I wrote this piece while working on my book a couple of years ago. It never made it into the book, but I’m revisiting it now, for a few reasons. First, I’m not longer a classroom teacher, so it provides a window into my mind during that time of my life. Second, I’m looking at this as an opportunity to finish, edit and refine a piece I abandoned because I didn’t love the tone. As I rework and finish it, I hope to swing the tone around to where I’d originally intended.
You might think I don’t absolutely adore my job. You’d be (mostly) wrong. Teaching kindergarten is nothing short of joyful. The kids make me smile more times than I could count in a day and the love I feel for them on a daily basis fills my heart to an overflowing capacity only seen at an ice cream shops on the hottest days in July.
What non-teachers don’t understand is, we put so much of ourselves into our job, literally blood, sweat, and tears (I’ve given all three on many occasions in the classroom), that when it’s time to have some down time, we are ready for a mental and physical break. The emotional toll teaching takes is nothing I was prepared for when I went into teaching. Nobody tells you about the worrying, sadness, and sincere distraught you feel over the stories you hear and information you uncover about the lives of your students. There are nights you can’t fall asleep and others you wake up with sincere anguish about a child in your care. The way parents never stop worrying about their children; teachers feel the same about their students every year. It’s real and it’s constant.
For teachers, if you’re doing your job well, your heart and soul are in it. Teaching isn’t something you can do half-assed. You can’t phone it in like a desk job. I know, I’ve had desk jobs. You can sit at your computer and type emails for hours. You can shop online and read CNN. You can take a two-hour lunch and work from home. Teaching isn’t like that. When you’re in the classroom, twenty plus children staring up at you, waiting for you to say or do something that will not just teach them, but move them, that’s the pressure of teaching. The good ones can do it and the great ones make it look easy. Don’t be fooled, there is nothing easy about teaching. I’ve never climbed Mount Everest, but I’ve taught kindergarten the week before Christmas and the day after Halloween. I’m not sure which is more challenging.
Physically, I am on my feet all day. Seriously, the only time I sit down is to read a story, and then I’m really in the spotlight. I might be sitting for ten minutes to read that story my class, but my eyes are watching every child, making sure this one isn’t moving too close to that one, this one is paying attention, is that child wiggling because he is feeling squiggly, or does he actually have to pee? Hmm, is this one itching her head because she has an itch or bugs crawling in her hair? What is that noise in the hallway? Should I stop what I’m doing and intervene? Now the phone is ringing. Again. Seriously, who is calling my classroom again and why? If it’s not the President telling me I’ve just been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom do I have to stop to answer? If I don’t stop to answer, how long before it stops ringing? Oh, all this is going on while I’m, you know, reading and trying to teach.
When the story is over, I’m up again. Walking around, watching, kneeling to tie a shoe, running to stop an accident, dancing with my students nine or ten times a day to keep their bodies moving so when they aren’t moving they’re listening. Teaching is like being the conductor of an orchestra… where all the musicians are spinning tops. Yet somehow, day after day we don’t just ‘do it’, but do it amazingly well.
Life in a classroom can be confining. Somehow, in a room full of children, you can start to feel very alone. You are never allowed to leave unless there is another adult there to watch your cherubs, so you never leave except to sprint to the bathroom to pee. I have had to call for someone to stand in my door while I run like a fool to the men’s room to pee. I then wash my hands quicker than I should, and motor back as I dry my hands. This is not how civilized people use the bathroom, but teachers don’t have time for ‘civilized’. We’ve got minds to shape, our bladders will have to wait.
And yet, the children make it all worth it. When I’m standing in a hallway and a student comes running up for a hug, you know you’re doing something right. When past students find excuses to visit daily and spend time in your classroom, you know it’s all worth it. Teachers aren’t in it for the paycheck or even the glory. We’re in it for the children. Making a difference in one person’s life is noble. Teachers affect countless souls.