I have been spending a lot of time thinking about my work as a public educator. This recent introspection has been brought on but the fact that currently I am mentoring a student teacher. And it wasn’t until these last few months in working with him that I had a new reverence for my profession. As a matter of fact, this recent experience has shown me that the work I do day in and day out cannot be quantified. On a daily basis my work is all-consuming. From the constant adjustments to my lessons based on the needs of my students, to grading paper after paper, to the tedious documentation of student interventions in our district-mandated system, to meeting with and calling parents in my free time, to making copies, grading more papers, and finally doing it all with a smile and grace–I am simply amazed at how demanding ‘just being a teacher’ really is!
Now, even though I have mentored several student teachers throughout my career; it is right now in this very moment and school year that I feel I am at my very-best self. The nuances of how I run my class truly are all-encompassing. At any given time, I am navigating 2-3 different novels, facilitating individual and group projects, creating and giving assessments, and preparing for what’s to come next. Wow, being a teacher is HARD, especially when you write your own curriculum. So, you can imagine just how difficult it is to help guide someone in their quest to become a teacher then layer on your discipline policies, grading scale, organizational techniques, and classroom management approach. Ugh, it is beyond me why people still devalue the teaching profession and why we pay our educators so little…but I digress.
But the reason I wrote this piece was not to tell you how friggen awesome I am. Trust me, I am fully aware of my gifts as an educator and there is no shortage of self-confidence. I wrote a letter to new and struggling teachers and I wanted to share it with the world.
Recently, another student teacher at my school, (not under my guidance) abruptly pulled out of her teaching placement. After 6 months of being in the classroom, she just couldn’t do it anymore. She reached her breaking point, citing not being supported in her classroom, and ultimately the needs of our students being too much, ultimately causing her to crumble under the weight of our work.
My heart hurts for this young woman and for all the others whom have come into this profession and given up before her. This job is not just a job, nor career. Teachers are charged with the greatest task of all, sculpting today’s youth into tomorrow’s leaders, doctors, lawyers, mechanics, writers, painters, innovators, movers, shakers and more! My brain struggles to make sense of how we demand so much of teachers, yet compensate them so poorly while allowing them to be disrespected by multiple entities such as administration, lawmakers, the press, parents, and more. But for me, out of all this darkness must come light—it always does.
To my fellow educators, new and veteran, from far and wide; this is for you.
Remember you matter and have a place here.
Thank you for all that you do in shaping young hearts and minds.
This work is HARD. It is soulful and soulless at the same time.
You are expected to be everything to everyone at all times—while being your best self, day in and day out regardless of what may be going on in your personal life; all while delivering culturally relevant and rigorous content to the masses.
The demands are never-ending. The stakes are high and the cost to you and your soul is heavy.
It takes a strong person, almost one with a hardened heart to do the work we do in urban schools, but also someone with a soft-gooey center to let the kids in. To love them when they need it most, yet also just hard enough to push them to reach beyond themselves into the vast unknown.
This job and this work isn’t for everyone. It demands a ferocity of heart and soul that can fizzle out faster than a candle without oxygen IF you do not take care of yourself FIRST and FOREMOST, always. Cardinal rule number one of leading a life of service is to serve yourself FIRST. You must always remain number one in your life. For in order to be a great leader, to guide these children; you must ensure you are protecting your head and heart at all costs.
As a teacher, your heart and soul is boundless. You see the good and untapped potential in every child that walks through your door. Your unbounding positivity is precisely what sets you apart from others and why you sought out this profession. But doing this work, being of such great importance to so many people comes at a price and often times, since we do not protect ourselves from such vulnerabilities, it is us whom must pay the toll. However, you must learn how to adapt, how to survives, and above all how to preserve yourself. And while you do not see it now in the midst of all the trials of your day, and trust me you cannot—what you do and what you say matters to these kids.
Take it from someone who routinely is branded “The Mean Teacher” because I have high standards and push my students to produce meaningful work. What the kids say about me hurts. It hurts in ways I cannot convey. BUT, I am the teacher they never forget. I am the teacher they know would do anything for them. I am the teacher they come back to see years later, contact, and herald as the person who helped get them to college. So, while it’s hard to see the light now…You are igniting the spark to a fire that will burn brightly for many, many, many years to come.
Stay the course and keep fighting the good fight.
Yours in Solidarity,
Arielle Miller AKA as my students call me “Miss”