by Tina Beene
Have you ever noticed that the way we talk to teachers at the end of the year sounds a lot like advice you’d give someone who just survived significant emotional trauma?
Take advantage of this time to recharge and find yourself.
Stay active. Routines can be helpful in keeping you grounded.
Come back in August with enthusiasm for the new adventure ahead!
That’s because teaching is so deeply, deeply personal and to do it well is to be changed by every group of students you serve. The sheer number of hours spent in the presence of your little darlings ensures you’ll leave an impression on them, and some of them will impress upon on you too. Many memories are made together over the course of a year, some of them good, others best left to fade with time. Many of your greatest successes will be non-quantifiable and frankly unremarkable to anyone who doesn’t serve as Tooth Fairy/chauffeur to the child in question. That can lead to feelings of isolation, which is kind of ironic when you consider that teachers almost never get a single, solitary second of time to themselves. (Unless you’re in the bathroom, and even then there’s a line. Hurry up, the bell’s about to ring.)
For better or worse, the manner in which we’ve chosen to contribute to society matters in a way that other professions don’t. How many news profiles of successful adults include a reference to Mr. or Ms. So-and-So who told them they were capable of more than they’d ever dared to dream for themselves? How many times have you heard an NBA player reference the coach who bought the basketball shoes they needed but couldn’t afford or the counselor who wrote the glowing recommendation that garnered a life-changing scholarship?
We don’t give ourselves enough credit for those things, I think. Instead we dwell on our shortcomings, individually and collectively, because we know just how high the stakes are for our kids. And if we ever forget, there’s often someone nearby to remind us of the critical nature of our mission.
We’ve all been told that…
- Kids who don’t read on grade level by the end of first grade will never, ever, ever catch up.
- Prison construction is planned based on third grade reading scores.
- Students who don’t feel successful academically are destined for nothing but hardship and strife for the rest of their lives.
- It doesn’t matter if the kids have safe homes or steady meals; they had all better pass the state test.
The big worries we have for our students, the fears that wake us up during the night no matter how much over-the-counter melatonin we imbibe before bedtime, aren’t addressed by the curriculum or assessed on standardized exams. There’s no test that measures how much confidence your students gained as readers or how much richer their math think-alouds became by the end of the year. Unless they worked with the student too, other teachers won’t be that impressed by how much a particular kid’s social skills have improved over the year or the fact that your most precocious go-getter finally made it through an entire class period without blurting out the answer or that the shyest kid finally dominated a group discussion and you just about fell over from the shock.
But you know. You know the miracles you performed and the ones you were simply fortunate enough to witness. You know the countless hours you put in beyond the school walls, often at the expense of your loved ones and your own mental health. You know how much love you poured into them and into this profession and how frustrated you were when one or both of those things failed you time and again. You know how hard you worked to meet all the deadlines and complete all the forms, and you still planned engaging lessons to boot.
This summer, please try to let knowing those things be enough. Try to leave the mistakes and the failures and the “if I’d only knowns” of 2018-2019 in the rearview mirror and give yourself credit for the victories, big and small, measured and not, valued and unseen, because they existed and they matter. They may not be recorded in permanent records or shared out at faculty meetings, sure, but that doesn’t diminish their – or your – importance even a little bit.
Think about those highlights as you rest, recharge, and get ready to come back next year for a whole new batch of trauma. You know you wouldn’t have it any other way.