The holiday weekends have passed, and like many of you I went back to a normal work week last Monday. I like teaching part-time, but anyone who works with kids knows how incredibly exhausting it can be. Every so often I have those days when I feel like I can conquer the part of my world that involves at least a dozen 4 and 5 year olds. I wake up with happy thoughts; I have the patience of Mama Duggar, and I’m able to handle nose-picking and non-stop questions with the ease and grace with which a young ballet dancer can regurgitate her afternoon snack.
Of course there’s a flip side to that sort of teaching utopia. It’s those days when I cannot possibly fathom how I’m going to function for an entire day. Every student I work with has suddenly forgot their letters and is speaking in SLUGOSH (that language they never taught you in middle school because IT’S NOT A REAL) and at least two of my tots have jammed me in the wrist with a blue marker (pigment side up) resulting in added color variations to my brand new sweater because those tiny little hands just…can’t…get…the…cap…off.
Last week was one of those weeks.
When I first started teaching early last year, I remember calling my mom less than a week in and saying, “I don’t know how you do it.” My mom has been an educator for most of my life, and while home for a quick visit when I was living in L.A. I met her at work so we could have lunch together. I snuck into her classroom of about 18 fourth graders before they were dismissed for lunch and I remember thinking what a rock star my mom was. She was fielding questions and monitoring behavior while explaining to her Languages Arts class when the apostrophe comes before the ‘s’ and when it comes after.
Working moms and stay-at-home moms and work-from-home moms (or dads in any of those scenarios) each face their own challenges. But watching my mom maneuver herself through all those spunky and curious kids made me realize, for the first time, how incredibly challenging it must have been for her to work as a teacher full-time and also raise two daughters since motherhood and teaching have such a major overlap.
As a teacher, you’re also a caretaker. And as a parent, you’re constantly teaching. I was in my mom’s classroom for less than 30 minutes, but I knew that this was how every moment of her day for the last two decades had been. And I was suddenly taken back in time 20 years trying to wrap my head around how my mom worked at school all day and then came home to my sister’s and my non-stop stories from elementary school, our middle school “problems” and our high school attitudes. But not a single memory from my childhood includes even a moment when I felt like my mom was overwhelmed, or unhappy — either as a teacher or a mother — even when she incurred most (if not all) the “womanly” domestic duties of our household since she arrived home each week day a few hours before my dad.
Last week was incredibly draining for me, but it was also a good reminder to reflect on the work that career teachers do. No, not me, but the men and women who have chosen this path for the long haul. The ones that wake up every single day and go to work ready and eager to change lives no matter what their school’s resources and no matter what their students’ challenges.
On Friday I went to the kindergarten classroom to pick up one of my students for his phonics session and I had a moment to engage in an adult conversation with a veteran teacher at our center. Moments like this are always a nice refresher before I go back to letters and sounds and blends and journals and OH MY GOD JUST PULL THE CAP OFF!
The teacher and I were chatting about teaching in general and how it can often creep into your life outside the classroom when she said, “Sabrina, you’re not going to believe this, but the other day I reached down and tied my husband’s shoe!”
The overlap is INSANE. And I think we can all agree that every career teacher on our planet deserves a standing ovation right about now.