Friday, October 24, 2014

I Never Don't Feel Guilty

It's 2:47 on a Friday, this one being a teacher workday. I am sitting down, in my recliner, at home. As we speak, there are still a bunch of teachers at my school logging hours, planning for next week and doing the myriads of unending tasks that teachers have to do. But I'm not there. I'm home.

We were given permission to leave today at 2:15 since we spent an evening at school a few weeks ago for Open House. I had permission to leave - yet I feel guilty. This, my friends, is the real life of a teacher. We never don't feel guilty about something.

I feel guilty because I was the only person walking out the door at 2:15. The parking lot was still full, and my own to-do list wasn't finished. My supply cabinet really needed to be reorganized, and the nonfiction unit I'm doing soon still needs some work. My bookshelves are dusty, and I should have emailed that parent. Ugh - yep. I probably should have stayed later.

But I didn't. I chose to come home to my elementary-school-aged children and spend some time with them. (I'm a rebel, aren't I?) I chose to try to turn my school brain off for a little while and not be driven mad by the ever-increasing demands placed on me - us - including the new requirements we learned about in the meeting this morning. I chose to go out for lunch with my friends, and I chose to leave today as soon as I could. And I'm trying to be ok with that.

But you know why it's hard to be ok with that? Because teachers are constantly judged, and the criticism is loud and stinging. We are judged by parents - "My child has never made a C before, so you must be the problem." We are judged by other teachers - "Ew, I never teach that story. The kids think it's so boring." We are judged by administrators - "Mrs. X was at school even though she was sick. Let's all try to be like Mrs. X." And please don't forget the community - "Kids today can't read and write. I just don't know what's going on in that school." From every direction, teachers are judged, but the harshest judgments are those that come from ourselves.

Yes, we teachers know that we have a million eyes on us. We know that there is nothing more important than influencing the life of a child, so the million eyes have a right to be on us. That's fair. But the brightest spotlight we feel is the one we turn on ourselves. On the whole, teachers are a group of perfectionists. You might not be able to tell by looking at some of our desks, but we want to do things right. We want to be on the cutting edge of research and technology, and we want to be the teacher that a high school senior remembers fondly. We feel like crying when a lesson bombs, and we hurt when our kids just can't get it. We have file cabinets full of old lessons, but we create new ones every year so they'll be just right. We look in others' classrooms as we walk down the halls, and we feel insufficient because of what we see. We peek at the study guide left in the copier, and we groan inwardly when we realize ours is not nearly as good.

We are constantly judged - but the worst judgments are our own. They bring a guilt that feels inescapable. On a daily basis, I might feel badly about any (or all) of the following:
* I can't get to school before 7:15 because of having to take my own kids to school. That teacher gets here every morning at 6:30 when the building opens.
* I forgot to make these copies yesterday afternoon, so now I have 46 seconds before the bell rings to get them run off.
* That bulletin board has been up since August. It really needs to be changed.
* The 72 essays I collected three days ago haven't been graded, and both kids and parents are checking Parent Portal to see if the grades are there. They aren't.
* Having to say, "We don't have enough time to finish this story in class, so you guys will have to finish it on your own tonight. I know - I'm sorry. But there's not enough time."
* That student from 4th period last year was arrested last night.
* The technology I was awarded through a grant is probably wonderful - but I haven't had enough time to learn to use it well yet.
* Student X doesn't have access to the internet at home, and no one in his family was willing to take him to the library. His paper, therefore, isn't typed. Which was a requirement.
* I forgot to show the school news. Again.
* This poetry packet I need to copy is 15 pages. I know that's a lot of paper, but the poems in our textbook are really bad...

It just goes on and on. In the course of one class, I feel so inadequate to meet the demands of every student. There are kids with learning disabilities, kids who barely speak English, kids whose baby sister is fighting cancer, kids who have no high school graduates in their families, kids who have no books on a bookshelf at home, kids who did not get enough to eat today, kids who cannot afford the supplies they come without, kids with struggles I can tell are there but cannot figure out... The education system has evolved to hold teachers accountable for students and their performances, and believe me, we feel accountable. I feel responsible for things I cannot change and cannot control, and it leads to a feeling of all-consuming guilt most days. We teachers never don't feel guilty.

Part of learning to be a teacher is learning to live with the guilt. It's understanding that at the end of the day, if we've done all we can do - academically and otherwise - then we can go home and be satisfied with our day's work. It's realizing that we can't change everything for a child. It's understanding that no matter how hard we work - or how late we stay - there will always be someone doing more or working later. Part of being a good teacher is going in your classroom, closing the door, teaching your heart out, and then going home to recharge. Part of being a good teacher is getting out of the school and being just you. Even with a little guilt following you as you leave.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Joy Is Coming

Single moms, I woke up this morning thinking of you.

There's no reason why other than that the Holy Spirit reminded me I was once one of you, and there's no one who understands who hasn't actually been there.

So as I was drying my hair and simultaneously trying to get my children ready, I thought of you and prayed. I closed my eyes and was transported to the hardest days of my life - the years I spent as an all-alone mom, a woman who was working and mothering and exhausted in a way that cannot be explained in words. I teared up as I recalled the nights I spent wide-awake because my overtired brain could not stop thinking. I prayed on your behalf, asking our God to give you real physical rest and to relieve the burden that is weighing on you most.

I am no longer one of you, but in some ways, I feel like I always will be. I know just how you feel, and I want to tell you today that you are not forgotten. I know how alone you feel and how worried you are. I understand the helplessness you feel when there's just not enough of you and the effort you give falls just a little short. I remember always trying to be enough and never feeling like I was. Today - whether it's a good day or one of those where you didn't want to get out of bed - today, I'm telling you that you are not forgotten. You are not alone, and your God will never leave you.

You, single moms, are rock stars. You do it all because you have no other choice, and because you do it all so well, no one knows just how hard it is. No one knows the constant pit in your stomach, the pulse-increasing worries that overtake you even in the calmest of moments. No one knows the nights you're awake until wee hours because the house must be cleaned, the laundry washed, the lunches made, and the bills paid. No one knows because your complaints stay inside - you stuff your hardships down and just forge ahead. You, ladies, who are forging ahead - you do it out of love for those babies of yours, and I'm telling you that your work done out of love will never be in vain. Never, even if it feels like it.

I'm crying as I type because, dear sister, I know. So often, that's what I needed to hear in those hardest of times, so that's what I'm saying to you today. I know. Our situations might be different, the ways we became single very different, but I know your heart, and I know your fears. I wish I could say I know your future and could tell you that everything will change soon, but all I know for sure is that even in the midst of your hardest of times, if you seek the Lord, He will be found. Though your situation may not change, your perspective can.

Can I tell you what I know now that I'm on the other side? Those hardest of times were necessary.
I hated them, yes. I agonized through the years when I felt abandoned and forsaken, and I pleaded with God to deliver me from those times. He did, eventually, and my lips will never stop praising Him for what He delivered me from and what He delivered me to, but those times? I needed them

Those times taught me true faith and gave me a testimony that God is indeed who He says He is. Those times taught me that circumstances don't define us - and they don't determine our worth. Do I want to go back? Absolutely not. But would I rewrite my history to exclude those hardest of times? No. I wouldn't do that either. Those times made me who I needed to be. That's what I know, and that's why I'm thankful.

I never understood the verse that says, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance" (James 1:2-3.) How can a trial be joyous? The trial isn't. That's not what it says. The joy is not in the trial; the joy is in what the trial produces. The joy is in who you become and what you learn and how your faith becomes authentic because it survives the trial intact and stronger.

The joy comes, friends.

The joy comes because God remains.

You, single moms? You are not forgotten. And joy is coming.