and grab all the toiletries before we leave to bring to school for students who can’t afford them. It’s there in pride as well, when we run into former students at the grocery store or at the bar where they work, students who tell you how their college classes are going, the job they just got. When you listen to an entire album of band you’ve never heard of because one of your students is so excited to go to their concert. When you think of the inside joke with your Algebra 2 class about you being a vampire who’s really 217 years old.
Teaching has all the highs and all the lows. It is always, always worth it, but sometimes it is so, so hard.
This week was one of the hard ones. Then, at the end of the week, our English department decided to participate in Alicia Keys’ #wearehere campaign. I found myself sobbing on my couch on a Friday night looking at all of the hopes and dreams of my students. Their courage, their relentless perseverance, their positivity through it all are what bring me back in every time I have a day where I think, “wow, think about how easy having an office job could be.”
Edit: You can view the students’ video here.
But how boring. How could you ever want anything else but the crazy, intense, 24/7 rollercoaster that we have. How could you not take Sisyphus’ boulder willingly on your shoulders and push it up the nearest incline for your students on a daily basis?