I spent most of last week feeling like I was not enough. Here we were in March and I found myself increasingly worried about the relationships that I had built with this year’s students. I worried that I did not know them well enough. I worried that we did not have enough fun together. I worried that they did not like me enough. I worried that they did not feel successful enough when they were in my room. I worried that they did not know that I was on their side. And I worried that I was loosing whatever touch that I once had to make every child in my classroom feel seen and accepted and loved for exactly who they are.
By Thursday afternoon, I had myself convinced that I should no longer be a classroom teacher. It was time to move on.
And, please know, I did not assume that any of this was because of the kids themselves. I had long ago figured out that whoever walks through my door each year, each day, is absolutely worthy of feeling like they are loved and accepted in our classroom. Is absolutely worthy of feeling like they have me on their side. Is absolutely worthy of feeling like a success.
No. This was not a problem with the kids. This was certainly a problem with me.
So then, I had to figure out what was going on. And I started to think about what was different in my room this year.
I am now a mom of a toddler. A four-year-old to be exact. A non-stop, never quiet, only-child, energetic, strong-willed four-year-old. I love her in a way I never knew I could love another person. And she also wears. me. out. So maybe that was it?
Maybe. But I didn’t think that was the whole story. That would be too easy to be the whole story. There was certainly nothing about that situation that was going to change any time soon. So it had to be something else as well.
And then another thought hit me. This year. Our work together. The work my students and I do each day. It has gotten heavier. This year. The heaviness of our work is greater because the heaviness of the world is greater.
In the past three years, the work that my students and I have engage in has changed. Changed and continued to change. Learning to be better readers and writers used to be our endpoint. Now, we work to become better readers and better writers so that we can work to make the world a better place. We take on the challenges of the world and we lock arms together and try to fight against them.
This work. It is heavy.
And this year, I feel that intensely. This year we have taken on conversations on race and privilege and power. This year we have taken on stereotypes and the danger of a single story. This year we have taken on current social issues like the immigration ban, police brutality and the refugee crisis. This year we have tried to make our way through the stories of the ever growing list of people who need the rest of us to stand up and fight alongside of them. This year we have looked at the world and not shied away from the things that are uncomfortable or unsettling or upsetting. We have stared those things right in the face and we have walked forward together.
And I am so proud of the work that we have done. I would have felt deep regret if we were not doing this work. I am so proud of the learning that we have done. Of the growing we have done. Of the learning how to fight that we have done. I am so proud of my students and the way they have faced these challenges head on.
And I also believe, with my whole heart, that making our work meaningful, in the world outside of our classroom, it changes what we do and brings our learning to a whole new level. Doing authentic work, work that matches what is being done in the world outside of our classroom, it creates such deep learning experiences and truly creates the life-long learners that we profess to always want our students to be. This work matters. And not just to me. It matters to my students. It increases engagements and lengthens the lasting effects of our learning.
And through all of this heavy lifting, we have also taken time to laugh. We have stopped to be silly. We have stopped to make towers out of straws and index cards. We have stopped to read picture books for no other reason than because they made us laugh. We have done all of these things so that we can remember what we are fighting for.
But still. The work we have done. It is heavy.
And when I look back on the year that we have had so far, there may certainly have been less “fun” than there has been in the past. But I have to remember to look at what has filled its place.
This year we have learned how to learn about the struggles of others that might be too easy for us to ignore. This year we have learned how to learn about issues from multiple perspectives even when some of those perspectives are hard for us to stomach. This year we have learned how to raise our voices and demand change. This year we have learned not just to repeat what we have been told but to ask questions about what we are not certain of and then go out and seek information that will allow us to build our beliefs on a foundation of reliable information.
This has been our work this year. This has been our focus. And yes, that makes this year feel different, but different cannot always be a bad thing. Different can simply be what is needed in a particular moment.
And while we have done this work, yes, other things have been lacking. I have done fewer whole-class book talks this year. I have spent less time cultivating the joy of reading that I know is so vital for our students. I have spent less time growing our reading and writing community in the same ways that I have in the past.
This year, these past few years, my guiding principles have centered around social justice. That has been the foundation of so much of the work that we do in our classroom. It has guided most every choice that I have made and it has determined the path that we have travelled on. This tendency to bend towards social justice and increasingly heavy work, it has forced us to bend away from other things that I know are vitally important for our kids.
But here is what the distance and space of a weekend away from work has allowed me to realize:
Each teacher a student has. We are only one tile in the entire mosaic of a child’s education.
So while my focus has been on social justice, I can trust that next year, each of my students will meet new teachers who have new focuses. While I have devoted time to some things at the expense of time on other things, next year, each of my students will meet new teachers who will spend new time in new ways.
Each one of us, we are guided by the things that we believe in and it is okay, in fact, it is a wonderful thing that we each believe in something slightly different. Because our students, they need so many things, far more things that any one of us could ever be or ever provide. We cannot, we should not, try to be every thing to every one. Because a child will not have just one teacher and that is a wonderful thing.
So now, it is Sunday evening. I no longer feel like I should be walking away from the classroom. In fact, I am more excited than ever to walk right back into my classroom and, hopefully, stay there for a very long time. And I can see my place more clearly, one tile in a much larger mosaic. And that makes me feel so much better.
And as I think about the week ahead, I stop and think about the week that just ended as well. And as I think about my students, I remember one student in particular who, as if she knew exactly what I needed to hear on Friday, looked up at me and said, “Is there some kind of award for teaching or something? Because I really think that you should get one.” And that helps me to remember that we ARE doing okay. We ARE building something special. And even if it does not feel like it in the chaos of every moment and every day, this heavy work, it does build strong relationships and it creates a place where we all feel like we are working on the exact same side.