As I finish my 22nd year of teaching, I’m a little introspective. Teaching is much like being a serial monogamist. Each year you move in with a being, one that has 30 different personalities. And for the next 10 months, you live, eat, breathe, fight, grow, laugh, cry, and most importantly, relate on a daily basis, proactively, intensely, and multidimensionally. Then, it’s like you decide to call it off. You break up, you move out, and the relationship is over. For some of the beings, you stay friends. For many, you never talk to them again. All the emotional, mental, intellectual, and spiritual energy that goes into a serious relationship, or 30 at a time, depending on how you measure a relationship, is filling up almost every facet of your life, and then it’s gone. Overnight. Silenced. Pretty much eradicated. You give everything you have. And then it’s over. And you are emptied. You are sapped of all that was present for the last 10 months. You are depleted, with nothing left to give, desperately needing to be rejuvenated, refreshed, re-sourced, revitalized, to start the same process all over again in another 2 months. You are stretched beyond your limits, giving in to the demands that tending to and nurturing this relationship has drawn from us.
And for our classrooms, much like with the people that inhabited our “home” for 9 months, whether we are moving classrooms, or just packing up for summer cleaning, it’s much like being a nomad. We fully invest in, and decorate, our room every August, only to completely strip and clean it every June, leaving it barren and void of all the life that played out between those four walls.
It’s like two of the greatest stressors of the human life cycle, moving, and the end of a relationship(s), happen to teachers every single year, year in, year out. Year after year after year.
And yet, strangely, we are also left never the same, having been understatedly transformed into a person far different than we were a year ago; having been taught as much as we have sought to be understood; having been filled as much as we have been poured out; having been educated as much as we have sought to teach. You can’t be around 30 souls, for six hours a day, for nine months, without their joys also making you laugh; without their heartaches also moving you to tears; and without their successes and failures also mirroring your own.
Teaching is not an instant gratification career. Want to see concrete profits jump, or sales turn around, or court cases stamped “verdict reached”? Teaching will offer only rare glimpes of a visible goal accomplished. That’s why I used to love building Ikea furniture. It was in pieces, and then bam, it was complete. Mission almost instantly accomplished. No. Teaching requires the patience of a saint, the hard work of an ant, the creative preservation tactics of a cockroach, and most importantly, the heart of a dog. As a teacher, you always seek the best, always see what could be, always have the open door, always purpose to give respect and hope before you ever expect to receive it; and you wait with extended arms to accept even those who, under normal circumstances, you would run away from as as quickly as possible. Teaching doesn’t afford the luxury of picking and choosing who you will advocate for. It’s simply our job to DO our job, no matter who crosses our path.