Those of us who actively engage ourselves in the noble and remarkable craft of teaching soon realize that we’re as much a student as the kids we are standing in front of. We set up our classrooms with all learners in mind, we research effective classroom layouts and design, share best practices with our colleagues, and spend nights wondering how to finally –effectively– integrate an activity that we’ve had growing in our imagination into what we’re teaching. Along this journey we start to see how much we’ve changed– not only because of the students we serve, but because of the hard work we’ve done in order to help them. The true love and passion we have for our calling results in the insight that our kids have effectively taught us to become a better version of ourselves. We understand that our kids have helped us get closer to who we want to be and we now know our true job is to help each one of them get closer to who they will become.
Stick with me here, I’m not as much of an idealist as I let on.
If you’re a teacher you also know the flipside. The daily stress, the weight of outside sources expecting new demands, mandatory state testing, the sitting through workshops that you’ll never use, the kids in your class you just can’t get through to, and three thousand other things. Literally, three-thousand. On top of this there is the low pay, the persistent frustration you feel when you see people without half the education you have making double the income. There’s distrust from parents who know and love their child and don’t believe you do. You’ve got to deal with the common cold and more noroviruses than the CDC, the often mundane morning announcements, and field trips that make you anxious, bored, or both. There’s a sea of ancillary worries that pull you from your one true mission. At times it makes you feel– deep down at a gut level– like you’ve made a bad, bad, decision. It’s a lot to handle. It’s never too much, but sometimes it feels that way.
Teaching is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s description of true genius — the ability to hold two opposing thoughts in your head at the same time — brought to life. It’s an act that can be one-hundred percent gratifying and simultaneously thankless. Magic moments of complete fulfillment and joy, where students make milestone breakthroughs, can be quickly replaced with the existential-level understanding that there’s plenty more work to do. We can be overwhelmed with concrete knowledge that we get a chance to make permanent positive impressions on kids, and at the same second feel deeply saddened that we won’t always get through to the child who will need it most. Teaching is the narrative of humanity, the ancient and modern lessons that so many have tried to share, sitting in front of you day-to-day.
It’s in this space, between the daily extremes that mark the life of a teacher, that our true character grows. By learning to lean into each particle of our experience and recognize that they’re all embedded lessons–the good ones, the bad ones, the in-between– dealt out to teach us something significant, we begin to not only accept life on life’s terms, we learn to thrive under all circumstances. In doing so, something curious will happen. We’ll begin to develop a deeper, almost psychic, empathy and understanding for the kids we teach. We start to see we are learning together, growing both in pain and joy, marking our peaks and valleys, helping each other regain footing, our character growing each day.