By the time I left school on Friday afternoon, I was there. In the dark place. The day had exhausted me. The week had exhausted me. I left the building on Friday afternoon reeling from all that had taken place in the previous twenty-four hours. I left feeling certain that I was not actually cut out to be a teacher. That I had taught this current group of students nothing. That I had let a million things that had nothing to do with my students get in the way of me actually helping them.
As I drove home on Friday afternoon, I began to catalogue my own failures in my head. My list looked something like this:
- I actually told my students that I did not know how to teach them.
- I have multiple students between my two fifth grade classes who have yet to read one complete book so far this year.
- If you randomly asked several of my students if I regularly confer with students during reading and writing workshop, I am pretty sure that most of them would say no.
- I have multiple students who spend most of their time with me wishing they were anywhere but school.
- I have started to wish for some of my students to be different kinds of students instead of simply accepting them for who they are and helping them to grow from there.
- I have allowed myself to get sucked into gossip amongst the adults I work with and I have allowed myself to let my frustrations with situations that are outside of my control impact the way that I interact with my students.
I could go on for a whole lot longer, but I think you probably get the idea.
The truth is, the ways that I see myself as not quite good enough are not nearly as important as the fact that by the end of the day on Friday, I had, in fact, convinced myself that I am not quite good enough. And that feeling has sat heavy with me thus far into this weekend. There are a million reasons that I could give for how I got here, to this dark place. There are a million ways that I could explain how heavy these dark places can feel. For me, my extreme highs as a teacher are often kept in balance with my extreme lows.
I don’t take these dark places lightly. I think the part of me that sometimes allows me to be a really great teacher is also the part of me that sometimes allows me to be a really NOT great teacher. I care so deeply about what I do. I work and reflect and adapt and change and tweak and challenge myself and my thinking because I take my responsibility to these children so seriously. This act of caring so much. It comes at a price. Because when things aren’t working. When things aren’t going right, I cannot simply step back and accept that it is just a bad hour or day or week or month. When things aren’t going right, I cannot just be okay with it. And sometimes, that makes me take out my frustrations on the very people that I care so deeply about.
Because it doesn’t just feel like a bad day. it feels like a complete failure. And when I start to feel that way, when things feel as if they are spiraling out of control towards failure, I think that I start to desperately grasp at whatever I can to get things back on the right track. And sometimes that results in me saying things to my students that I just wish I didn’t say. And that is when I know that I am teaching from the dark place.
So it doesn’t really matter how I got here. What matters is that by Monday, when I walk back into that classroom, I need to have figured out a way to get myself out of where I currently am.
That does NOT mean that I plan to have all of my problems figured out by Monday morning. it does NOT mean that by Monday morning I will have a magic cure to inspire all those students who have yet to be inspired in my classroom. It does NOT mean that by Monday morning I will suddenly know how to make all of my students fall in love with reading and with writing and with learning and with school.
What it does mean, is that by Monday morning I need to have remembered that THIS, where I am right now, this is not a catastrophe. I have not failed anyone. I may not have done all that I hoped I would have done by this point in the year. But I have not caused harm. I have not done damage. I, quite possibly, may even have done quite a bit of good. Because that is what I forget when I am teaching from the dark place. And that is what I have to remember in order to start to fix things.
So tomorrow will be for deep breaths. Tomorrow will be for remembering that my students are good enough just because they are exactly who they are. Tomorrow will be for telling myself that all of my students are giving me the very best that they have to give. Tomorrow will also be for reminding myself that we are in a good place. That we have grown and learned and stretched and challenged ourselves. Tomorrow will be for telling myself that I am quite good enough. I do know what I am doing. I can keep getting better. And that we are all going to be okay.