Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A Teacher's Due

This week ends the fourth term of the school year, with just one more to go. This has been an especially tough term, mostly because I am teaching an overload with four different preps. I am back in the frenzied mode I occupied as a beginning teacher, working from before dawn to after dusk, all only to just stay afloat. It's something I could handle back when I was 31 and single, but now that I am 43 with a family (and a long commute) it's taken me to the breaking point.

It hasn't helped that members of my extended family have been stirring up drama and cruelty, or that the political situation seems so bleak. Over spring break, for the first time that I can remember, I asked myself if teaching was even what I was meant to do on this earth. As always in times of great stress, I started hating on myself, thinking that I had lost my mojo.

Students of course do not know the internal struggles that we teachers have, nor should they. Today that was my saving grace. One of my senior electives ended today, and my students gave me a round of applause and thanked me for the class. I don't think they have any way of knowing just how much that has uplifted me today.

So now I am kicking myself for having been so down on myself. (The self-flagellation never ends with me, folks.) Despite my exhaustion, what mattered was that I still put the effort in, even on days when my nerves were shredded and my patience was shot. Teaching is a job where the reward never comes in the form of money or social status. Day after day I see articles about teacher shortages. and of teachers leaving the profession.

It's a hard job that demands both intellectual and emotional labor, the latter being the most draining. When I tell people I teach, there's a good chance that they will say something completely idiotic, like "it must be good to have your summers off." (If teaching were so easy we would not be seeing such turnover, but I digress.) This reflects the dominant American idea that work is measured in the numbers of hours of labor, not its intensity. That's a fundamentally flawed metric. As we all know, and hour of combat is not the same as a quiet hour spent on base. Being in the classroom is like being at the battle front for half the year. Without break time we would go berserk.

As tough as the job is, it is hard to top a moment like I had today. Every morning I wake up thankful that I spend my days doing work that MEANS SOMETHING. I am not just pushing papers or acting as a gear in the corporate machine. It's probably the only reason that turnover isn't higher in the profession. I'm just glad that I teach students so willing to give me thanks. I wish every teacher were so lucky.

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