Our students arrive at 7:45 in the morning for class, yawning and expectant. You see their stress from home. You hear the stories about us writing the wrong answer to the math equation on the board or the funny thing that they did while our backs were turned. You hear the greiving over poor grades and the frustration and confusion over new material. You read our assignments and you visit our classrooms for conferences and you’ve probably gotten a phone call or email home or two. You hear our praises and our critiques and you hear the news about what’s wrong with american education and that we just don’t care anymore. You hear it all.
But what people forget is that while your student arrives every morning at 7:45 with sleep in their eyes and a shirt on that needs ironing, we get to school at 6. 5. 4, even. We’ve had several cups of coffee and odds are pretty high we’ve forgotten to eat. We write and rewrite our lesson schedule on the board and we review for what feels like the thousandth time our lesson plan, noting where things might go awry, what may need to be cut, and what needs to change in teaching style between period one and two. If we have time we spend brief moments in the teachers lounge and other classrooms discussing our shared students and how they’re doing.
While your student is sitting at lunch, we are in our classrooms with students. There’s always someone who needs a place to eat, a club that needs a sponsor, or a group of kids who just need more time to understand what happened in class. We sit at our desks and tutor, reframe ideas, and listen. We get to know who’s across from us, so that when class begins again, there won’t be a reason that we will fail to teach them again. We email parents about student successes and concerns, we get into pointed discussions about holding kids accountable for their missing work, and we look at that lesson plan again, because it’s the afternoon now, and things have changed again.
After the last bell rings, we prepare for the clubs, sports, and other activities we sponsor. We tutor again and proctor missed tests and check in with the students who stop by to say hello. We reflect, recall the best and worst parts of the day. We think about how to improve for tomorrow, outline which classes need more time and which are ready for the next lesson. We take a break and look for hook videos on Youtube. We attend terribly long meetings about statistics, student success, and support for teachers and staff. We reward each other for the work of the day. We probably have another coffee.
We praise and confer with each other about the kids who are improving and the kids who are still learning how to be here. We tell stories. Because even if the kids don’t think so, we care just as much about their successes as their moments of failure. We grieve with them when your student fails a test and celebrate their victories when they succeed.
After your student has gone home for the day, after their tutoring and their soccer practice, we are probably still in our classrooms, thinking about tomorrow. We are tidying up, tracking down that stapler we gave out 3rd period, strategizing for tomorrow. We look again at our unit plan. We plan for tomorrow, for the next day. We look for activities, we work to be better. It is 6. 7. 8 even when we go home; but we never really leave. Our hearts are in those buildings with our books, with our desks and our lovingly hung student work, they are with our lesson notes and with our plans for tomorrow. They are with the students we live for. We talk to our friends, our partners, our cats, about the goods and bads. We look for ways to be better, to help more of our students succeed.
There is nothing simple about being an educator; nothing easy. Every day is a fight for better performance, better student involvement, better systems of support. It’s talking about equity, about whole-child approaches, about loving everything that this job has given us and the world. I am not officially a teacher yet, and yet I have lived this life, I have watched the newest minted teachers and the oldest of veterans stand together, because before your student arrives in the morning and after they leave, we are working constantly to ensure their success.