"Guys, I'm tired."
You have no doubt heard this if you are a teacher or a friend of a teacher. And today, I want to speak to my non-teacher friends. See, your teacher friends are anxiously awaiting a two week (about) break from school. And before you are tempted to be jealous of this "extended" break, let me explain why I- and many of my teacher friends- are tired.
This time of year, our days often begin before the sun starts its workday. We are the school to watch the sunrise. And often, we are there to see it set. That is a normal workday. But another part of our workday is this- we are "on" for all of that time.
Imagine arriving early to work to get ahead, and immediately a client walks in needing help. You spend a half hour helping them, and realize the rest of your clients have arrived for normal business hours. You work straight through until lunch, where you get a half hour- but some of your clients often want to stick around to eat in your office. It's back to work where you then deal with clients for another couple hours before you get your break- in which you have to prepare for the next day. After the workday ends at 4, more clients arrive to get some help. You would look forward to the weekend, but you have to take a dozen or so clients to a business meeting out of town, and will arrive at work around 5 am and not return until 10 or 11 that NIGHT.
I want you to understand that this is not a complaint- this is an effort for teachers like myself to help you understand the hard part of our job. See, so far, you just see the hours. But what occurs in those hours? A whole other level.
Imagine your clients are people you really care about- not in a "the customer is always right" kind of way, but in a "these are my kids and I want them to not only survive, but to THRIVE" kind of way. You put up with early morning clients because you know they need it to thrive- but all too often they need it to survive. They are there early because they cannot get that help anywhere else. My friend and classroom neighbor Casey Akin is one of those teachers. She is here when I get here and here after I leave most days, teaching students Chemistry. Now, I never really got or enjoyed chemistry, but Akin's students love her. And what's more, they often end up loving chemistry. She calls them 'nerds" and they smile- a genuine smile of recognition of true care and concern in that word. They are disappointed when she has to- heaven forbid- go home when the school day ends because she too has a life beyond our walls. And though she very much needs that time for herself, I see the hurt she feels because she does not want to let her "nerds" down.
See, we also have to teach our clients social skills. Teenagers have a brain that closely resembles the decision making of that of a psychopath. (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/10/041030131905.htm)
We spend a good portion of our time teaching students how to interact appropriately with each other and with adults. In customer service, "the customer is always right" so you do not correct bad behavior. Correcting it is often a part of our job. One that MOST of us do not relish. We too get tired of rehashing rules, dress coding, saying "that's not appropriate," and settling disputes among our clients. My wife Kristin is a Special Education teacher and so she gets an extra dose of this. She has to navigate diagnoses, paperwork, and students who- more than their peers- need guidance on making basic, good choices. Plus, she often has to see students struggle with the unthinkable to most of us, and still press on with hope and high expectations. And she is great at it. But she also has two kids of her own- so her work and homelife overlap. Often. But she is great at that, too.
We also have our own kids, so when we do finally get home, we often have to help our kids with their homework. Only this time- we are not dealing with material we teach, so we have to learn this as well. Remember that class you struggled with in school? Now you have to help your own kid understand it after you spent all day getting your clients to understand your content. Good luck.
A lot of us take on extra projects at work, too. I'm leading a group right now that gives up their extra and "free" time to teach some students about leadership. Eric Zylman, Christie Brod, Javan Cashaw, Emily Harding, Jill Butler, Bunny Muncie, Deidre Merseal, and Amy Powell are classroom teachers that give up a half day a month to take 5th-8th graders to leadership training. They are also working extra time with these students to develop campus projects like outdoor seating spaces, walkways for students, and even community gardens. And they get no extra pay. Marina Rodriquez is another one of these Innovators (as I call them), but she is an overseer like me. She too spends extra time with students helping them learn to blog and reflect. She has students that do not know how to read or write well come to love writing. Because she loves it and loves them. And they can see that.
So, by now you probably are wondering why we do not just take a day off every now and then? Well, when most people take a day off, their project or work is exactly where they left it. Every day for teachers is moving forward, so we have to prepare lessons even when we are not there. Oh, and remember that social skills piece from earlier? Yeah, when we are out, we usually have to come back and address those things the next day. So, we play sick and injured. A lot.
You remember a teacher that inspired you? They were probably pretty relatable or had a lot of energy. My friend Jeremy Dockan is like that. He is always coming up to me with wild eyes and a new experiment that often involves explosions. He has such energy that students are drawn to him and his love for chemistry. (To be fair, the wild eyes and high energy may have something to do with me bringing him coffee every morning.) But teachers with energy also need to find a way to recharge those batteries (hence, the coffee). And that takes time.
I guess you could ask why we do this. If we are exhausted and stretched thin- and honestly often unappreciated by our clients, their parents and even our peers- why keep doing it?
It comes down to what the meaning of the holiday at the center of our upcoming break is- hope. Every day we wake up with hope that we will inspire someone. Hope that our students will make good choices that lead them to lifelong success. Hope that we educate a generation that will leave the world better than we found it.
We hope that we make a difference. For each and every student.
So when a teacher says, "Guys, I'm tired," know that it means they have cared greatly for your child and hold high hopes for their future.