Not depressed tired. Not complaining tired. Not even angry tired – not this time. Just… tired.
Meghan Loyd used this term a while back, and – like Meghan – it’s captivated me ever since. It’s just so true.
This isn’t one of those “our job is harder than anyone else’s” posts. I don’t know if it is. I used to be wiped coming home after a day in retail, managing a small music store, but it was different – more of a “I-hate-my-life-and-resent-everyone-who-walks-in-and-that’s-probably-not-a-good-career-sign” tired. I used to reach near-zombie states when I was in an ambitious local band back in the day, but that was a sweatier “thank-god-Whataburger-is-open-at-3-a.m.-but-I’ll-suffer-for-this-in-the-morning” type of exhaustion.
I’m not interested in trying to one-up anyone else’s tired. I lack the interest or the energy. But I would like to look for a moment at this particular flavor of semi-somnambulation – “teacher tired.”
Some of it’s physical. Despite what popular blogs and edu-books tell you, we still spend an enormous amount of time each day on our feet, moving, speaking, listening, observing, gauging, considering, adjudicating, and otherwise trying to juggle-inspire-drag-trick-cajole a barrel of disparate children into learning – often against their deepest wills and wants. There are very few lesson plans so clever that once wound up and let go, they pretty much run the room themselves the rest of the day. So yeah – we’re tired at the end of the day.
Some of it’s mental. No matter how well you know your pedagogy or content, your mind pulls a half-dozen directions throughout the day as you try to keep track of what you’re saying or what’s being said, what you’re doing or what’s being done, who looks engaged and who doesn’t, what seems to be working and what doesn’t, and whether or not you’ve already made that joke or if that was the other three times today.
There are constant interruptions, perpetual paperwork, and endless bureaucratic requirements you’re expected to manage before, after, and during each class without losing whatever flow you’ve managed to establish with your kids. And the questions – you just never know what kids are going to ask, or why. You don’t want to shoot down some odd-but-sincere inquiry due to your own impatience or paranoia, but neither do you want to cater to inattentiveness or intentional distraction. Are they suddenly curious about this tangential issue, or are they just being squirrels? Should you nurture their individualized learning urges, or are they screwing with you and snickering in their dark, twisted souls?
So yeah – it’s a taxing gig even on the best days.
Not that you let it show. Whatever else you are during the school day, you are – for better or worse – one of their primary models for what an educated adult with some sense of personal and professional responsibility looks and sounds like. It’s not about being “fake”; it’s about maintaining the dynamics, expectations, and positive energy required to keep school moving along and more-or-less on track.
I dunno, maybe some of you need only unleash a single dose of "the learning" on your eager wards, then hiply sit on your desk offering pithy insights and witty redirection as they sprout and thrive intellectually and interpersonally. Most of us, however, are running some version of a hybrid engine – drawing on our personal reserves to supplement the student energy which we’re pretty sure should be doing most of the work but… their batteries must be in backwards, or something.
I myself find it particularly difficult to stare every day at so much ability, so much – pardon the cliché – potential, knowing many of them can’t or won’t see it. Some will, eventually, but others will never use it or value what they could be.
It’s draining to watch kids in whom you are deeply invested kick and drag and protest and resist even when you KNOW they could spend half-as-much energy just playing along. Yes, the system is flawed. Yes, the structure is limiting. Of course, the inane and the mandated infect it all. But there’s still beauty and truth and meaning and function in so much of it – OH THE POSSIBILITIES!!! They just can’t (or won’t) see it, and you can’t make them. It’s exhausting. Ask any of us.
I don’t think teachers are martyrs by any stretch, but it’s an emotional sacrifice to remain politically and socially vigilant, rebuking principalities and powers and determined ignorance in high places. Yes, we chose this – a profession built on willful delusion and deep convictions, standing awkwardly against whatever rough beast slouches towards Bethlehem this time around. We insist on believing that all kids have value, and can learn, and that they’re not all the same. We refuse to reduce them to "meat widgets” whose only function in this life is to serve their corporate overlords. (And before someone asks, of course we want them to be employed and make themselves useful; we just don’t believe that’s our sole source of meaning and purpose in this fallen world.)
Turns out being a bunch of godless, un-American heretics is tiring. And I’ve avoided the hardest part.
I have no interest in compiling tales of woe and suffering on behalf of my students. Besides, they’re not my stories to tell. They belong to those who live them, and press through them, and who are one way or the other shaped by the sheer volume of darkness some of them deal with before puberty. IT’S JUST SO WRONG.
We can talk about “snowflakes" and say “back in my day” and post memes about 18-year-olds fighting in Vietnam, and that’s all fine – like I said before, I’m not interested in “winning” this one. But I’m not all that convinced our generation turned out nearly as polished and durable as we like to suggest, given the state of things at the moment. Maybe being thrown in that pool, hit with that belt, and shot at in that swamp didn’t make us tough and self-reliant so much as, say... callous a-holes and opioid addicts addicted to porn and reality TV. But damn those weaklings for not wanting to follow in our footsteps, right?
I have too many students who are expected to excel at everything they do, and who do everything. It's unsustainable because they hate all of it and resent the people who make them keep doing it. I refuse to doubt parental good intentions, but if I had the power to do so, I’d beg them to CHILL THE %#*& OUT. Tell your kids you love them and they’re doing a good job and you’re proud of them, and you know they’re not going to end up like they did – or like their older brother – or like their dad who left way back when, or whatever. You can nudge them towards excellence later, Mom – you’re losing them and they’re losing it and more pushing won’t fix it.
I have too many kids in the middle of custody disputes, or living with friends of their Aunt because they couldn’t all sleep in the car any more, or whose parents are alcoholics, or who are in counseling for things they don’t want to deal with, or who refuse to go to counseling to begin with. Girls who’ve been booted from their social circle or left by the boy they trusted enough to do things for and who lack the support system to cope with the emotional fallout. Half of my boys are baby giraffes trying to emulate their favorite YouTube channel all day and the other half think they’re Danny Zuko in Grease. Somewhere inside of that, though, they’re freaking out a little because neither is working.
I have kids wrestling with depression – something I’d long ago accepted was a very real thing, but which I simply could not appreciate until watching it so closely this year. I’ve had to call child services to report abuse while trying to maintain the trust of students who fear I’ve just made their lives worse instead of better (and who may not be wrong). I have kids who handle their own poverty rather casually, leaving me unsure whether it’s a front or whether they’ve simply had to step up and “be the adult” in their situation. Many who work, many more responsible for siblings, far too many who have no reasonable options for at least the next two or three years, and I have to focus on “yeah but once you graduate…!”
Sometimes it’s self-imposed pressure to get into the right college and find the right career, whatever that means at 15. Sometimes it’s fear of parents finding out about a single quiz grade, even if their class average remains stellar. Some are just whiney and entitled, but that’s harder than you’d think to untangle from fear, or desperation, or something else I can’t quite put my finger on. Some of my kids I don’t understand at all, even this late in the year – so that’s unforgiveable.
We love them all – sometimes naturally, sometimes by force of will. You try to leave it at the door when you leave – boundaries and self-care and all that. The gig does have its upsides – those moments they “get it” are nice, as are those few times you feel like something you’ve said or done has helped a young person find some sort of direction or hope. Also, I get to learn and talk about history for a living. I love my job – most of us do.
But I’m tired. I suspect you are, too. We might as well own it.
I'm going for coffee. Want one?