When I envisioned becoming a teacher, I pictured standing in front of a classroom presenting these beautiful, heartfelt lessons to the enthusiastic students seated in front of me who were just as excited about education and who were ready and eager to learn. While I didn’t go into teaching to feel a sense of power, I certainly thought I would at least earn respect from my students, their parents, and the community. We would all work together to ensure the success of every child in my classroom. Hey, maybe we would even lock arms and sing, “We Are the World,” overwhelmed by just how much we had done that would impact the world within that year those students were a part of my class. (Okay, so that might be taking it a bit far.)
I was a bit naive about how things would really go down, but is it too much to ask for me to have something close to that? Suprisingly, yes it is. The reality is that my classroom is far from magical, and every day is a battle to get my students to be enthusiastic about the learning process.
But what surprises me even more about everything (and what this post is really about) is how ignorant everyone else is about exactly what it is that teachers are required to do. People truly believe that our days begin and end with the ringing of the school bell, that the only time we spend working is during those “work hours.” How hard can it be, right? It infuriates me when someone comments on the number of days off that we have, citing the breaks and holidays, as if those days off make our job any easier or when someone who has never been in the classroom wants to tell me what they would do if they had to deal with a particular situation in my class as if I am too ignorant to have thought of the same solutions. (I would never allow a student to speak to me like that. Why don’t you just throw him/her out? You just have to have discipline and the kids will behave.) Boy, please!
The thing is, it’s not easy. People don’t really understand just how difficult this career is, just how many different hats teachers are asked to wear, how much pain and happiness our hearts go through in a day while dealing with other people’s children and the endless demands placed upon us. You see, I actually feel like what I spend the least amount of time doing each day is actually teaching the subject that I get paid to teach. Yeah, I said it.
Now, before you freak out, let me explain.
Unfortunately, all of my students don’t come to me from perfect homes with supportive parents who are able to help guide them through the many ups and downs of school. Many of my students come to school with so much on their own plates that school is the last thing on their mind. Just this year alone, the stories that I have heard about some of my students’ lives is enough to make many Lifetime Channel movies (and you know how dramatic those can be). The things some of them have dealt with and seen or are currently dealing with is too much for even adults to comprehend, so how do we expect a child (my students are thirteen and fourteen years old) to be able to process what they’re going through or for them to care about what their grade is in my class? My teammates and I have been in tears several times this year as we try to fathom the hurt and pain that some of our students are dealing with every day. We’ve all been to the point where we just want to take some of our students home with us so we can shield them from the frustration and suffering. Yet, I’m supposed to just teach them about essay writing and grammar and everything will be okay?
What about all of the normal teenage issues that kids have to deal with? Although each school level has its own set of problems, I can definitely speak on middle school students and all that they’re going through at this age. Fitting in and learning who they are are the biggest concerns for my students. Their self-worth is based upon their hairstyles, their clothes, the way they think they look, how they speak, the music they listen to, sports they play, what group they hang out with, how many followers they have on Instragram, and the list goes on. It’s very difficult to teach someone who is worried about how everyone around them perceives them or is uncomfortable in their own skin. So I spend a lot of my time dealing with bullying, low self-esteem, conforming to fit in with others, misplaced anger, overwhelming sadness, and a sense of worthlessness or just confusion. It’s impossible to ignore all of this and just try to teach kids who have all of these other issues on their mind. Yet, I’m supposed to just keep on trekking and make sure these students are proficient at picking out the best textual evidence to support their thesis statement and writing a great paper. Really?
Electronics, video games, TV, and social media. Even parents know that these are tough competition. In this age of technology, kids are attached to these items 24/7 and getting them to focus on other subjects can seem impossible. I have kids literally falling asleep throughout the day because they stayed up to 2:00am on the phone watching videos or texting friends. Teachers have to constantly be on top of new fads, working to make lessons as fun and engaging as possible, finding clever ways to infuse the technology the kids love and yes, even social media, into our lessons. In a culture of instant gratification, trying to get kids to slow down and focus on a task that they can’t perfect right away, telling them they will have to practice it over and over again in order to master it, is a monumental task. Yet, I should be able to get my students to write, revise, and edit their essays several times before they turn them in to me. Let’s be realistic, please.
In order not to make this a book, I’ve only pointed out just a few of the issues that we encounter as teachers. Only…a…few. I haven’t even gotten to the fact that in addition to teaching we are expected to still be curriculum specialists, guidance counselors, referees, grief counselors, moms, dads, police officers, advisers, entertainers, data analyzers, be able to supply students with the basic school necessities, keep them engaged, well-behaved, report any inappropriate, suspicious, or below-grade level behavior, serve on different committees, attend numerous workshops, and keep up with every educational trend all while someone sits in the back of our classroom and evaluates our every move or while people sit in their government offices and make decisions that will impact our workload and pay.
Personally, I feel like we’re superheroes in disguise, saving the day behind the scenes, but never getting the credit for all that we do.
So please don’t get upset with me if a child’s test scores is not my first priority. I’m sure that I speak for all teachers when I say that we’re more concerned with the people seated in front of us than the scores on a paper, with the growth and development and the overall well-being of our students than what level they scored on an unfair test. Yes, we do want to see them do well on the tests, to improve and show growth, to be successful in school, but that’s not the end all be all. That’s not our daily motivation. We are focused on the WHOLE child, not just the part evaluated by a test.
And our students see us as more than just teachers. They tell us about their problems, and brag to us about their accomplishments, they get hugs from us to cheer them up or give us hugs to try to cheer us up, they scream our names from down the hallway and run to us to say hello, some adopt us as Mom or Auntie or Uncle and try to invite themselves to dinner at our house, they beg us to come watch them at their games or to read the story they wrote. We are so much more to them and they are so much more to us.
I wish more people would listen to us and understand our hearts, hearts that break for our students as well as swell with pride. What we give our kids can’t be found in a textbook or on the next state assessment.
What we do is more than just teach.
We give our students our hearts.
EVERY SINGLE DAY.
That should count for so much more than any test score.
All of my teacher friends, what do you think? Please feel free to chime and comment below!