Whenever I post about teaching on Facebook, or chat with non-teacher friends, I try to only focus on the things about it that I love. I think non-teachers see enough teacher posts about low pay and working for free. I think non-teachers look at us and think “yeah, your life is so bad, tell me about your summers off.” Additionally, I don’t feel comfortable complaining about my job when I know that everyone has struggles. I don’t want anyone to mis-perceive that I’m suggesting that I have it worse, when many of us struggle.
However I feel, at the same time, as though I am on the front lines witnessing hardship, tragedy, and despair, with no hope of change. Teaching, unlike some other jobs, feels more personal. A bad day at my office may mean a call to CPS, a sobbing 14-year-old, an aggressive parent. It feels heavier. I understand it may not be, however, I’ve never worked in any other career. I do think teachers share similar feelings as those in healthcare. You can’t just “clock out,” you can’t just “let it go” at the end of the day. We’re talking human lives here. For me, made worse by the fact that there are some children I can’t save, figuratively, and for a nurse, some children they can’t save literally.
I want to cry out, daily, about the injustice that some of my children live with. I want everyone to know I don’t always have the materials I need or the learning environment the kids deserve. And I don’t want to do this for any sympathy from other adults. I feel obligated to do this to inspire change. I want voting adults to know what it’s really like between the walls of a public school. I want people to understand the complexities of the 120 lives I interact with on a daily basis and struggles some of these kids face. And I don’t want any credit. I don’t want messages of inspiration – I want change. I don’t want to be that teacher who is always whining; I want to be that whistle blower who knows that things need to improve.
Everyday I look at the 31 teenagers in my classroom and think about the messages we are sending them. We tell them, everyday, that they are not worth desks that are not broken. We tell them, everyday, that they are only deserving of my attention if they are at the very bottom or the very top. We tell them, everyday, that standardized test scores are more important than their curiosity and creativity. We tell them, everyday, that an evaluation on paper is more important than their personal needs. We tell them, everyday, that their transcript means more than their mental health. We are telling them, everyday, that we care more about covering objectives that assessing true learning. We are telling them, everyday, that we care more about student count and per-pupil-funding than whether or not they have a safe home to return to each night.
And now we are telling young women that we will not believe them. We are telling kids on the brink of suicide to “take a number” because we don’t have enough counselors. We are telling the victims of bullying to toughen up because we can’t handle everything. We are telling our young men that we don’t have time to attend to their emotional needs and we are telling young women to cover up because those poor boys can’t learn.
So I sit at my desk and look out at future doctors, realtors, parents, custodians, and lawyers and I wonder what they think of me. I worry daily that they will think I don’t care. I worry daily that they will think I don’t know their struggle. I worry I won’t be able to stop the bully. I worry I won’t be able to help in time. I worry some of them will slip through the cracks. I know some of them are hungry all the time. I know some of them are in pain. I know some of them are distracted by family drama. I know some of them are high because sometimes that’s the only way they can deal.
And I wonder, is this the best we can do for our children? Is this it? When our kids are served lunches that are cheap and processed do they know that we don’t really care about them? Because let’s be honest, we don’t. We don’t really care about them. If we did, we would never allow this. If we really cared about our kids we would demand change at school board meetings and at the polls.
I wrestle with this because I don’t know how long I can continue to do this. The weight of sexual assault allegations, CPS calls, hungry students, sad home lives, homelessness, parents with terminal illnesses, endless active shooter drills and lock downs…how much longer can I carry this? I leave each day feeling as if my shoulders are sagging under the weight of teen apathy, anger, and, desperation.
I keep trying to wrap this up, but feel like I can’t stop the flood of emotions. The job is hard. On the very best days it’s exhausting and on the worst days it’s crushing. So, when an administrator makes a side comment about your lesson or a politician suggests you make too much money, it feels like the last straw. It feels, like I imagine it must have felt to come home from serving in the Vietnam War, only to be criticized by citizens who have no idea what you just survived. I realize that’s a ridiculously extreme comparison and I don’t even work in one of the “worst of the worst” schools that you hear about on the news.
So while I do care about designing engaging and thought-provoking lessons, the things I lose sleep over (the things most teachers lose sleep over) are much bigger than that. And I’d like to end this on a thoughtful and provocative note, but I don’t even know how. I plan to vote and make my voice heard and I hope other parents do the same. In the meantime, be gentle with the teachers in your life.