There is no way for those outside of education to understand the anticipation, the flurry of activity, the early mornings and late nights, the weird and wacky dreams about getting lost or losing a kid (literally and figuratively); unless they think back to when they were a kid and remember the feelings leading up to “Opening Day”. Even then outsiders probably won’t get it. The first days of school are alternately dreaded and longed for depending on one’s perspective. In retirement it is still the same. I long for it and miss it; but still remember dreading it.
Leading up to opening day we stress about: setting up our classrooms, schedules, incoming students, curriculum and materials; the list is endless. We think about our contract or lack thereof; how, yet again, we are working for a system that underpays us and under-appreciates us. Social media is flooded with tic toks, memes, posts and commercials commiserating with poor teachers, lunch ladies, custodians, and administrators. Hell, the most popular new sitcom on television right now is about an underfunded inner city elementary school and the daily comedic events that happen as a result of the sheer neediness of the system and the students. Seriously.
Yet at the end of the day we still go back. Most of us, anyway. I hold nothing against those who leave, after all, I retired. But I downright HONOR and REVERE those who stay. I know you, I see you, I get where you come from. I know how hard it is to keep going back. I also know all the reasons to stay: you are doing noble work, your profession is a calling, your commodity is children, you are responsible for their future, the advancement of society calls for a free and equitable education for all, some children escape home to the safety of a school- I have more than thirty years of the self-talk in my repertoire. Add to it that, in the end, all of that and then some will never be an excuse for anything but the best you have to offer all the time no matter what.
Yet at the end of the day we still go back. Therein lies the rub, the irony, the head-shaking, heart-shattering truth. ALL the PEOPLE, from the parents to Bill Gates, even Oprah, pay homage to educators- yada yada yada. In the end we know that for the most part it is self-serving lip-service. Always and forever, society will give us their children. They will expect us to train them, teach them, fix them, entertain them, protect them, and love them no matter what. Many will expect us to do more for and with them than even they are willing to do. It’s crazy, isn’t it?
Yet at the end of the day we still go back. People think, “Oh, they have summers off.”
“There are so many school vacations.” “The union will protect him.” “Great benefits in teaching.” “Someday she’ll have a pension.” “They just play with kids all day.” I like to think of this as the endless self-talk in order to absolve themselves from their lack of action; absolution from the shame they know they should feel. A society should take care of its children and the people who care for them. Teachers, like many segments of society, have a history of oppression to overcome.
Yet at the end of the day we still go back. “Those who can do; those who can’t teach.” From the time society decided children should be educated individuals with rights, instead of slave-wage farm hands or factory workers, the people who taught them have had to overcome the attitudes of the oppressors. Knowledge is power, oppressors know it, therefore they must fight back against the acquisition of that power so they can continue to oppress. So now, on top of everything else, we are under a microscope with regard to what we teach and how we teach it. What books we read, what we say about current events, all of it now fodder for those who would wish to keep others down. Under the guise of religion or political beliefs the attack is on; teachers now have to watch their backs and their mouths when TEACHING their students.
Yet at the end of the day we still go back. Mr. Rogers said when you’re in trouble, look for the helpers. Well, in education, outside of the building itself, the helpers can be pretty freaking hard to find. Schools are under siege by outside forces that think they can “fix” them. Sure, and they will “fix” them into exclusionary money makers that are self-serving for those who think their progeny above the rest of the riff raff. Mr. Rogers also said, “The world needs a sense of worth, and it will achieve it only by its people feeling that they are worthwhile.” This goes for students and teachers. How worthwhile do you feel?
Yet at the end of the day we still go back.
And now you know I could go on forever - and I will. More topics to follow - but hear this.Education is the most important gifted tool in life that anyone can get- and you give it. Delivering it is more than “a calling” - it is a crusade, an odyssey, a struggle, a battle and a grind of the most noble sort. Don’t give up. Find yourself a mantra and speak it to keep yourself going- because this world needs you more now than ever - people need to learn how to think again and teachers need to show them how. The advancement of society depends on it.