My freshman geography teacher’s mother was dying. Word got around. But even if we hadn’t heard from the grapevine, it was easy enough to tell something was wrong. Classroom behavior was disastrous. We watched video after video. She cried at least once a week. I hated the class.
Now that I’m a teacher, I see the experience differently. I know how incredibly difficult it can be sometimes to set one’s personal life aside and crank out effective teaching. Not many professions require the mix of performance and caring that teaching does. I smile when students are shocked to discover I have a FaceBook page, use Skype, or shop at Target because I remember thinking exactly the same kinds of things about my teachers when I was their age. Seeing teachers as “real people” is a stretch for many students.
In the past 14 months, three of my grandparents have died, I’ve had surgery, and my parents have filed for divorce. More times than I’d like to admit, I’ve felt like a bit of a wreck. I do think I’ve done a good job “keeping myself together,” at least in front of my students and colleagues.
In the midst of the past year, I’ve been grateful for my students, my virtual and school colleagues, and my friends. When I returned to school today, a boat made of popsicle sticks and colored with markers was on my desk. It bore a note reading, “We hope you feel better!” and was signed by three of my students. In the past week, several teachers have tweeted encouragement and condolences. Karen made me laugh when she suggested getting to school with your clothes on some days is worthy of celebration. Steve passed on a reminder of this passage from Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet. Boyd suggested Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. The 6th grade social studies teacher at school has been a patient and encouraging presence. Nothing replaces old friends, and it was wonderful to have dinner with friends from Duke Divinity School at the Q-Shack tonight.
This year has also made me more mindful of the outside lives of my students. With what private aches did he walk into my classroom this morning? Why is she so desperate for the attention of the class? Who is he worried about when he stares off into space?
The teaching life is not an easy one, especially when life intrudes into the classroom, but fellow travelers lighten the load.