What have I learned this school year?
I’ve learned that teaching is hard. Not only because of the curriculum, not only because of the new tests, new rules, new measures. Not only because there are tests, tests, and more tests. But because it so often feels like an insurmountable, thankless, stressful endeavor.
But teaching is also so rewarding.
I’ve arrived at that point in my career – and maybe that point in my life – where I am starting to wonder what is next for me. Can I do this forever? Can I handle the paperwork? The constant changes in curriculum? The politics? The brunt of the blame? The massive budget cuts? The lack of raises?
I don’t know.
But I do know that — on most days — I love my job. I love teaching literature – examining Sisyphus’ absurd struggle, Pip’s Great Expectations and Gatsby’s green light. I love discussing the first amendment, Edward R. Murrow, Cronkite, the Zenger trial, Nelly Bly and the importance of a free press.
But even more than that, I love to watch the kids grow up. I love witnessing the transformation from scared, awkward little ninth grader to high school graduate, both proud and petrified to begin the next chapter of their lives. I love to help them on that journey.
And, I discovered, I love to see where that journey leads them.
I just returned from Washington D.C., where I watched one of my former students graduate from Howard University. I beamed with pride as she delivered a speech to her graduating class. I cheered and snapped photos as she walked across the stage, graduating cum laude and headed to Georgetown for her graduate work.
When I returned, armed with photos, one of my colleagues commented that it was so great of me to travel all that way. “Who does that?” he said. “No one does that. You really are special.”
That struck me. When I received the graduation announcement, it never occurred to me not to go, just as it never occurred to me that I’d done anything special by attending; in fact, I actually felt special, privileged, to be invited.
Teaching is hard. And so often, many of us feel like Sisyphus, constantly pushing a boulder up a hill, or like Gatsby – always reaching for that elusive green light. So often, we miss our great expectations.
Teachers teach. But that’s not all we do. We are part-time parents, financial advisors, friends, disciplinarians, life coaches. Kids spend more time at school – with us – than anywhere else. What an awesome responsibility. What an awesome privilege.
As I prepare for another closing of schools, the end of another school year, and get a little sentimental preparing to say goodbye to a fantastic group of kids, now young adults, I wonder if there is anything else that I could do. I wonder if I could ever give this up, the pride, this sense of fulfillment, the joy I feel watching my school kids grow up.
So maybe what I’ve learned — not just this school year, but over the last eight — is that teachers wear many hats, that there are so many great teachers who care so much that they sacrifice time, money and personal well-being to teach, inspire and care for the children in our classrooms. So, in essence, teachers are either masochists or saints. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not far from true.
Posted on WLRN, in May 2013: http://bit.ly/U4hwnQ