Mamas, Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Teachers

I found this in Peyton's room this morning. Here's a translation for those who aren't fluent in reading 1st grade handwriting: 

When I grow up I want to teach kindergarteners how to read. I know it will be a lot of fun teaching kindergarten. I want to be just like my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Groshans. She taught me a lot. I just might be like her some day. I just might. 

This made me smile because it was unprompted, precious, and written straight from Peyton's sweet heart. Of course, I immediately texted this picture to her beloved Kindergarten teacher, who happens to be a dear friend of mine. I think it made her day. 

However, I admit that an ugly, unsettling thought crept into my mind: Do I really want my daughters to grow up to be teachers?

You have to understand something about my side of the family: We all work in education in some capacity, and we all started out as classroom teachers. My parents each racked up over 30 years in the high school classroom. I married a teacher/coach whose mother is a a teacher; my sister married a teacher/coach whose parents and brother are teachers. I can trace the teachers on my Mom's side of the family tree as far back as four generations. Teaching runs in our blood, so my girls get it honestly. At the chance of sounding cliche, I truly believe that teaching is the NOBLEST of professions, and it's not just because it's the predominant profession of my family. Teaching is the chance to change a destiny--to lead someone to a life of opportunity through education. However, I don't think society perceives the teaching profession this way. And sadly, I don't think some teachers do either.

I often say that I taught in the trenches of the high school classroom. I loved every minute of that time--the joy and the frustration, the laughter and the tears, the victories and the defeats. Besides motherhood, teaching is the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. Even though the reward outweighed the struggle (on most days), I couldn't take it anymore. My battle lasted eleven years before I had to wave the white flag of surrender and find refuge in the library. The truth is that I couldn't handle the pressure of the classroom any longer; I couldn't handle the piles of essays to grade; I couldn't handle the stress of high-stakes testing; I couldn't be the kind of Teacher and Mom that I wanted to be. I had to make a choice, and the choice I made still weighs heavy with guilt and makes me feel like a sellout. Even though I still work in a school as a librarian and have direct interaction with students--even though I still "teach" in the library and often in classrooms--it's not the same. I don't have "my" kids in "my" classroom. I don't have the same depth of relationship with students because I'm not interacting with the same students daily. My realm of influence is wider but not nearly as deep. I miss being a classroom teacher. Tremendously.

Now that I'm out of the classroom and see it from a different perspective, I worry. I worry for the state of our teachers. I worry for their mental health. I worry for their spirits. I worry for their futures. I worry because I don't see many teacher advocates out there fighting for the morale of our teachers. I have had so many veteran teachers, EXCEPTIONAL veteran teachers, confide in me that they don't know how much longer they can stay in the classroom. Instead of doing more to keep teachers content in the classroom, I see more and more heaped on the heads and shoulders of our teachers that causes them to want to flee...more rigor, more expectations, more testing, more paperwork, more blame, more, more, more. It's no wonder that so many of us have left the battlefield. Many of our students come from broken families, and teachers are expected to make up for this sad reality. Many of our students come from poverty or neglect; teachers are expected to make miracles happen even though the basic needs of these students aren't being met. Many days it feels like we are fighting a losing battle and whatever we do, it's just not enough. At least that's how I felt. 

I know that not all teachers deserve this martyrdom. For every stellar teacher, there are a handful of slackers who don't go the extra mile. For every exceptional teacher, there are many who complain, and unfortunately, some end up on the news for cringe-worthy crimes. Unfortunately, it's the negative teachers who often get the attention of the media and cause society to paint all teachers will unflattering strokes. However, I know countless teachers who feed their students with stashes of granola bars and crackers hidden in their desks, who buy winter coats and pants and prom dresses to send home with their students, who go to football and baseball games and concerts because they know that their students might not have a support system cheering them on. On top of that, they teach with passion and determination to prepare their students for the future. These heroes teach, but they also parent, feed, clothe, mentor, and love their students. This is the life of many of our teachers. And because teachers are often humble to a fault, they will never tell you that they do this. They just consider it part of their calling. 

As our teachers are pouring into our students, I want to make sure that they are being nourished because I guarantee they are feeling the strain. That is what I want to see more of--more support for our teachers instead of more demands. More encouragement instead of more data meetings. More kind words instead of criticism. I guarantee it will get results. Because who will benefit the most from this? Our kids. Happy teachers means happy students. It's just the way it works. Think about the classrooms of your childhood: Which teachers made the most positive impact? The happy ones or the stressed-out, disgruntled ones? 

Who is on the front lines with our students? Who is in the trenches daily with our young people--building them up, shaping them into the young men and women who will lead this nation? It's our teachers. It's not superintendents, curriculum coordinators, facilitators, librarians, principals, or assistant principals. It's classroom teachers. Don't get me wrong: These are vital roles in our schools and all play an important part in educating our kids, but these are not the people doing the HARD work of teaching. It's the teachers. And they deserve more.

My administrator friends, take the pulse of your faculty. Really pay attention to the morale of your teachers. Listen to them. Hug them. Appreciate them. Many of you already do this. Thank you and keep it up.  

Parents, let your kids' teachers know how much you appreciate their hard work. If your kid writes sweet notes about his/her teacher, let the teacher know. I guarantee it will make that teacher's day. And a serendipitous gift card to Starbucks to show your appreciation will keep a teacher going for weeks. 

My dear teacher friends, as we look forward to Spring Break and gear up for testing season and the long haul til summer, please know that you are in my prayers. I admire you. I respect you. I salute you. Hang in there and keep fighting the good fight.

When my girls say that they want to be teachers, I will smile. And I will say a prayer that our world will acknowledge this profession for what it is--NOBLE. It's not the flashiest profession. It's not one that will bring worldly fame or wealth or status. But it will bring fulfillment in knowing that they made a difference in the lives of young people. It will bring joy in knowing that they left a legacy.

What more could a Mom want for her daughters?


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