“If your profession has a national appreciation day, you’re probably being exploited” -Twitter c. 2021
I’ve never been one to shy away from the truth. Specifically when it comes to my interests like my career as a math teacher. Today, May 4th 2021, is National Teacher Appreciation Day in the middle of National Teacher Appreciation Week. With the way this year has gone, I gotta tell you all that I almost hung up my badge for good. I could have never envisioned when I sat in my first teaching class back in the spring of 2008 my freshman year of college that I would have to adapt to teaching in a global pandemic. I would have had no idea about the anxiety that I would have about 45% average attendance rate for my classes. I could not fathom trying to get kids engaged from behind a computer screen. There have been many times this school year where I thought “I am failing these kids. I am no good. What am I doing?” I find myself constantly sitting in my class or in my car and wondering if I am making any waves like spitting into the Atlantic Ocean.
If I am allowed to be real for a second: I started up my therapy sessions talking about my fears when it comes to failing my students. Recently at school, I opened up to my students (high schoolers) about my fears of trying to manage teaching in a digital setting while also having students in person. Having been in a hybrid setting for almost a week and a half now, this is the most mentally fatigued I have been this year. Add to that just the everyday ins and out of this profession: meetings, emails, phone calls, management, assessments and over 200 different personalities and learning types of my students.
So why do it? Why have all the hassle, the stress, the heartache and the blame? Why suffer through outsiders constantly looking down on your profession because you get the summer off? Why should I continue to come out of pocket to fund my classroom, try to engage burned out and tired students, try to reach out to some families who would rather have your head on a platter than a civil conversation with you? Why continue to spit into the ocean? Because you have to believe in something bigger than yourself.
Legacy, what is a legacy?
It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to seeHamilton: An American Musical c. 2015
On this Teacher Appreciation Day 2021, I want to encourage all who read this or not to consider something better coming down the line something that you nor I are guaranteed to witness with our own eyes: a better future for humanity. Adults who get into this profession want to ideally leave the world better than when they found it. There’s a need for great people in our society. People who put the needs of others before their own, even when less than favorable conditions or attitudes tell them otherwise. People who can take something abstract and make it concrete. People who are shaped and fashioned into the servant leaders needed to take our country into the next generation. People who will spit into the ocean, even when told they shouldn’t waste their time.
The analogy of spitting into the ocean is not mine. I borrowed it from a speaker from a convocation I attended in college about the challenges and blessing on teaching in the inner city. The speaker, a 2nd grade teacher by the name of Mr. G, was at the time a multi-year experienced teacher at the primary grades on Milwaukee Northwest side. Known for his engagement and positive student relationships, here’s the paraphrased story:
Someone once asked me “why do you teach in the inner city? It’s got to be a lot like spitting into the ocean. Well my friends, I am here to tell you that it is a lot like spitting to the ocean. Teaching, especially at schools in underserved communities like Milwaukee’s North side is a lot like spitting into the ocean: does it really make a difference? The long history of social and economic injustices can be seen in all of the students I teach. I know that somedays will be great and there’ll be a ton of amazing progress, and other days will be an uphill battle in the snow. If this you believe this is your calling, then spit my friends. Spit as far as you can into the ocean. Then on the next day, spit further.Mr. G c.2010
On this day I want to tell all of you who feel that tug on your heart to serve the public as nurses, social workers, and yes even teachers: spit as far as you can. Don’t stop doing your job the right way just because you cannot see your garden’s harvest. Love your kids like crazy, do your job to the best of your ability. Know when to say no. Allow yourself some grace. Be visible. Be amazing. Be your authentic unapologetic self. Spit into the ocean. On days like today, reflect on why you continue to do your job. Know when you need to re-sharpen your saw. But don’t ever deny your importance in our society. We cannot survive without teachers. You may not get to witness the fruits of your labor, but society will be better because of your impact.
Thank you for your sacrifices. Now I’m off to get my BOGO Chipotle.
May the 4th be with you! (and also with you)
-YFBF (an eight year teaching professional)