If I asked anyone to describe me, I’m sure the response would be either “neurotic,” “sassy,” or “teacher.” The first two adjectives are profoundly accurate descriptors of my personality, and the last depicts perfectly, not my career, but my life.I cannot say without tears welling in my eyes how much I love my students and my job. Though I have been faced with the hardest trials in my life since I began teaching from the death of my favorite person in the first two months of my career to vandalism and threats to my safety in the last five, I wake up every morning excited to go to work. Now, I’m not saying I wake up smiling and singing to the birds like in Clean&Clear commercials, but I am genuinely excited to see my students because I love them so much, even if it take two cups of coffee to get me there. It brings me such joy to hear about what colleges they are accepted to and how much they despise the latest chapter of Great Expectations.
Don’t get me wrong: some days are ugly. Some days I lose my voice from passionately explaining how to remember to fix a comma splice. Some days a kid is mad at me for having to discipline him. Some days I want to bash my head into a white board because they cannot remember that the repetition of a phrase at the beginning of a sentence is called anaphora (like “some days” in this particular instance).
But no matter what, I love them. All of them. I am excited to see them. To go to their games. To watch them perform. My students give me such hope for the future in a somewhat bleak world. I can breathe easily knowing that there are some amazing human beings in this next generation.
But my job does not make me “happy” necessarily. It is grueling work. It is putting on the best performance every day regardless of sickness or mood. It is grading essays while cooking breakfast on Saturday morning. It is sitting in hour long training on state testing. It is giving advice on how to ask a boy to the dance. It is writing recommendation letters on a Sunday night. It is making mandatory abuse reports. It is staying up until 11:00pm to answer parent emails. It is counseling a student over her parent’s divorce. It is sleeping on the floor to chaperone lock-ins. It is re-reading the same book nine times to follow along with the kids. It is putting myself aside to do what is best for my kids every single day. It is the hardest thing I have ever done. It is the greatest thing I have ever done.
Despite it all, I find my heart full–though my body exhausted.
Not to exacerbate an old trope, but I clearly do not do this job for the money. In fact, I am currently living on my cousin’s couch because with my salary alone I cannot afford a place to rent or buy in the Metro area. I have come to terms with the fact that I make only a few thousand over poverty-line in the United States (as a college-educated Honors graduate) because working with these kids has spoiled me. I cannot imagine sitting at a desk from 9-5 organizing spreadsheets when I have the privilege of hanging out with kids and reading Shakespeare all day. I mean, I’m living the dream, right?
However, today–unlike others–I am not crying because a student just overcame her eating disorder or because a boy confided his depression to prevent him from committing suicide. No, I’m not crying tears of joy or tears of pride today. Instead, I am in tears because some people don’t trust my ability to do my job.
I do my job wholeheartedly. I push. I agitate. You will not find me putting on movies and having my students answer questions out of a textbook. I work to transform my classroom into a relevant, meaningful place that requires critical thinking. Yes, critical thinking. Schools and parents love to hear that term until it means their kids ask them questions, discuss lessons outside of class, and engage in meaningful (albeit sometimes controversial) conversations. Aristotle says, “it is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.” My job is to make kids think. Even if it makes you uncomfortable. If you can’t trust me to not indoctrinate your child into whatever political or religious beliefs I have, at least trust your children enough to be able to think for themselves. I know I do.
As a society, we need to start trusting professionals to do their job–I’m guilty of it too. Do I really think my Google search on Web MD is more informative than 8 years of medical school?
I know it is hard, but please trust that I am doing what I think is best for our kids. Why else would I go thousands of dollars into student debt just to spend all of my weekends grading essays?*
I do it because I love your kid. I do it because I trust your kid is an awesome human being who will contribute greats things to the world. And I know all my extra work is worth it.
I know the other famous trope: we can’t trust teachers because they have an agenda. And I will be the first to admit that I do have an agenda. What is my agenda?
My “agenda” is to empower each individual student to recognize his or her value and to develop the skills necessary to confidently achieve their dreams with integrity.
I understand if you cannot trust me because of my “agenda,” but please, let me do my job.
*Due to the generosity of my mom, I am not afflicted with student loans–but many teachers do face unsurmountable debt due to the cost of the degree versus professional income.