It was with a bittersweet ache that I sat by this year and watched as my teacher friends readied for new rosters of students who they, little did their students know, were nervous and excited about meeting.
Having recently become unemployed due to the closing of my fabulous school, I have spent a lot of time evaluating what I want to do. Though I loved my years of teaching, I find this occurrence in my life comes at a time where maybe, it's meant to be. I've spent most of the time of the two months I've been off so far traveling, writing, reading, traveling some more, struggling with writing, struggling with reading, and of course, cooking. I haven't tossed in the towel on the job front, I need to continue being able to cook after all, but I've started searching in different directions.
I must admit though, seeing Instagram'd moments of the first day of school, of clean backpacks, of organized classrooms, and of eager faces has tugged on my heart strings just a tad. Those are only a few of the things that are easily missed. The wonder in a child's eye when they learn something new, the nervous giddiness that students have in coming back together after summer break, the smell of fresh sharpened pencils and the look of textbooks that have yet to be destroyed. Writing every child's name a thousand times on laminated apples or cartoon owls, then going back to find that one name you realized you misspelled every single time. Organizing your room, because it is yours and only yours. You control what comes in and out.
Being a first time teacher is no easy feat, don't allow the smiling face of the seemingly confident new hire to confuse you. When I walked into my first classroom the first ten minutes were filled with a breath of pride. The following ten hours were filled with deep breaths of anxiety. Thoughts of I-can't-do-this filled my head as I dug through a mess of a closet stuffed with bulletin board displays, textbooks, videos, manipulatives, science kits, and some things I couldn't even name. I flipped through teacher's guides never knowing how I would manage to teach it all, imagining the disapproving looks of parents who I knew could see right through me. My room was a blank canvas with which I could create whatever I wanted, but all I could see was the clock ticking closer to the start of the first day. I could only hear that little subconscious voice whispering, "You're not ready for this."
In my five years spent as a classroom teacher, I discovered that teachers do have it easy in many obvious ways: two-month summer vacation, winter break, spring break, sick days/personal days, pensions, tenure; yet the fact that their quality of work will impact children's lives, and oftentimes even their futures, makes a teacher's job among the most influential, and therefore also stressful, of all.
For a good teacher, at least.
Good teachers are tormented with an irresistible urge to go into their classroom and give their students more than humanly possible. Good teachers worry to a point that they can't sleep over that one student who is struggling. Good teachers waste their lunch break to find more challenging work for that exceptionally bright student. Good teachers don't measure their worth at their job in pay increases, but they measure it in lives changed, in smiles counted, in hugs received. And unfortunately, good teachers are often not recognized or appreciated as they should be for as much that they do.
No, I certainly do not miss those parts of teaching, though I can say I have been blessed to have been part of great staffs at great schools, which certainly helped to subside any difficulties experienced.
For those of you who are so fortunate to be frequenting a school this year under the label of "parent", keep these things in mind as you speak to your child's teacher, when you run into the woman who is 'just an aide', or when you see the office staff. Remember that each one of them is invested in your child's success. You have the power to either make what they do easier, or more difficult.
For those of you who are so fortunate to be frequenting a school this year under the label of "teacher" or "staff" though you may never hear it this year, or the next, or perhaps even in your lifetime, know that you are making a difference in the lives of your students. You may never have stories written of your feats in the classroom or monuments constructed of your likeness, but hidden inside each of your students will be values you instilled with unknown limits to where they may someday reach.