Yesterday was the very last day of the 2018-2019 school year and with mixed emotions of relief, disappointment, sadness and elation I said good-bye to my wonderful students, cleaned my classroom and turned off my email notifications. I have 8 weeks of summer to now focus on myself. Some of my plans include reading non-education books, drinking lots of coffee, sitting out in the sun, chatting for endless hours with friends and family, but my main goal is to be a chauffeur to my nephew Gus (a British Bulldog) on my kayak around the lake.
But before I close the chapter on my twelfth year of teaching I have a nagging feeling.
Could I have done more?
From August 12, 2018 to June 14, 2019 I have put 110% into my life as a teacher, and at times at the expense of other areas. I have a regular bed time of 9 pm during school so my quality time with my husband (who often doesn’t arrive home until after 6:30) is limited. In addition to those times where I am so mentally and emotionally exhausted that I haven’t been able to run or go to a yoga class which has a direct influence on my physical and mental health. And I am not alone. Teachers around the world feel this way. We are teachers first. And our other responsibilities such as wife, friend, soccer player, yoga enthusiast, reader, often come second during the school year. In Justin Minkel’s article ‘We’ve Said Goodbye to This Year’s Students. Now It’s Time to Take Care of Ourselves’ in Education Weekly describes teachers’ ‘time, talents, wishes, and wants have bent again and again in service to theirs (the students).’
Teaching is a magical profession that inspires dedicated professionals who want to make the world a better place. However, the sad reality is that the dedicated teacher is under threat of extinction. When I went to teachers college in Australia in 2007-2008 the average teacher stayed in the profession for 5 years, and after a discussion with colleagues the other day the average teacher in America leaves the profession after 7 years. Why?
Because of that nagging feeling.
Could I be doing more?
Have I done enough?
Could I have done more?
In this last year I arrived at school daily at 6:50 am. Teachers are contracted to stay until 3:15, however with parent meetings, lesson planning, collaborative meetings and coaching I left school at that time five times throughout the year. The other 175 days I left on average after 5 pm, In addition to 12 Saturdays and countless evenings. When adding it up I worked 400 hours over my regular hours. This is reading blogs and research articles in order to become a better teacher, meeting with colleagues to co-teach, or meeting with parents, leading the Bronze AYP group, teaching yoga as a team sport, leading the cross country or golf team and the list goes on. However, these hours only count for the time I was with students, peers or in front of a computer writing emails and researching. It doesn’t count for the amount of hours that I woke up at 2 am and sat on the couch thinking of a certain student in my class and wondering if I could do more for him or her. Or doing research to find different ways to help support her in class emotionally. Or to find a different approach to my teaching to allow him to succeed in an area of math.
And there were many sleepness nights.
For the last ten months I have had 25 students at the forefront of my mind where their needs have come before mine. And this is what every teacher does.
One colleague whom I respect greatly posted his good-bye letter on twitter (please follow Mr. Ramirez at @CDNISWR) and explained how well he knew his students this year. He said “I have known they were sick without a thermometer. I have watched them grow in all things academic. But, above all, I have watched them grow to be good people and caring stewards of the earth.” Teachers have spent over 180 school days with their students and for every parent out there I assure you that every teacher I work with works hard. We want the very best for your child; we want your child to be emotionally healthy, to grow academically, to be respectful of others and to be a good friend. Most of all, we want them to be successful in whatever they pursue. We feel (just like you do) that they represent the best of us.
The end of the school year is an amazing time of accomplishment. It is a time of reflection where we look back upon the year. We often focus our celebrations on students’ growth and achievements. But we, as teachers also need to acknowledge our own accomplishments and give credit to ourselves and our pursuit to do the best for our students.
It’s a time where teachers need to stop asking the question ‘could I have done more?’ because the truth is, we did everything we could. And more.