I’ve said it before: I love my job. Even more than my job, I love my students. Both when I student taught and in my professional career as a teacher, I’ve worked in schools with a high percentage of “underprivileged” students. That word means a lot of things to a lot of people, and there’s often disagreement. To put it simply, many of my students have come from one parent households and have to do without things that others take for granted.
There’s a problem that many teachers don’t talk about. Most of us are in this profession because we are passionate about education and about having a positive and lasting effect on the lives of children. I know this is certainly true for me. However, there’s a catch. I’ll be honest – I’m a very sensitive person. I want the best for everyone I care about and I’ll do whatever I can to make others happy. For a teacher, that can lead to a slippery slope.
I first encountered this problem during my student teaching experience. There was one little girl, whose name and face I will never forget, who truly defined the issue for me. She was sweet and kind, she tried her best every day, and she always had a smile on her face. However, before long I came to find that she rarely slept and never had time to play because she had to “watch the babies” at home. She was five. And she was spending her “free” time caring for her infant sibling. One day she asked if she could come home and live with me. She looked me dead in the eyes and asked if I could be her mom.
That, my friends, was the first time a student shattered my heart into a million pieces. It was also the day that I knew I had made the right choice changing careers to be a teacher. That night, and nearly every other night for the rest of the year, I laid in bed and stared at the ceiling. I thought about her and the rest of my students. Did they eat dinner? Did they have blankets to sleep with? Were they alone or was there an adult home while they slept? I worried. I cried. I drove myself crazy. And it’s not just me – this is incredibly common for teachers. Yes, there are support services for those students and yes, they were all in place. But how do you look at those kids and not feel like you should be doing more?
Straight to the Point: There comes a point where you have to put up the wall or you’ll go insane. We can’t adopt our students. We can’t be their parents. We can’t make ourselves sick with worry or we won’t be able to give them 100% when they need us. Knowing all of this doesn’t make it any easier and it doesn’t stop us from spending sleepless nights or being worried to tears over our students – I’ve had plenty of those nights this year alone.
Take note, teachers: You’re human. You can only do so much. It’s okay to separate yourself from your kids. Putting up the wall doesn’t mean you’re insensitive or that you don’t care about your students. It means that you need to recognize that you cannot be everything to every student and you cannot solve all of their problems. Do what you can for them in your capacity as a teacher and a human being. Make sure they are getting the support they need and qualify for. Then, for your sanity’s sake, go home, pour a glass of wine, cry it out, and put up your wall until tomorrow. You’re allowed.