Teaching is not fair.
I thought about this over the weekend when I faced the stack of papers I needed to grade and the lessons I needed to plan. My husband went into work yesterday, but at least he got comp time for it. I got nothing.
It’s not fair. But let me explain what I really mean about it not being fair.
Every year I tell my students about my dad. This past week, I got a new fourth period, so I told them about Daddy, too. Here’s what I told them.
My dad is one of ten kids. He grew up poor, so poor that he was often a Salvation Army angel, so poor that he often went hungry, so poor that he couldn’t play sports in school. He had to drop out of high school to work to feed his siblings when he was in eleventh grade, which happens to be the grade I teach. It wasn’t fair. My Daddy is smart. Gifted, even. Brilliant, probably. But he was hungry and not treated well.
But my daddy made a decision early on in life to make things right. He chose a good person to marry. He chose a woman who embodied love, hard work, dedication, and all the things he wanted to see in his children. And he worked. So during my childhood, while we weren’t rich, we never went hungry. Daddy made sure we had everything we needed not only to survive but to fly. He made sure my sisters and I would not be tethered to chains of poverty and ignorance. He did this not by buying us lots of stuff. He did this by educating us, by working hard, by speaking words of strange and wonderful wisdom into us that would follow us always. He did this by loving us.
So when I stand in front of the classroom, I see my daddy in these children. I see him 45 years ago: sarcastic, maybe not wanting to be there, maybe wishing he were out fishing, maybe thinking the story was pointless, maybe flirting with the girl sitting next to him. I see him every single day in my classroom. And because I see my Daddy, who I love so very much, I work hard. Of course I want him to be proud of me, but it’s more than that. I see him there, in my students, and I want the best for him. I want to turn back time so he can have everything he never had. It’s not fair that I can’t. All I can do is make it right for my own students. In so many ways, I teach for Daddy.
There is another way my job is not fair. So much of public education is broken, and so much of it angers me. However, I find great solace within with walls of my classroom.
The joy I find in instruction makes up for the frustration and exhaustion I feel outside of my classroom. When I entered the teaching profession almost twenty years ago, I entered it with an attitude of a minister. While my job is to teach Language Arts and Rhetoric, I provide that service to my students out of love, not just for a paycheck. Every student who enters my room has immense value and deserves to be loved and cared about. Every student has potential to do good in this world; I have the great honor of being a part of that.
It truly isn’t fair that tomorrow morning while the rest of the adults have to go to their jobs, I will get to go to a place where I will get to talk about Mark Twain and Plato and subordinate clauses! I get to discuss how place is important in literature, what the message is in pop culture, the meaning of epistemology and how we can escape Plato’s metaphorical cave. And later this month my students will write for me, and oh, what an honor it is to have them trust me with their words! And we will read Miller and Fitzgerald and Walker and Plath and Emerson and Hemingway and Descartes and Hobbes and whoever else they want to read, and what joy there will be! I don’t mean to make you jealous, but I get to read The Great Gatsby aloud to fourth period next month. We will read Walker’s “Everyday Use” and I will cry. I always do. I will get mad at the end of The Crucible. Darn you, Abigail Williams! No!
What will make all of this especially wonderful are the students. I will get to share all of this with my kids. They are the best part of my job. Tomorrow 123 students will filter in and out of my classroom. I am honestly thankful for each one, because each one is a life with immeasurable value and beauty. Also, teenagers are weird and interesting. Sometimes they make the job challenging, but they are worth the challenge. Even on the worst days, they give me so many reasons to smile and remind me why I am there at all. Make no mistake, it is not the children who drive the good teachers away from education. In fact, the children are the reason I stay. They are a constant source of joy for me. While I love teaching writing and literature, I think I would be happy teaching almost anything, as long as my students were there.
I went into teaching to share the love of God to others and to serve others. In truth, I have been the one ministered to. I have been the one who is continually blessed. I thank God for this job. More importantly, I thank God for every single student I have ever had the pleasure and honor of teaching.
And I thank God that I get to go to my classroom tomorrow. Like Carroll O’Connor’s character says in Return to Me when his granddaughter offers to help him, “No darlin’. Not at all. I’m blessed with work.”
No, teaching is definitely not fair.
Welcome to my Blog! I am a wife, mother of three, high school English teacher, and a graduate of the Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University. Before anything else, I am a woman of faith.