Every day you stand up in front of 20, 30, sometimes more than 100 students. You are in charge. Parents trust you with their babies, their children, their world and you take that responsibility and that trust quite seriously.
What you are able to accomplish in a day, let alone a school year is nothing short of amazing. Like a coach, a field marshall or CEO, you lead and others follow. It feels good to know that you are able to touch lives and influence change each and every day.
But that doesn’t mean that you don’t get nervous, scared and afraid.
Of course you do.
“Everyone gets scared from time to time. It’s totally normal, and anyone who says otherwise is a liar.”
What you do is very difficult. The number of the decisions you must make. The importance of the decisions you must make. And the ramifications of the decisions you must make is more than many non-educators could possibly fathom.
You are going to make mistakes. It’s inevitable. And it can be scary knowing that you work in a profession in which you are going to be facing situations that you have never encountered before. The curriculum is changing. What is expected of you is changing. And more than anything, your students are changing.
It can be scary and it’s okay to say so. Once you do, it will give others around you the courage to do the same. More importantly, it will help others to realize that they are not alone.
Contrary to what many folks outside of education think, a teacher’s day does not end when they leave the building. Even if they are highly efficient or fortunate enough to have nothing to take home (which rarely happens) their brains are still churning, trying to figure out what they can do better the next day. The secondary stress they take on while caring for their students is exhausting. Researchers are beginning to compare secondary traumatic stress to second hand smoke.
No, you might not be going through the toxic stress and trauma that your students are, but you see its results. You spend your days doing everything you can to help ease your students’ pain. You listen, you observe and you nurture. And it begins to take a toll.
Yes, teaching is incredibly rewarding. Having the opportunity to change childrens’ lives can’t be put into words – until you’ve been there. A stressful day can be instantly turned around when you help a student believe in themselves. You’re rewriting lifescripts whether you realize it or not.
But… you’re tired. You don’t want to admit it because you feel it will make you look weak. Like you can’t do your job.
This has to stop!
It’s okay to admit that you’re tired. You should be tired. Those that don’t work in education have a hard time grasping the social and emotional toll that teaching can take on a person.
Most people go to work. They perform a task to the best of their ability. And they go home. Teachers don’t have that luxury. Herein lies the major difference. When you go to work, the people (students) that you work with don’t have to listen to you. Now of course we hope that they do. And most of the time everything works out. But not always. And that is where the hard work comes into play.
You have to cajole, convince and even sometimes connive to get your students to work for you. It’s like you are on stage for a seven and half hour play and you are the only character.
You are going to be tired more days than not and there is nothing wrong with admitting such.
I’m Not Sure How Much Longer I Can Keep Going
If any of this sounds familiar, just know that you are not alone. Many of us have felt this way during this difficult stretch. They might not say it, but they struggle during this time of the year too.
What these teachers know that is tough times don’t last but tough people do. At this point you might be thinking to yourself, well I’m not really that tough. Oh contraire. You are.
Being tough has nothing to do with how much you can bench press or how early you wake up each morning. It has nothing to do with how heavy your take-home bag is and it has nothing to do with how silent your class is walking through the hallway. And it has nothing to do with putting on a mask and never shedding a tear.
Being tough is something completely different.
It means making it til the end of the day when you didn’t think you could.
It means giving a student a second chance when most think that they don’t deserve one.
It means teaching your colleague’s class because she is 8 months pregnant and simply needs to sit down.
This year I saw one of the toughest athletes of all time, Michael Jordan, cry as he spoke at Kobe Bryant’s memorial. He wasn’t embarrassed and he wasn’t worried about how he would look on social media. In fact, he even joked about it.
Teachers, I know there is much you want to say, that you’re holding back. I’ve been there. I kept things bottled up. I can tell you from firsthand experience, it didn’t end well. But once I gained the courage, yes courage, to open up and share what was on my mind, I began feeling better—much better. I began confiding in people that I love and that love me. I began trusting myself. And I began sharing my story.
And I made it through the tough times.
And you will too.
Jon Harper is the assistant principal at the New Directions Learning Academy in Cambridge, Md. He is the host of the My Bad podcast and co-host of the Teachers’ Aid podcast, both on the BAM Radio Network. He is also the author of the book, My Bad: 24 Educators Who Messed Up, Fessed Up and Grew!