Teaching is a Work of Heart
Updated: Mar 8, 2018
Since I was six, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. Don’t worry, this isn’t the start of a lame-o college application essay. I have always loved the learning process, the art of discovery, the sifting through issues with other people through conversation and research. It’s the stuff that fascinates me. So, I went to school for education–a student of teaching. Funny now that I think of it that way.
It’s year four for me. I currently teach 10th grade English, choreograph our school’s musical, and am in charge of Yearbook. Overall, I find my work worthwhile. I know that, although they don’t always explicitly show it, my students appreciate what I do for them–what we achieve together. At the end of the day, I think they know I care.
With every passing year, though, it gets…harder. That’s the harsh truth. I’ve got bigger bags under my eyes than a twenty-six year old should. My bedtime is typically 10 o’clock. Fridays are almost always spent curled up on my couch under a blanket or with friends struggling to keep my eyes open. I rarely have food in my refrigerator & I do the majority of my “grocery shopping” at my parents’ house, who let me take home as many leftovers as I can. The school day begins at 8 AM and ends at 3 PM, but I end up working on lesson plans or prepping assignments or grading papers until bedtime (which, as I said, is typically 10 PM). I continue this work on the weekend, while attempting to balance any semblance of social life. In essence, I work an average of 80 hours a week (give or take a few), yet only get paid for 35 of them. I’ve had to pick up another job. And although I didn’t go into this profession for the money, it would be nice to be able to afford a vacation, a nice dinner, or even a happy hour for Chrissake.
I’m not writing this post as a bash fest of my profession or as a “Woe is me, I don’t like my job” blah blah blah kind of post. I wanted to write this because many times, I hear or see phrases about education that are supposed to sustain us somehow. A lot of times, we hear, “Oh but teaching is one of, if not the most, impactful careers there is.” OK, that makes me feel good for maybe a millisecond. And then I see a friend text me a picture of him holding five $100 Amazon gift cards as an impromptu bonus from his boss (did you guess that he isn’t a teacher?). The sentiments don’t always sustain us. They don’t help us feed our families (or ourselves) or pay our bills. And, in the grand scheme of things, they don’t really matter because for every sentiment we’re offered, we are told, “Oh but you teachers get summers off! Quit complaining!”
And this leads me to the bigger, more hard-hitting aspects of this profession. My cousin bought me this decorative wooden box that says, “Teaching is a work of heart.” That’s all well and good. I know it is. But at the same time, my profession requires me to simultaneously have a soft heart and thick skin. This is the most challenging part of this career. If teaching is a work of heart, then my heart has been working nonstop overtime at full force. Sure, I can help kids pick apart & analyze rhetoric in Julius Caesar, but how am I supposed to instill empathy in the kid who claimed that “women deserved to be raped”? Instead, I get eye rolls when I throw him out of class, as if some students believe I “overreacted” to his “joke.” And how should I have helped my former students grieve when one of our own OD’d in the bathroom during 2nd period? When do we quit justifying that “kids will be kids” & begin treating them and holding them accountable as young adults?
What I’m trying to say here is that we teachers are not simply teachers. We are mothers, fathers, guardians, protectors, grievers, givers, praisers, friends, coaches, cheerleaders, mentors, door-holders. We juggle so many roles on a daily basis. We are also people who are thanked, blamed, respected, called names, scorned, taken for granted, appreciated, loved, hated. Every move we make is then judged either positively or negatively by those we encounter every day, whether in or outside of school walls. We are not ones who seek credit or even a thank you, but I know we are ones who seek to build communities that are safe, inclusive, and empowering. We cannot simply do this off sentiments. We need help–actual help from others–from time to time.
And the end of every day, we are people who have soft hearts and thick skin, both of which have scars.