The summer weather remains and the sunlight still lingers. The remnants of the golden season have not ceded their stronghold, but the end for many has come: school has returned.
When the first “back to school” commercial has run, the school supply lists are displayed in local stores, and the buses begin rolling you know the school year will soon begin once again.
For teachers like myself the return to school has a completely different meaning than it does for anyone else. After putting in more than a year’s worth of work in 10 months, shutting down for short time only to do it all over again has a multitude of effects on the brain.
Teachers are many things – counselor, data-collector, facilitator, steward of technology, punching bag, master of paperwork, purveyor of dreams, steadfast confident, withholder of the bathroom break, disciplinarian, thinker and creator.
But on any given day a teacher is one constant — a happy worrier.
Why do I say teachers are happy worriers? Because worrying is a natural reaction for someone who five days a week is given the awesome responsibility of not only educating a future generation of leaders but having such trust placed in them by parents who leave their children under their protective wings.
So, what do teachers worry about? I can tell you from experience.
We worry about when our next bathroom break will be. With students constantly in your room whether for class or in between classes with questions, meeting with teachers to plan for lessons, and the constant barrage of paperwork and data the idea of stopping to alleviate your bladder is about #101 on your to-do list. But once you get a chance, it’s a glorious thing. Those few minutes alone are priceless.
We worry what we are doing in the next five minutes. Before I became a teacher I was never worried about what was going on from minute-to-minute, but worried about long-term goals. Now, I only worry about what is going to happen in real time within the next few minutes. What am I going to do when this activity ends? What I am I doing next period? When am I going to get that paperwork done that was suppose to be done yesterday? What do I do with the heartbreaking news I just heard from a student? When do I get to go to the bathroom?
No wonder I have a short attention span.
We worry about when the rules will change. Education is at the mercy of a fickle policy leaders at both the state and federal level. From one election to the next — depending on who is victorious — the ideals and goals of the powers-that-be change and with that changes the landscape of education. Just as we learn one new way of teaching, testing, or evaluating the rules change and we have to learn all over again.
The only constant in education is that something will change.
We worry about our wardrobe choices. Not because we are vain or have a weird fetish with clothing, but because there has been a time in every teacher’s life when they wore two different socks, two different shoes, forgot a belt, or wore horribly mismatched clothing.
When you are up until midnight grading papers only to get up around 4:30 a.m. so you can get to your classroom early to finish your work, you scurry around the room in the dark morning while trying not to wake your spouse or kids while you are still half asleep. It leads to frequent bad choices in wardrobe. And that crazy “teacher hair.” And forgetting to brush your teeth, which is just nasty.
We worry about our students. Once you get to know your students you start to learn about their lives and, and while it can unnerving, you start to understand why many students struggle.
You hear about students living in cars, students who are living with a relative because their parents are separated and one is in prison, you hear about abuse, drugs, depression and suicidal thoughts, you hear about pregnancy, bullying, and general fears. These stories go home with you and they stay with you. Burned into your mind.
We worry about the naysayers. Regardless of how good we are at our job or that we do a job most people wouldn’t even attempt to do we are the subject of constant public ridicule. We are attacked for being lazy and overpaid, we are labeled as part of the problem rather than the solution, we take the punches daily and still get up each day and do our job to the best of our abilities.
We worry about what our students think of us. Not because we have a need to be “friends” with our students, rather we are worried about whether or not students think of us positively.
Did they think my joke about the Presidential election was funny or did they laugh out of obligation? Do they find me engaging or just think I’m weird? Am I talking too loud? Too softly? Too fast? Too slow? Do they think I know what I am talking about? Do I make any sense? What did they think of my red pants?
But most of all we worry about one thing — whether or not we truly making a difference. There is nothing a teacher worries about more every waking moment of their life than whether or not what we do truly matters. We expend much time, much energy, much of our own personal worth to ensure our students are successful in life.
But it is difficult to gauge whether or not we are making a difference. It is one of the most difficult jobs on earth to do not knowing if what we do matters. To anyone.
Teachers are a class of worriers. We worrier about everything, but mostly we worry about our students, their success and their well being. But, we happy worriers because we humbly accepted the challenge of educating youth because it is what we love to do and because we love to see our students achieve their dreams.
Someone has to shoulder the burden of the worries in order to give students the skills and the confidence to be the person they want and can be in the future regardless of the unique challenges they face.
As the school year commences just remember that teachers are happy worriers and the worrying is for your child and their dreams.
Jarrod Weiss lives in New Vienna and is a teacher in the Hillsboro City Schools district. He can be reached at [email protected]