Being a teacher and loving being a teacher might be the two most complex sets of emotions I’ve ever felt. You, too? On the days they intersect, it’s great, right? On the days you love being a teacher, and on the days that you don’t feel like the system is sucking you in, and on the days that your teaching is firing from all cylinders, it’s like magic. It feels so good.
But we all know that being a teacher and loving being a teacher are different, don’t we? We all know that you can be something and not love it every day. We all know that you can be something and love only certain parts of it. And we all know that you can love kids, love teaching, and sometimes feel beaten down by the system you work in and its brokenness.
Being a teacher and loving being a teacher are not mutually exclusive, and yet, for some reason, our society leads us to believe that you have to choose. That you have to be or feel one or the other. That you can’t acknowledge the brokenness of the system and still love what you do as a part of that broken
I am here to tell you that isn’t true.
I am here to tell you that giving someone only two choices in a world that is full of dichotomies and contradictions simply isn’t healthy, and that it contributes to the emotional damage that teachers all over the country are facing when they speak out about the realities and the complexities of what it
means to be a teacher.
I’m here to tell you that it is possible to love teaching, and to (sometimes) hate being a teacher. The last 2 years I spent in the classroom were some of the most discouraging, difficult, disenfranchising years of my life. They were riddled with a global pandemic, significant personal turmoil, and they were
compounded by unsupportive administration at my building level. Recipe for disaster? Sure is.
I loved teaching. I loved working with my students, seeing their faces, smiling, and laughing with them every day, and developing relationships with them. If it hadn’t been for them, I would have left a LONG time ago. But I loved teaching. I loved it. I loved what my students brought to my life; I loved their sharp wit, and I loved watching them do things they didn’t think they could do. I also loved creating classrooms that felt good.
All the while, an education system crumbled behind me. It started, at least in Indiana, in 2008—we knew then that the legislature was working against public schools. And it started small-ish. We went 5 years with no raises; I watched 12 of my friends being RIFed; I watched the rise of vouchers and school choice, and the big money that went into (and came out of) standardized testing, and I prayed to make it to the end of my career in a somewhat recognizable system.
It wasn’t meant to be for me, and if the “system” stays on its current track, it’s questionable for all of you, too.
And yet, I loved teaching. And I bet lots of you do, too.
I bet when you think about teaching, the first thing that comes to your mind is NOT the floundering system, a visceral fear of its disappearance, or anything like that. I bet, when you think about teaching, you think about those kids. Because that’s what teachers do.
The pandemic taught the world (if they paid any attention at all) that teachers can pivot quickly. That they can literally build a plane while they fly it, and that they can do it with quite limited resources and waning support. It’s true. We watched the very society that nearly crumbled when schools were closed, turn on a dime against us.
And yet, so many of us stayed.
For that, you should be commended.
But it feels like a brain game, doesn’t it? It feels like you can’t be both. It feels like you can’t be angry about what society is pushing on teachers AND still love teaching. It feels like you either have to be “all in for kids” or you have to quit.
But, guys, that’s simply not true. You can fight for both yourself and for your kids at the same time, and I hope that’s the choice you make. You see, in teaching, it’s never just one thing, is it? It’s always complicated. It’s always messy. And it always makes you feel less than. But please believe me when I tell you that this is a lie: you are NOT less than in ANY way.
My encouragement to you, friends, is that you don’t forget that you, too, are permitted some messy feelings, just like every other human being on earth. After all, you were a human at the outset, before you were a teacher. Please allow yourself to be one. Please allow yourself the space to feel your feelings, to honor them, and also to understand that, even though it’s scary to talk about, the teacher down the hall from you most likely feels a little messy, too.
Go find your messy tribe. Attach yourself to people whose messes resonate most with your own and realize that those days—when the magic happens, when it’s all working at the same time—are going to be the days that sustain you on the days when you feel like a train wreck inside of a dumpster fire.
And please, please, don’t forget that it’s OK if these emotions happen all on the same day.
After all, in teaching, it truly never is just one thing, is it?