It's that time of year again. And that time seems to come earlier each year. It's the time of year when I am so frustrated, overwhelmed, and annoyed by petty small things (mostly other adults that I work with and all their concerns that seem, to me, to miss the big picture), that it's hard to care.
You see, I'm a teacher.
A public school teacher. In North Carolina: a "right to work" state. "Right to work" seems to be a euphemism for exploiting workers, at least from this side of the fence.
Since I have taught in other states--Alaska, Kansas and Kentucky, namely--I have a wider view than some. I know what it is like in other places.
Some things about my career choice are rough all over. It doesn't pay well, especially not when you consider the level of personal commitment, education and variety of skillset it entails to teach successfully. I'm only half-joking when I say that I can only afford to do this because they pay my husband very well for his work. I know we'd have a lot less nice things if we had to rely on only my income.
It's also a truly staggering load of work each and every day. Each day I am supposed to prepare five forty-five minute long lessons on a variety of topics that include technology, differentiating my presentation for a variety of learning styles, background knowledge levels, academic skills and interests for 130 people.
With only 90 non-supervisory minutes per workday, I am supposed to also make contact with the families of these children with the good or bad news, collaborate with all the other staff that supports them in their learning (gifted learning experts, exceptional children experts, other subject area teachers, school counselors, school nurse, family welfare experts, autism specialists, hearing impaired support staff, etc., etc., etc.), evaluate whatever work the children produced that day (for 130 people), and handle my own "secretarial" stuff (making copies, responding to emails, submitting paperwork, etc.).
Some things about my job are harder in North Carolina than they were in other states. Unions, for all the negative impact they have on the field (protecting poor teachers and making it hard to fire them; hamstringing potentially awesome programs for fear of setting precedent), also have some tremendous positive impact on my work conditions and I have sorely felt their lack in my six years in North Carolina. My non-supervisory work time is not nearly as protected. The structures for giving and receiving criticism of my performance are not nearly as balanced. Things happen all the time that leave me in a stunned silence. Can they really do that? Yes, apparently they can.
So, why do I stay? And how do I fight the bitterness so that it's a good thing that I am staying?
The obvious answer is the kids. There are plenty of frustrations involved with children, but they are the good kind of frustrations. When I am frustrated with a child, it is because my heart is involved and I want so badly for him or her to find success, to "get it", to learn to use their strengths and safeguard against their weaknesses. These are frustrations that inspire me to great heights and bring out all my strengths. These are frustrations I am successful in combating often enough to feel like I am good at my work.
It's not just the kids though. I really truly love learning. I love thinking about the ways ideas connect, and being surprised by new connections. Maybe there are other fields where I can be paid to live the life of the mind all day, but I haven't found them.
I love the trappings of school as well. I like awards ceremonies and book fairs, school plays and events, showcases and projects. I love trying out new technologies and seeing what young people can make out of them.
If I'm honest with myself, the very difficulty of the work is part of the appeal for me. Thanks to my Mom and Dad and the way they raised me, I'm a workhorse. I delight in checking off large numbers of items from my to-do list. It gives me a sense of accomplishment. I like feeling like not just anyone could do what I do. I like the feeling that my work is big and important. I'm not sure I could feel that way in other fields.
On a bad day, I think, "You hated school when you were in it. Why are you still here?" On those days, I am tired, overwhelmed and feeling put-upon and unappreciated. I mumble to myself and my children suggest that I should take a walk.
But on a good day, I think, "School is my home. It's where I belong." Yep, I'm just that nerdy. And I'm good with that. Here's to more good days!