Today, I said these words to one of my classes:
I cannot care about your education more than you do. Not anymore. I cannot carry your education–all 25 of you in this class–on my back while you bear none of the load. It is exhausting. You have to care just a little bit. You have to start carrying some of the care, too, some of the work. I’m glad I scheduled work for you to do independently because I’m not sure I want to stand up here in front of you anymore today.
Melodramatic, perhaps, but here we are. I said it, quietly and calmly, in my squeaky, nasally, congested teacher voice, emphatic hand gestures and all. And I meant it. I truly am quite tired–tired of feeling and caring and carrying so much. Not that I’m going to stop. But the fatigue is undoubtedly there.
I have all these grand ideas about teaching kids. I have these expansive conceptual plans, these statements of inquiry, these activities and some differentiation and intentional scaffolding. The students will learn how to analyze literature, and they will write with impeccable grammar, and when I teach them, they will be inspired to love learning, and–and yet, on the daily, I am met with the reality of my job. 20-30 students. And their stories. And their struggles. And their sufficiencies and inadequacies, confusion, fatigue. And their fears and doubts and apathy and angst. And I’m just me.
I have all these grand ideas about the kind of wife I want to be. The kind of friend. The kind of daughter. The kind of Jesus-follower. The kind of writer. Reader. Homemaker. Artist. And lately I’ve been feeling the heavy weight of just in, “I’m just me.”
Just me. I am just me. I am not any of the things that I wish I could be–the ever present, ever reliable, social and outgoing, giving and generous friend. The present and giving, supportive and selfless wife. The dedicated lover of art and the written word. The writer of words that expresses herself in meaningful, redemptive ways. The Christ-follower that champions truth and justice and mercy and grace and meets needs.
And don’t even get me started on teaching.
(I’m told we all feel like shitty teachers for the first few years; great. I have a long few years ahead of me, I guess.)
I feel so utterly inadequate to meet their needs in the way I feel called to, in the way I need to. How can I give them the education they will need when I hardly know how to plan my lessons or curriculum? Do I have the brain power and knowledge it takes to teach them well, the social energy to get to know them, the emotional capacity to love them? When they move on to senior year or junior year, what the hell will they have learned from me? Do I have what it takes to be the teacher I want and need to be?
Yes? I mean, I surely hope so. I care, so maybe that’s enough for year one.
But they get to me from time to time–the students, I mean. I don’t let them see it, but I’ve been hurt by them before. And I get angry with them. Their incessant phone use irks me to no end, and the the way they flippantly ignore their work, the way they interrupt me or ignore me baffles me. Beyond that, I fall short in so many ways, and I can’t help but wonder if I’m failing them; I don’t grade their work expediently because I spend most of my time planning what I’m going to teach them that I don’t have the time I need to grade what they turn in to me. I don’t communicate as clearly as I would like. I’m inconsistent in enforcing classroom norms and policies. I’m not strict enough with behavior, but maybe I grade too hard. I’m too much this, too little that. To be honest, I’m not sure this paragraph will ever end; I think I could write a novel cataloging my type and severity all of the insufficiencies that plague my perfectionist mind.
Eh, it is what it is, and truth be told, I know this disillusionment and depression will pass, but it sucks when it’s here. I’m stuck here for a bit, and I just have to ride the wave. I knew teaching would do this to me; it’s one of the reasons I hesitated entering the profession for as long as I did. Can my mental health handle this? Am I mentally strong enough, despite the anxiety, despite the depression, to push through the inevitable triggering of emotions and still be a good teacher and more importantly, a healthy person? A friend? A present wife? And in the future, a loving and mindful mother?
I caught the respiratory bug that’s going around, so I was out on Monday. It was the head-cold, sure, but it was also the crippling depression and heavy anxiety that left me falling in and out of crying spells–the blinding, meandering kind that never really truly resolve but just sort of… Halt. It was like I was wringing myself out. A long, painful process that was cathartic and clarifying and much needed.
“It’s February,” I’m told. “The students look miserable, but it’s not because of you,” I’m told. “Don’t take it personally.”
Harumph. “Oh, I’ll try not to,” I say, knowing full well how that will probably go. (Cue eye roll here.) Sometimes I think my depression and anxiety make the “not taking things personally” stuff a bit harder for me–not to mention my personality (perfectionist, people-pleaser, peace-keeper, high-achiever, obsessive, sensitive…)
I told Nick once after a particularly depressive and anxious day of teaching, “I feel like this career makes more sense for someone without depression and anxiety. Teaching would be just a bit easier if I wasn’t weighed down by my own mental shit.”
Nick laughed. “Pretty sure everything in your life would be a bit easier for you if you weren’t weighed down by your own mental shit.”
I found it oddly comforting, really. In a way, it was an acknowledgement of the day-in and day-out battles I fight against myself and my own mind–of no true fault of my own. And it was also a challenge for me to accept, like he was saying, “Yeah, but what good are ‘easier’ things? They don’t make you stronger, and you’re gonna be tough as nails after this!”
Tough as nails, maybe, but not indestructible. But truth is, I’m never going to the completely unflappable, impenetratable, indomitable woman that is unaffected or unperturbed by the pressures around her, no matter how much I try to posture as such or how much I want to be. I’m simply not. And part of me is really bugged by that. My job is going to inevitably affect me in big ways.
But maybe there is a strength in being affected and allowing yourself to heal from that affection. And maybe, when February hits, you let it do its worst, but you come back swinging whenever you can.
(But really, though, when is spring break?)