Sometimes, Teaching Seems Small

The other night, I was eating dinner with my husband when we got onto the topic of certain teaching misconceptions. While we were talking, I recognized that I involuntarily felt on edge-like I was anticipating judgment while having absolutely no reason why.  My husband is one of the most supportive people I know, I knew his words weren´t going to offend me. It was then I realized that this feeling was not a new phenomenon, but a residual effect from previous conversations. For one reason or another, every time I speak about my profession to someone who isn’t a teacher, I feel this. I feel the need to prove myself- like I have to confirm that what I do is equal to other jobs.

While we were mid-conversation, I began getting so frustrated tears unexpectedly welled up in my eyes. “My kids are something I fight for every day,” I told him. “My job is heavy and hard, and it hurts when I constantly have to justify myself to people. It just makes my career seem so small.” 

Every Tuesday, I highlight one teacher from my school and ask them to give me advice, a useful strategy to use in the classroom, or a story they would like to share on my Instagram. My most recent post featuring a coworker of mine summed it up well-

“Teaching can sometimes feel like a war of attrition. The amount of red tape bureaucracy, disappointing data, and policy changes, combined with the responsibility of guiding 109 young lives can be overwhelming. It can wear you down. In order for me to overcome fatigue and the ever-looming presence of failure, I have to focus on individual stories, rather than the entire system. I try to not get caught up in the system and remember that the students in my classroom do not care about public school bureaucracy. They do not care about the burden of my responsibilities, but they do care about having a present teacher who is willing to guide them and advocate for them. The Starfish Parable is, in my opinion, a great representation of my mindset:

One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one.

Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish, Sir”

The old man chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. There is no way you can save them all!”

The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “I saved that one.”

I cannot change the entirety of the public school. The Texas Education Administration is not going to call my phone and ask what changes they should make. There will be students that I, unfortunately, do not reach, and there will be times that I fail, but that does not mean that I have not had an impact. I focus on the individuals, and continually try to reach more students each day.”

Y’all. Educators, teachers and administrators alike, are asked to do really difficult things.

In a day and age where we are competing with technology that is constantly overstimulating our students, we are asked to make lessons engaging, captivating and relevant with minimal resources. 

We are asked to give every ounce of energy, seven times a day, to encourage that engagement. 

We are asked to change student’s behavior. Hostile behavior, obstinate behavior, behavior that you wouldn’t think possible at such a young age.  Behavior that is rooted in possible hurt or resentment that might have absolutely nothing to do with school. We are asked to reform it. We are asked to counsel and console.  Even though there is a chance that with all of our efforts, the student’s behavior will be reversed the second they get home in a different, sometimes toxic environment. 

We are asked to bridge gaps in content areas that have been neglected for years. We are then penalized by the state if we don’t reach those goals. 

We are asked to give our time: our planning time, our teaching time, our bathroom time, and our family time in order to serve our students with tutorials, meetings, extra-curricular activities, and interventions. 

We are asked to give documentation about everything to secure and maintain that red tape. 

We are asked to teach an insane academic skill set to students whose primary language is not English.

We are asked to compromise with parents, to make them happy, regardless of how much we are disrespected.

We are asked, and sometimes legally bound, to accommodate every student’s specific needs within a forty-five minute class time.

We are asked to spend hours testing, and then attempt to tell our students their worth isn´t tied into their scores. 

We are asked to grow and learn in our profession, but professional development is often too expensive, outdated, or unusable. 

We are asked to continually prepare and protect a class of students for natural and man-made disasters, emergencies, and active shooters. All while we are expected to remain calm and collected ourselves.  

We lose sleep over our students, we aren´t asked to, but we do. 

We are asked to accomplish initiatives given by people that have never stepped foot into a classroom.

We fill out CPS reports and are asked to not say a thing. 

We fill out suicide prevention forms and are asked not to say a thing. 

We are asked to change our lessons based on money, test data, and pressure.

We see too much, we are stretched too thin, and yet we have the future of the world in our hands. 

Even after I put my heart and soul into my profession, after dealing with the countless times I have felt like I have fallen short, I have been called a glorified baby-sitter. I have been told, “it’s not that hard.” I have been told “those who can’t, teach” and “you get summers off! I bet that’s great!” 

These kinds of things make my profession seem so utterly small. Something that I felt called to do can seem irrelevant at times, and it’s why so many teachers burn out. Why continue in such an important profession if you feel like you aren’t seen or heard?

As a community, we have to start encouraging our educators. How we perceive teaching and how we talk to teachers matters. In fact, it can make a direct impact on how well students are getting educated. If a teacher feels appreciated, motivation is bound to correlate. Putting value in education is one of the best things we can do for our country. 

Encouraging means checking in on your teacher friends because taking the emotional baggage home is a habit. Encouraging means you ask what teachers do in the classroom and praise them for it. Encouraging means you speak highly to your children about their teachers because we are on the same team. Encouraging means you join your teacher friends at their place for dinner because they brought their work home yet again.  Encouraging means buying those pencils off of their Amazon Wishlist. Encouraging means you appreciate your teachers, love your teachers and honor their job. They are working so incredibly hard to make a change in your world, and your words and actions help more than you know.  

Encouraging teachers is one of the easiest things we can do, yet it is done so minimally. Positivity is contagious, and awareness is everything- both of those things can completely change a generation. Let’s make teaching seem big because the career that shapes every other profession should never, ever feel small.


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