Lesson plans are done. For the most part. It’s Thursday, and tomorrow is Friday and I get to wear jeans and enjoy a quiet weekend of AP ARHI studying, lesson planning (always), volleyball tournaments (yay, JV! So many of my artists playing this year), a cold beer or three, laundry, cooking, Scandal and the Office. But mostly AP ARHI studying…
It’s been a wild week, a little weird and discombobulating in some places. But as far as I can tell, my new kids on the block are going to be awesome, and absolutely fantastic comedic relief. They are hilarious, and our freshmen are so well-behaved! (Knock on wood!)
One of our main focuses this year has been honing in on the positive — something that can sometimes be difficult. Teaching is not an easy job, and it makes me a very cranky individual when someone assumes it is. While I am well aware that not every teacher should necessarily be a teacher, for those of us that actually give a shit about it (a very large one, in fact), it is an exhausting and involved job. Especially if you want to get better with each passing year (which, let’s be real, anyone willing to be stagnant in a career should gtfo anyway). It is far from a 7:40-3:30; I have homework, I work on the weekends, I work some nights until six thirty, with and without kids. There is the After School Program, sporting events to chaperone or take tickets at, dances to attend, clubs to sponsor, SAT and ACTs to study for, AP study groups and review days, professional learning to attend (and document), faculty meetings, RtI meetings, meetings about meetings, failure intervention plans to keep up with, parents to email, IEP meetings to attend… the list goes on and on. Sometimes, I feel like teachers forget why we do what we do. It’s easy to, in the whirlwind and chaos of the several responsibilities given to us. But forgetting the real reason we are there, what the absolute priority is, is not okay. If you aren’t there for the kids, you shouldn’t be there at all.
This week I discovered two of my boys live in a group home, and have been living together in that group home for the last four years. One of them is very detached, careful to keep his distance and rarely engages in conversation with me. He’s a fantastic artist, a total perfectionist with an amazing eye for detail. The other is a sweetheart that loves to talk, loves Breaking Benjamin, and may get to rejoin his family in a few months time.
I know it’s hard to stay optimistic, energetic, and upbeat when you’re tired, not sleeping well, constantly working through that to-do list in your head, interacting with 160-180 kids every single day, keeping your room organized, setting up your word wall, making sure you’ve documented every important date in every calendar, electronic device, and agenda you own (because we all know it’s more than one), to keep parents informed of what you’re doing in class and keeping up with grading work, when you have a hard time remembering to eat a proper lunch, and missing your family and your precious two year old at home. It’s hard to make work your number one priority when you have so many other things in your life that take precedence. We get that.
Those boys don’t get to go home to a family. They don’t have parents to argue with, siblings to lie to or piss off or sneak out of the house with, someone to call when they’ve had a terrible day or a wonderful day. They don’t have their own bed; they eat the food they are given, and the two meals provided at school a day are sometimes all they will get; they don’t have nice clothes; they don’t own or rent a home; they have a hard time finding a job because they have a hard time trusting others, getting transportation, relying on someone else to help them help themselves; they can’t keep friends because they’re moving back and forth from foster family to foster family because their own family doesn’t make the cut. They don’t know what it’s like to have anything steady, solid, reliable in their life. They are up in the air, always. Graduating high school will be an accomplishment to them of the biggest kind, and they don’t believe themselves worthy or capable of college, a career, a life outside this tiny ass town. They don’t know what it’s like to be admired, trusted, or adored. So listen to me right now, because this is the most important thing I’ll say: They have you. You chose this path. Of all the things you could have done with your life, you decided to teach. It shouldn’t be for the paycheck (and we all damn well know it isn’t), or the summer vacation, or the benefits. If you don’t love the kids, ALL the kids, then you need to get out. Go away. Because you are all some of these precious humans have. You are it: the end game, the make or break factor, the one person to push them just far enough to maybe crave more, or better, feel they deserve more. Don’t you understand how lucky you are? Don’t you want them to have a life as beautiful and wonderful as yours?
And it isn’t just my two boys. It is every single kid that steps foot in your door. Every punk out of dress code and every boy screaming at the top of his lungs down the hallway. Every girl in a crop top and purple hair, asking for attention, positive or negative, just to have someone look her way and acknowledge her existence; the kids soaked up in the video games, blaring Drake and Fetty Wap through their Beats, brawling in the driveways of the Ellingtons after school and posting it on YouTube; the studious boy planted in the front row of your AP Macro class and it’s the student that will never look you in the eye or speak a word. They are the siblings with nice cars on their sixteenth birthday and a daddy who did well in construction, and the frizzy haired girl who loves anime that has to live with her friend, because her house just isn’t safe; the ones hooked on meth and the ones pulling themselves out of it. It is every student who was told they could, and every one told they couldn’t. Don’t you get it? You are the constant, for all of them.
So do all of us a favor: Stop, for the eight hours you are with them, thinking about yourself. It isn’t about you. It was never about you. This career is meant to be selfless: you are paid to teach, instruct, mold, inspire, motivate, encourage, discipline, and love. Of course, all the expectations and burdens of a teacher are absurd, insane, ridiculous, unrealistic, and I’ll be damned if any of us can actually excel at all of it. But if you’re going to do a good job at your job, remember why you have your job: they need you. And someone else deemed you worthy of teaching them. Your students deserve a good education because that is what is going to keep them moving up and on and forward. Right now they are rude, and callus, and sometimes downright foul. But can you blame them when every adult who is meant to help, meant to love, meant to care turns their back, neglects them, or treats them like a burden? Like a waste of time or breath?
We all know you have a life (except the kids – they don’t think you do). But these students are part of it, because that is what you chose. So love them like they’re yours for the few hours you have them, and then go home to your family, your sweet baby, your cat or dog, your couch and Scandal. But on the clock, remember where your heart should be, and that a tiny flint of love can set someone’s entire world on fire in the most beautiful way.
Invest in them, and nearly all of them will be good to you. Over and over and over. That is all they want. Give a shit. They shouldn’t ever have to ask that of you; it should already be a given.
You have the power. So be all in, or get all out. There is no in between.