Today is the last final I’ll take in my graduate school coursework. Next semester is just student teaching and a seminar course. I’ll be spending 7 weeks in a middle school and 7 weeks in a high school. I’ll take my comp examinations and – fingers crossed – graduate in May with a Master’s in Teaching. I made it.
And it’s bittersweet.
I don’t know if it’s because I love kids and used to work with 5 year olds. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a teacher. I don’t know if it’s because Connecticut is the place I grew up, or if it’s because I know people from Newtown and know teachers who teach there, or that I can’t stop imagining what I would do in that situation. I do know that today was the first day that I didn’t cry.
You never think, that as a teacher, you’d be a first responder. But in reality, you respond all the time. To fears and anxieties and sadness. To questions. Oh god, questions. To joy. To “Hey, Miss. M – when are you coming back?” To parents. To bullying. To the telephone – a lot. To the principal. To someone farting in class. To “No one here understands me.” To “I lost my violin case and my mom is going to KILL ME AND I’M GOING TO BE LATE FOR THE BUS!!!”
Throughout my practicum hours over the last year and a half, I’ve heard “Are you SURE you want to be a teacher??” more times than I care to remember. Teachers, especially veterans of the community, are tired. There are countless initiatives, assessments, programs and evaluations being created and implemented without much support or funding. My middle school co-teacher has to buy her own Kleenex and pencils for her kids. She’s almost out and it’s not even January. My high school c0-teacher has a chalkboard and no chalk. He can only make 20 copies a day, so the kids have to write their answers on loose leaf paper and give back the handouts. And these aren’t even the poorest districts in the state. Teachers are the easiest to blame for issues in schools for many reasons. And research shows that effective teachers can almost make up for the socioeconomic status or reading level of a disadvantaged child. Almost.
But teachers aren’t superheroes, no matter how much we wish we were. And this week is seems more surreal. More raw. More poignant. To join the ranks of people who spend all day, all week, all year (and don’t argue that teachers only work 9 months a year. Every teacher I know works all.the.time.) thinking about and caring for and working with and worrying about and banging their heads against a wall about and laughing with all kinds of kids. To join the ranks of educators who spend countless hours and dollars and nights grading and assessing and creating lessons and crafting – just a few more minutes, a few more hours – until it’s just right. To join the ranks of men and women who live on in the lives of their students, through academics – but also through stories and passions and life lessons. And in the worst possible instances, the unimaginable ones, heroes who physically die for their kids.
That’s why the questions from teachers that try to discourage me from going into the profession really bother and upset me. That’s why, when family members or friends or strangers complain about teachers – how they make too much money, how they don’t work as “hard as the rest of us,” how their job can’t possibly be that hard – it hurts. How could you not want to go into a profession where you can change someone’s life? How could I not want to pursue something that I’ve wanted to be since as long as I can remember? Teaching isn’t what I do – it’s who I am. That’s why it bothers me. It’s like someone saying “Please. Just try not to be so “you” for a while.”
The only thing that made sense to me in the aftermath of the shooting at Sandy Hook, the only thing I felt like I could do was go to school this week and hug my teachers. And my kids. And thank god that I’ve found my life’s passion.
And tomorrow I plan to go buy them some Kleenex and pencils and chalk.