This is an open letter…take from it what you will.
This work (teaching) is without a doubt one of the most difficult you can ever experience. That retail job or that customer service job you had? Doesn’t even come close.
Your hours will vary as the school year ebbs and flows, with slower periods and downtime and those times that require lots of time before and after 3 and late nights. Your “contract” may say your hours are 730-3 with a duty-free 30-minute lunch and hour planning time every day but you should know that your hours aren’t that at all. There is something to fill each “break” and multi-tasking is a thing.
You will be tired. A lot. Tired doesn’t really come close to what you will feel but we don’t have word for that exhausted in the English language…or even German given their penchant for stringing words together to create new ones to fill a need.
The exhaustion will not because you hauled logs up a hill like Paul Bunyan or pushed a rock like Sisyphus only to have it roll back down once you reach the top. It may feel like that, but that’s not why you are exhausted.
You will be exhausted because in doing this Big Work and you will find it hard to not think about your kids, your classroom, or opportunities to learn something new and grow. Every commercial, news article, museum ad, trailer for a documentary or movie, or card game will somehow connect itself to some aspect of your life in the classroom.
You will be exhausted because you cannot get through to that ONE kid in your class who is perfectly capable yet refuses to do what you know they can. You’ll be exhausted because you sent home newsletters, reminder slips, emails, and made a video to benefit your kids’ families and help them understand, only to be told that they never knew that there was something that needed doing or that they had no idea anything was going on.
You’ll be exhausted because your back pocket is only so big (even if the size on your pants is a bigger number now than in March of 2020–the COVID 19 is real, friends) and you’ve gone through all of the tricks and strategies you have used successfully before, heard about on a podcast, read about in a book, or borrowed from a friend. You will be exhausted because you’ll spend a lot of time creating something amazing and the kids hated it or it didn’t go the way the movie in your head played out.
You’ll be exhausted trying to figure out where to get money to put gas in your car mid-month because that “quick trip” to Target for three things in the dollar spot for class in a day or two turned into $100 because Target told you what you were missing in your classroom and yes, dammit, those smelly pencils and erasers will certainly make all the difference with the behavior you’re seeing in the classroom. (Sidenote: Peppermint scented ones work best.)
You’ll be tired of drawing arrows in your plan book because you planned for X, Y, and Z to happen, and none of them did because you had to go all the way back to N, O, and P…with a smattering of small group work on C, D, and E while the others are working.
And the one day you plan the most amazing hands-on, multi-step engaging activity there will be a tsunami drill right smack in the middle of it….and you live in a landlocked state suffering through a tenth year of drought conditions.
You’ll call a colleague halfway to school because you drove off with your coffee on top of the car and found out when a nice guy at a light let you know it was there and then also realized as you got back in the car that your bag, computer, and lunch are sitting just to the side of your parking spot…waiting for you to come back and get them.
Your job description when you write it out on a resume will read like a novel, listing a variety of tasks, data analysis skills, and things that you learned by doing Just reading it will make you tired.
You will make more decisions in a day than a heart surgeon. And each will feel as though a life is in your hands and if it’s the wrong one, you’ve ruined it. Your heart will hurt and you will cry because you’re over it all and that one missed opportunity may impact someone forever.
People will tell you that teaching is a joke. They’ll say that it’s not a good career move. They’ll tell you it’s a waste of time and not a good financial decision. And they’ll tell you, or you’ve certainly heard, that you are not respected nor considered a professional. You’ll hear it on the news, in church, when meeting friends of friends, in the teachers’ lounge, and at the dog park. A thousand blogs and podcasts a day will remind you that 4+ years of schooling to do this Big Work means nothing.
“You have a degree–surely you could get a job that pays better.”
Yes, you could.
There will always be a job that you could do that pays better than what you have now.
But, I will tell you this. There is absolutely nothing that matches the feeling when the kids you cared for so diligently, the ones you pulled your hair out over, the ones whose parents made you cry more than once because your everything wasn’t enough come back to you a year, five years, ten years later and remind you that your role in their life is why they love to learn. Your support when they were eight is why they got a 97% on an English paper in high school. The confidence you modeled as you learned to be a presenter are why they are confident speakers. Your encouragement and fascination with travel is why they had the courage to go study abroad. Your belief in their abilities and the opportunities your classes provided them helped them to become who they wanted to be. Your class is where they felt like it was home.
The things you taught them may not have ever had a state standard attached nor would any of them be a “tested skill,” but they are the things that matter. Every child deserves to have a place they feel at home. You were part of an amazing village that helped grow a human being.
I do not tell you this because I believe that teachers should be long-suffering martyrs, sacrificing their mental and emotional well-being, financial well-being, and families for the sake of “The Job.” I don’t tell you these things because I am tired of listening to the constant cacophony of non-educators screaming that teachers are trying to be sneaky and hide things from parents, the voices that say it’s all just too much, and the voices that continue to allow negativity and toxic commentary to run through meetings and conversations about this Big Work.
I tell you this because teaching is not a Job. It will likely never be considered a well-paying job–because it’s priceless.
But this is worthwhile Work. And the only way that we will see change in education is to continue play an active role in working toward that change. That means continuing to be solution-focused, not problem-centered. Keeping our heads in the long game, knowing that annoying inconvenience now will be of benefit later.
Despite how much we try to separate ourselves from the Work that we do, this is a piece of who we are. Not ALL we are, but a piece.
And thus endeth the lesson. Or rant. Or discombobulated stream of consciousness after an exhausting, emotional day. Call it what you will. I meant well.