We know teaching is a difficult profession. (Well you do if you are in it!) One of the things that makes it difficult is when we feel invested and truly care about the children we work with. This week I witnessed just how difficult it can be as I watched no less than than three teachers reduced to tears by their circumstance. Difficult parents, reluctant students, and an inability to fix everything.
We can’t expect to get a lot of empathy from people outside the profession who think our job is easy, or that we aren’t working long enough or hard enough, or that they know more about teaching than we do. We can’t expect help from people who pass mandates that ask us to do more with less, who cry “more money won’t help” and “class size doesn’t matter”, or who think the quick fix (and only fix) is simply opening charter schools and passing out vouchers for ‘choice’.
Sure, there are many parents, friends and family members who support us but it can still be overwhelming and at times we feel alone. The thing is, we aren’t. I think it is increasingly important that we seek and give support to those who walk in our shoes everyday. I saw it when I witnessed other teachers rally to comfort the tearful teachers. They knew. They empathized. They had been there.
These distraught teachers were not “whiners’. They were genuinely stressed by circumstance and demands and I thought they displayed courage by reaching out for support. I think we need to do more of this. I also know that it isn’t just the circumstance of the day that can be the tipping point for us. We carry our entire lives into our classrooms with us that acts as a base layer for our days. We don’t shed our personal stresses, concerns, health, or hopes at the door. We are humans, not robots.
At a workshop I facilitated yesterday, I wanted to bring that sense of empathy and community to our large staff. We all know each other, or think we do. Yet each of us sitting there brought all of our ‘outside life’ into the room. It is unavoidable, it’s as much a part of who we are as our DNA is. So before we began, I wanted us to approach our learning together with open hearts and a genuine caring for one another, our profession, and the work we do as we live our lives.
I asked each teacher to anonymously fill out a slip:Then we mixed up the slips and shared them at different tables to protect the anonymity of the writer. Here are some of the responses we read:
I wish people knew…
- How difficult it is to take care of my mother.
- How much I miss my babies.
- I struggle to find nice things about myself that I like.
- That I have social anxiety.
- How much I work to make things less stressful for others.
- That mornings are hard for me.
- I’m dealing with a parent whose health is declining.
- That if feel nervous in big crowds.
- My anxiety controls me.
- I was pregnant.
- Sometimes I feel guilty that other people’s kids and not my own get the best parts of me because I’m so exhausted by the time I get home.
- That I have a hard time showing emotions.
- I worry about my adult children.
- That it was my birthday.
- That at school I feel very alone teaching.
- How much the school means to me.
- My dog is getting really old and it is breaking my heart.
- That I grew up in a low income project in a city and that we lived off state welfare.
- How discouraged I am due to the variety of student levels in my room.
- I am always exhausted.
- That the financial stress of planning a wedding is killing me softly.
- I am still dealing with the death of my dog.
- I have a horrible memory.
- The heavy heart I carry.
- How much I worry about my students’ home life.
- I have a baby on the way.
- Both my boys are in the military. That’s scary
- How insecure I can be about my teaching.
There were dozens more. Each were equally touching and honest. I can’t help but think differently about my staff now. When I look into their faces, I have so much more empathy for the human beings they are, not just the teachers they present as. I thought I knew them all well, but there are so many levels of knowing! As teachers, we acknowledge and grieve that our kids have struggles. Let’s try to remember our colleagues do,too. Let’s continue to lift one another and be a light when things are dark.
What’s On My Book Radar?
SCAR ISLAND by DAN GEMEINHART
I have loved every one of Dan Gemeinhart’s novels and not a one is in any way similar! He creates such strong characters, exquisite settings, and edge-of-your-seat plots! Each one I read I find myself saying, “This is my favorite!” In this couldn’t-put-down middle grade novel, Jonathan Grisby is sent to Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys, but it’s more like a dungeon on an island. He’s done something so terrible, he cannot bring himself to tell anyone about it. When something bizarre happens on the island, the children find themselves free, but then they must grapple with what freedom really means. It’s not what any of them expected. This book is like Dickens meets Lord of the Flies! Do yourself a favor and get a copy …NOW!