My refrigerator holds a list. Summer to-dos. Almost 20 items needing attention before school begins. Important things. Things like: Sort through financial records. Write my AP syllabus and book proposal. Take down Christmas lights (wish I was kidding about that one.) Clean, really clean. my house.
This year my list has six red lines. Only six crossed-off tasks. Six out of 20. I go back to work in two days. When all I want is to sit in the middle of my living room and cry. I mean really sob over my list that won’t get done. But I can’t. I have to take my daughter school shopping.
Then the school year begins. And I won’t sit again until June 2014.
So before the madness of the coming weeks ensues, there are some things I want you to know about your child’s teacher. Things which may spur you to pray for me over the coming year, or which may cause you to shake your head—I’m glad it’s her and not me. Things which sometimes need to be said.
I’m already tired. I’ve worked all summer. I’ve sat through workshops and certification classes and read journal articles on the newest teaching strategies and creative ideas. If I’m not physically working toward the next year, I’m thinking about it. All the time. I will begin the school year exhausted, leaving behind an incomplete summer task list.
Right now—I’m broke. My pockets are empty. Every spare penny has been used to purchase bulletin board materials, novels, and extra bookcases. Anything that will bring warmth and brightness to my classroom. The state or school doesn’t fund these expenses. My purse foots the bill.
The bell never ends my day. School hours don’t provide enough time to finish the job I’ve been given. Like a briefcase full of papers, I carry the cries of hurting students home. And then? When I walk in my door? I still must help my own children with homework, fix dinner, carpool to dance, finish laundry, and straighten the house.
I spend more time with your sons and daughters during the week than my own. And while I love to teach, my heart breaks a little each time I hug my baby and say, “See ya later, alligator!”
I’ve trained hard for this role —going to college and then graduate school in preparation to teach your child. You may have said, “How hard can it be? You learn. You teach. It’s as simple as that.” I want you to know it’s so much more than ABC’s and 123’s.
Because teaching is hard. Very hard. For just one lesson I can spend hours thinking through Piaget’s cognitive theory, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, anticipatory activities, appropriate pedagogies, exit strategies, scaffolding techniques, and hierarchically-ordered questioning. Each of these theories is necessary for one effective lesson. Not so easy.
I will make mistakes. Numbers get crossed. Eyes do too. After hours of grading, sentences can begin to run together. Something right will be marked wrong. But something wrong may also be marked right. Approach me with kindness, and I will right my wrongs. Because, I promise, even if I have a typo, I know proper grammar and mechanics.
I am in desperate need of grace. If I don’t immediately respond to an email or a phone call, it may be because I want to have all the information I need to give you all the information you need. Give me time. I’m human.
I need a chance. Please. Please, please. Approach me with a problem before you approach my boss. Wouldn’t you want someone to do the same for you? It may be a simple miscommunication. A miscommunication that could wrongly put my job in jeopardy. Did I say please?
I hate standardized tests. Not in the we-should-never-measure-student-growth way. But in the there’s-so-much-more-to-life-than-choose-A-B-C-or-D way. The learning box we are stuffing children into tears
at my heart a bit each day. It’s wrong. And my hands are tied.
It’s not always my fault. Even if I sang every lesson while doing cartwheels dressed like my favorite book character, some students still won’t pay attention. I can beg. I can bribe. I can cry. But some of my students are already too hardened by life—they just don’t care. Yet, society tells me I’m responsible for every student who fails. Every. Single. One. This is an anvil around my neck.
I want you to know every year is a make-or-break year for me. It could always be my last. Because this is not just a job. It’s a calling. And there are some days I wonder if I’m still called. Because some days rip me to shreds, leaving wounds that gape and scars that haunt.
I feel responsible for the next generation in mind-blowing ways. This is a heavy burden. I sense its weight each time I step into my classroom. I understand—really understand—how great the task is that lies before me. The question Am I making a difference? is a constant.
But I know my job is worth it. I know this in the way I know my students are worth every ounce of effort in my body. And when I see the light behind a teenager’s eyes? Every fiber, every muscle, every tendon tightens and then soars. The light of knowledge is mine to bestow. The role is serious. Success is always just a breath away. Sometimes I’m holding mine. When my students get it. I can smile. I can breathe.
Because really, I’m teaching them about life. Each day. A new lesson teaching rhetoric, similes, or Thoreau is really a lesson about life. How we’re connected. How we’re living. How we’re breathing.
And you must know, you absolutely must know—I pray for my students. Their hurts break my heart. Magic wands and pixie dust don’t work in this real world. I know there is only One who has the power to heal souls. So my knees are raw from the bending and stooping over the desk of your precious one.
I love your sons and daughters. And while a need for education may be the reason they walk through my door, my deepest desire is that my students know they are loved. This is my goal. My objective. My mission.
Because they will know my sweet Jesus by my love. And even though His name can’t even be a whisper on my lips within school walls, I will love your children. I will love them because He first loved me. I will be His light in their darkness. And because I love your sons and daughters, they will learn. They will learn all that matters in this life. They will learn because they are loved.
By this all people will know that you are My disciples,
if you have love for one another
John 13:35 (HCSB).
The reaction to this blog over the last year has been overwhelming—both positive and negative. I’ve been incredibly grateful for what I have learned and for so much of the support I have received.
I understand, for some, my heart’s cry has been misunderstood. I want to take a moment to express that in no way do I want to infer teachers are the only people with difficult jobs. In fact, all jobs are difficult in their own way and many jobs are much harder than that of a teacher. We all have aspects of our careers that are exhausting.
This letter was is not a list of complaints, rather simple realities in the life of an educator. But, and please hear my heart, the struggles are worth the result. And the result? Reaching the life of a child? I would do it all over again. Every single time.