We’re sitting in a big group of teachers, talking to one friend who, up until this year, had taught in the same school as us. We’ve just watched a musical that our friend performed in. The conversation centers on two of his former students, who’d come to the performance. These students stayed to say hello and congratulate him.
“I don’t want to say they were the reason I left this school,” my friend said. “But they were kind of part of the reason. If I couldn’t get to them – If I couldn’t inspire them to do better – maybe I’d lost my touch.”
From everything I’ve heard, this was a particularly difficult group of kids. This group of kids were eighth graders last year; I’d been in my first year of teaching, working with seventh graders. While I knew some of them, and watched the painful attempts of eighth grade teachers to get through to them, I didn’t really interact with them myself.
Two teachers last year made comments, multiple times, about how that group of kids were among the most difficult teaching years of their lives. The assistant principal joked in a distinctly non-joking tone that they were the reason she became an assistant principal.
Apparently, during the conversation my friend had with these students, a large part of the conversation involved students apologizing to him. They’d felt terrible about their behavior to him – especially with his leaving the school – and gave a lengthy, heartfelt apology. It was a moment of closure for him, he said, and it made him feel a bit better about leaving.
I couldn’t help but think about how this conversation represented just another way that teaching is a particularly unique job, and just another way that people misunderstand the job. Sometimes, it’s just hard. More difficult, stressful, and painful than the average career can be. Sometimes, it’s so hard that people who have dedicated their lives to this career consider quitting. This is true regardless of how long you’ve taught; there will be years, even after more than a decade of teaching, that someone considers leaving because one year can be so difficult it feels like it’ll break them.
My friend also had a lucky moment. These students didn’t have to come to his show, and didn’t have to apologize; I would guess that there are many teachers who have a year as difficult as my friend’s year, but those many teachers don’t get the same moment of closure. That makes the hard times even harder. Maybe a group of kids will feel bad about how they treated their teacher, but their teacher doesn’t know that. Their teacher may well just think they couldn’t get through to that class. Their teacher may just think that was one incredibly difficult year of teaching, without ever knowing the true impact they had on their students.
Sometimes, it’s just hard. There’s no resolution. There’s no understanding that at some point it will get easier, or that you won’t have any more terribly-behaved students. There’s no year in your teaching career where it becomes magically easy and smooth all the time. My friend was a legend in my district. He was a legend. The teacher kids talk about like he saved their lives, and for some of them, he probably did. He is the Hollywood depiction of the inspirational teacher. He’s been teaching for over a decade, and last year, he left for a job that was no longer a full-time teacher. That’s an incredibly important point about teaching that many people don’t realize, or neglect to mention, or ignore in their commentary of the education profession. Sometimes, no matter how much your experience, talent, or passion, this job is just really hard.