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The Sadness and Joy of Teaching

After reflecting on my first article, I realize that I may have made it seem that I have an oversimplified view being an educator. First, let me say that teaching is INSANELY HARD. It is stressful and exhausting; it is loud and chaotic. Your work is never finished and your mind is never clear; your […]

After reflecting on my first article, I realize that I may have made it seem that I have an oversimplified view being an educator.

First, let me say that teaching is INSANELY HARD. It is stressful and exhausting; it is loud and chaotic. Your work is never finished and your mind is never clear; your classroom is always underfunded and your work is always underappreciated. You have to constantly deal with the frustration of seeing the same issues, the same problems, year after year after year after year, and you have to deal with the constant feelings of helplessness because you can’t change those problems or issues. You can’t feed all the children. You can’t give them all warm beds and safe homes. You can’t make sure they take their medicine before they come to school each day. You can’t give them clean houses and healthy meals. You have to watch the whole spectrum of social ills descend on your students, known to you as your “children” or your “kids,” you have to watch them tremble and crumble under the weight of adult-sized issues that get planted squarely on their kid-sized shoulders, and worst of all, you have to watch in near silence. You talk to your students about their problems, but you can’t fix them, and you report issues to the counselors or administrators, but even that doesn’t stop the vast majority of the terrible things that are happening in their lives. So, yes, being a teacher is INSANELY HARD because it is maddening and soul crushing.


And sometimes, when you’re having a terrible, no good, very bad day, they’ll take pictures of you and turn you into a Twitter meme. Because kids like to torment you to the point of insanity!

Twitter memes aside, being a teacher is also INSANELY AWESOME. It is exciting and energizing; it is loud and vibrant. You get the opportunity, each year, to grow and to improve and to make a difference in the life of a child. Your work is ongoing, and you are always building something lasting. You become innovative with your instruction, and you learn to find meaning in your work without needing praise from others. You get to watch kids learn. You get to watch kids have breakthroughs in understanding. You get to see the light bulbs turn on. You get to see the fires ignited. You get to see your students ten years later and see their faces light up as they reminisce about the time they spent in your classroom. You get to lay your head down to sleep every night – absolutely exhausted – knowing that your work matters. Even on the most disappointing day, you are still thinking of how to fix it, how to make it work, how to make it better. Then you get up the next day, you take a deep breath, and you try again. Sometimes you fail, but sometimes you succeed, and when you succeed, it is an unforgettable experience. And, perhaps most importantly, you never stop learning. So, yes, being a teacher is INSANELY AWESOME because it is enlightening and soul filling.


And sometimes, you get to do awesome things like hold baby ducks, because your kids know you’re having a bad day, so they show up with a box of cuteness to cheer you up. Because kids can be absolutely awesome when you need them to be.

This dynamic, paradoxical experience has brought me back to the classroom year after year, for the past 15 years. I still keep up with my kids through Facebook and Instagram (I’m trying the Twitter thing; I’m just not very good at it yet). I love to see them grow up and go out into the world and make lives for themselves. I have more “children” than I ever imagined possible. They are the visible, physical product my life’s work, and I could not be prouder of what I see.

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