I wrote this post in my head yesterday, and now have a moment to give it its attention. (I am certain there are whole novels in my mind, if I could just drop them in a pensieve.)
Here’s the thing about this year; it is my fifth year of teaching. As my older son said this summer, just like in the fifth book of the Harry Potter series, it’s a long, exhaustive year, but a pivotal one for Potter’s narrative, as it is mine. It has been a year of change, surprises, curve balls, and the like, more so than normal. And one huge change is a choice I have made: I am going to put my family first for awhile.
Shocking, I know.
My own family really needs me. Over the years, they have supported my autopsy-esque turning myself inside out for work and career. I won’t say I am or was a workaholic, because to me that suggests a certain compulsiveness that overrides passion. I was (and am sure still am) very passionate about teaching. I am not sure if it’s erosion, dimensioned expectations, or regrouping, but after these years at the same tough middle school, and the two years of ‘teacher boot camp’ while earning my Masters, the summers of writing workshops, trainings, organizing, and yes…doing my National Boards last year (and having to redo Entry #1 again), I have put my family through a lot. I have put myself through a lot. I gained weight, didn’t play, and didn’t breathe.
In the past, I never understood those teachers who were so protective of their contractual day. I was always there with my hand up, willing to help, sponsoring say, the Anime Club (which I still miss), and spending hours cleaning my classroom, organizing lessons, filling out scope and sequence charts, and creating epically imaginative and engaging lessons. Saturdays? Just another chance for me to get the building key and come in a work for a few hours while my husband could handle home duties. (I probably shouldn’t say that laundry didn’t get done, or any other domestic chores -those were still mine; but he is a wonderful husband and father, and never once said to me “stay home.”)
A few teachers enjoy the matyrdom of sacrifice, while others simply relish the hours spent, unpaid, volunteering, with students to change the world. (Albeit many of these teachers do not have children of their own–not a judgment, just an observation.) I’m not sure where I fit in anymore.
This year, I cannot find the time for my family, myself, and the litany of demands, unless I take control over my day. Both my children are participating in music: one I drive in the morning, the other needs to be picked up in the afternoon. My husband reminds me that one reason I went into this field was so I could still ‘be a mom’ and have a job I loved too. I let that love imbalance me.
When I am teaching, my students know they are my priority. I see them. Yesterday a new student gave me an Orange Crush. For those of you who do not teach in tough, highly diverse schools, you may not “get” that the offering of food=love. My Samoan students call me Mrs. Alofa (Love). (I apologize for the transliteration) and hold out sacks of Cheetos during reading time (I told them if they really love me, because I’ve lost weight, they won’t tempt me.) (And PLEASE – I did bring in some whole-grain, gluten free crackers I bought at Costco…)
Yesterday they wanted me to continue reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. (Yes, it’s rated PG13; I didn’t say the rough words out loud, and I have permission slips from their parents- calm down). I did read Chapter 2. It is the toughest thing I can read out loud. I cry, my words choke, and though many friends say I am a “pretty crier,” (whatever that means – I guess when my brown eyes well up, I look good?), my students see me turn myself inside-out. It’s a chapter about the futility of poverty. It’s about the death of a best friend. It’s about parents who want to give their child everything, but are weakened by their broken dreams. (I dare anyone to try to read that chapter out loud and not cry.) That level of emotion–they know I am honest with them, care about them, and do what it takes to ensure that their dreams aren’t wasted by doing everything I can to empower them: THIS IS WHY YOU READ. THIS IS WHY YOU LEARN, and TALK, and HOPE, and THINK.
And at the end of the day, I have chosen to not throw my own life on the pyre: it is not a choice bewteen the fruits of the land or the livestock. I don’t want to bear the mark of Cain. I just want to go home and make dinner.
So I need to go at 3:31. At least this year.
Postscript: Another acknowledgment to the betryal of teachers in our nation. We just want to work. We don’t want to be millionaires. We are taking nothing from you.