No doubt you’ve heard from a friend, family member, or Facebook meme that “Teaching is a Calling.” And, while I’m sure my ego would have kept me from using that exact phrase, I 100% believe it. Because there is more to teaching than content knowledge, attendance-taking and lesson plan-writing. Just like how medicine requires more than just diagnosis and prescription writing. There’s a human component. The best teachers can tell, just by a quick chat with a class, when they are feeling stressed, confused, or overwhelmed. The best teachers can tell the difference between a child who needs more room to wiggle and a child who may need remediation. As teachers, we get this, and we’ve gotten used to the fact that the outside world doesn’t really get what we REALLY do. But there’s something you don’t know about us. Those of us who stay, who make it through the rough first TEN years – those of us who survive long enough to be called “veterans” – there’s something that we all know and feel, but we don’t show it and we don’t really talk about it publicly.
The big secret is, serving in a thankless job is exhausting and we all suffer periods of sadness and self-loathing about this fact.
When I say it’s a secret, I don’t mean that you all didn’t know it. I mean that we don’t really like to acknowledge it because non-teachers don’t truly understand it. When I’m in public, on social media, or with non-teachers, I’m never going to admit that sometimes all of my being wants another adult to acknowledge my hard work. No, when I’m in public or around non-teachers, then “teaching is a calling” and I work everyday “in the trenches” and I affect “both hearts and minds.” We play this role because we feel under fire. We get snow days and holiday breaks and summer vacation and we know that many think we have no right to complain. But the reality is, many of us would love some real, concrete positive affirmation.
Sometimes, only in my loneliest moments, do I think about how much time, effort, and emotional energy I’ve put into a student, and wish that somebody would say something kind to me. On days when my lesson plan goes perfectly and the class is well-behaved and the discussion is out-of-this-world, my enthusiasm is dimmed ever so slightly by the realization that no one else will ever know.
Teaching is, actually, a pretty lonely profession. You spend all of your time preparing a plan for a group of adolescents that will rarely notice or acknowledge what you’ve done. And most of the time, this is fine. This is what I signed up for. I don’t expect 15-year-olds to thank me daily. In fact, that’s what makes it all the more meaningful when they do! But the lack of adult interaction and feedback does take its toll.
Surviving teaching is simply subsisting on a series of small moments. A class discussion goes well – my heart swells – I’ll survive this week. A tough student says, “your class is kinda cool” – I choke back tears – I’ll survive another week. A parent says, “he tells us about your class at home” – I smile so big it hurts – I’ll survive another week. A student says, “have a nice day” as they exit class – how nice – I’ll survive another week. But sometimes, these small moments aren’t enough. Or sometimes, the time in between one small moment and the next is too long to sustain. Sometimes, teachers just go home feeling tired and useless and lay in bed at night and rehash the day, the lesson, the conversation, the worksheet and we just wish someone would say “I see your hard work. I see what you’re doing and it’s awesome.”
Teachers are evaluated 5-7 times a year. As a high school teacher, I teach 180 days, 4 periods a day. Of the 720 class periods I teach, another adult will watch an entire class period only TWICE. The remaining observations will be 10-15 minute walk-throughs. This means I will teach 715 lessons with no adult feedback. Sure I’ll get feedback from the kids sometimes (mostly whining), but no peer or colleague will say “I like when you…” or “have you ever thought about…” And so we go to lunch and all try to get a word in in the 20 minutes we spend with other adults. We share with each other (at lunch or after school or in the evening via text) our successes and failures.
And yet, while I spend 7 hours a day standing in front of nearly 130 different students, it can be incredibly isolating and incredibly lonely. Administrators are there to make sure you are meeting standards, managing behavior, and completing attendance. They rarely have the time or know-how (as many times administrators were never teachers themselves) to offer constructive criticism or valuable feedback.
And so, we decorate our rooms, buy new books and materials for our classrooms, browse the internet for new ideas and updated articles, learn new technology, keep up with TV and music so that we can relate to our kids, attend professional development, read new books, chat with colleagues, email parents, but in the end, no one really notices.
Most of the time I’m okay with this. It’s the job, it’s fine. Who doesn’t feel overworked and underappreciated?
So while we are expected to play the role of noble, selfless, workhorse, many of us are really yearning for some good solid affirmation. Because there are times when every teacher just wishes that someone would SEE them: truly see them for who who they are, what they do, and how they do it.