I’m free! That’s the feeling that most teachers have at the end of the school year. Ironically, reflection, exhaustion and self-doubt encompass that feeling, as well. So, technically, we are not really free. Teachers don’t necessarily share those feelings as often though, except with other teachers.
The mind of a teacher is best compared to that of a parent. Our “kids” are always in our thoughts and our positive impact is unknown. There are some small milestones along the way that give us instant gratification, but the real impact will not be shown until years later. We are players in The Waiting Game. It’s a game that never ends because it is impossible to know how every student has turned out.
Reflection begins the moment that we say goodbye to our current students. Did they learn what they were supposed to? Did I do enough to help them succeed? How could I have helped them better? How could I have taught that subject better? Why didn’t I do more of _____ to assist this student’s learning? Will they remember life’s little tidbits that I shared with them? What could I have done differently this year? How can I improve? The questions are never-ending!
Teachers think about their students long after they leave their classroom. And to be honest, some students tend to stick out more than others. Each child brings out a different set of questions. How is _____ doing? Did their divorced parents ever stop competing with each other and focus on their child’s life? Did they continue the family pattern of high school dropout, drugs, or alcohol? How are they coping with the abuse that they have suffered? Is their parent still in jail? Are they still in the same foster care or group home? Are they still in school? Did they graduate? Did they attend college? Did they break the cycle and exceed all of society’s expectations?
My school year ended on Friday. According to my husband, today is not Sunday for me; it is my Saturday #2 and will continue until my new school year begins at the end of July. He and other family members joke about how much time teachers have off. Every summer break, I hear one or more of these statements, from non-teachers, in a sarcastic tone, of course: “Teachers are so lucky. You get all of that time off. It must be nice! I only get ___ weeks of vacation. I should be a teacher, so I can have that too.” Now, every teacher responds differently. It can range from a nonchalant “Yeah, I’m looking forward to my time off,” to a defensive, “Well, you could go back to school and do the same.” There is no right. There is no wrong. Honestly, the reply usually depends on the teacher’s current state of mind.
My last school day ended with a coed softball league game, followed by an after game gathering. At the table were six teachers, most of them co-workers. In addition to the discussions about our teaching and former students, we talked about the teaching profession, in general. Each one of us was in agreement that teaching is not about the vacations. Yes, it’s a perk, but it really is about making a difference—academically, socially, and emotionally. It is providing a protected space for students to learn and grow. It is providing a different perspective on the outside world from what they may have seen or been told. It is providing a sense of self-worth and pride in an effort well done. It is providing responsibility and accountability. It is providing the principle that every action has a reaction, and every choice has a consequence, good or bad. It is providing a safe haven for those who don’t feel it at home. It is providing a foundation for a successful life, whatever that might look like.
I believe that every job is important and helps make the world go around. However, I’d like to think that teachers are unique. It is the only career that directly affects our future. Whether it was reading, math, inquiry, problem solving or debating, it was introduced by a teacher. Our future depends on this profession. So, if extended vacation days help a teacher physically recharge, let it be, because in actuality, our mind never stops. We are always thinking about school and students.
Thank you teachers for all that you do and enjoy your summer break.
“It’s a beautiful thing when a career and a passion come together.”
I touch the future. I teach. ~Christa McAuliffe