I'm Thankful For The Challenge

It has, to say the least, been a different kind of year teaching. The arrival of our new one, lots of new responsibilities and time committments, a not-so-surprising decline in my desire to grade/tutor/stay late at school/arrive early - I've had to kind of reinvent the wheel a bit this year. I had gotten pretty good at being a certain type of teacher. Probably pretty close to the kind of teacher that you see in all the teacher movies. In fact I had been pretty proud of personifying that style and that type of work-ethic.
In Freedom Writers, the stress was so much
that Hilary Swank divorced McDreamy! Or
is it McStuffins...no, it's McDonald...
But the thing about all of those movies is that the relationships at home for the teachers tend to always suck. People are getting divorced. Kids are feeling like they're less important than the students. Families and friends complain that the teacher is never available.

Education should not require the educators to be super heroes to be good. Too often it does. Too often teachers are left under-staffed, under-funded and without support. Too often I see an article like this one or this one or this one or this one from a teacher who has decided that enough is enough and that changing careers is the only option.

I'm not quitting, nor am I particularly close. The thought enters my mind, particularly when my brother (who used to teach but has entered the corporate world) gets home from a vacation to Europe paid for by hotel and airline points! I know the same is true for my wife. We all have our days, probably regardless of profession, where we wonder if we're really meant to be doing whatever it is we're doing.

Teaching isn't unique to this feeling. No, what is unique to teaching is that you have a hundred children relying on you being really good at your job while you have this feeling. You have an off-day, you suffer! The kids feed on your emotion, positive and negative!

Each year on this blog, I've written a Thanksgiving post. This year over Thanksgiving Break when I had a free hour while my kid was napping, I paid bills. Because adulthood.

So, a few days late, here is what I'm thankful for this year:

I'm thankful for the challenge of working with teenagers. It reminds me that, like them, I don't always know it all even when I think I do.

I'm thankful for the challenge of grading pointless assignments. It reminds me that if I don't care that much about grading it, the students probably didn't care that much about completing it.

I'm thankful for the challenge of making my lunch in the morning. It reminds me that I am lucky to have never felt the desperation of not knowing where my next meal is coming from.

I'm thankful for the challenge of keeping animal crackers stocked in my room, since many of my students are not as lucky as I am to have enough food in their bellies.

I'm thankful for laptops and technology not working. It reminds me that learning happened before 1990 and it will continue even when something doesn't work.

I'm thankful for the challenge of keeping up with this blog. It reminds me that reflection is an important part of learning.

I'm thankful for the challenge of being married to another teacher. It reminds me that I married the right one.

I'm thankful for the challenge of sleepless nights. It reminds me that my baby is still healthy, happy and doing all the annoying things that babies sometimes do to parents.

I'm thankful for the challenge of time management. It reminds me that my life needs priorities.

I'm thankful for the challenge of students taking away my prep time in the morning before school. It reminds me that relationships matter; these kids chose to come hang out with me in the morning.

***

I'm thankful for challenging things. A big theme in teaching and life is that mistakes and failure are normal. We must learn to react, change, adapt, grow and strengthen ourselves. This is a hard lesson for teens, when every emotion of life is felt so deeply and with such urgency. The lows are the worst thing ever and highs make you feel immortal. You can pretend that you were more emotionally stable when you were 15, but you're probably lying to yourself.

When things go wrong, I remind my students of how muscles grow; that your muscles hurt after a work out because they've been torn thousands of tiny times; that the muscles recuperate and repair; that getting through the pain is, literally, the only way for a muscle to grow; that growth cannot come without pain.

No one signed on to be a teacher because we wanted an easy life. No one thought that the hours were good or the pay was high. None of us thought that working with teens and adolescents was an emotionally relaxing activity. Not a single one thought that our stress level would be low during the school.

And yet, here we are. The sacred sufferers, ready to wake up and face another day of challenges. Ready to comfort kids whose worlds are shattering around them and still find a way to talk about the Enlightenment. Ready to hand out a handful of crackers with a calculator because Algebra and hunger don't make good company. Ready to repeat your instructions one more time because maybe, just maybe, today is the day that a student's light-bulb will be turned on.

Maybe tomorrow will be the day when the muscle grows and the pain subsides.

And if it is, you will celebrate. You will hug and laugh and call your mother and maybe even cry. You will experience joy.

And then the next day you'll start working out again, inviting the pain back into your life. Because you know that that moment of joy was made all the sweeter because you were thankful for the challenge.

Thanks for reading this blog! I hope you'll consider taking a moment to comment below and turn this into a conversation. Whether you are an educator or not, we have all had common experiences with education both good and bad. I want to hear what you think! 

About Me:
My name is Alec Chambers. I am a high school history and government teacher at a small, urban public school in Kansas City called Center High School. We regularly kick tail. Among many awards, we were named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2014. I don't just teach at Center- I also graduated from Center in 2006 after attending Center Schools K-12. I have a degree in Political Science, a second degree in International Relations, a third degree in Education and a Master's of Arts in Teaching. I have an unofficial degree is soccer. All of those degrees have led me to the high-paying teaching profession! I have a newborn daughter and am married to the most awesome woman on the planet. Seriously. It's a proven fact.

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