If you were to ask me right now, at almost 1am, STILL grading final exams and final essays from my college class, I’m not sure I’d have a lot of redemptive things to say about my job: teaching.
Currently, I am in my 6th year of teaching high school English, my 4th year in advising the high school newspaper, and my 2nd class deep of instructing English composition classes at a local liberal arts university. I’m tired. All the time. Rest is… elusive. Note the time of this post if my words aren’t proof enough. And I’ve been steadily grading since 2pm this afternoon.
So far this week, in my various roles of “teacher” or “professor,” I’ve battled entitled, lazy, irresponsible, and even irate students (mostly college students, ironically). I’ve been stalked by parents on instagram who have nothing better to do with their time than troll the interwebs looking for inconsequential fights to pick. I’ve been asked the same question at least 3 times, that I’ve answered at least three times before it was asked, and all this at least three times in the last three days.
And, if I wanted to indulge my old nature of awfulizing, I could go on.
But, these are the lies the Devil wants me to believe when I’m tempted to think my job doesn’t matter, or worse yet, when he tries to quench the passion I have for learning that got me into this profession in the first place. These are the half-truths he wants me to cling to in those moments of frustration, exhaustion, and irritation that tempt me to think my work doesn’t save lives.
I was pretty deep into this kind of thinking last Christmas Break, not caring about a whole lot of things, much less my job. I had begun to just give up on ever gaining back the fire I once had for students, novels, engaging lessons, teachable moments, and those warm fuzzies you get when you know you have a conversation with kids that will pay off in life dividends, not just standardized testing numbers. Then my brother (my 4 years younger than me little brother) made this snarky comment, “Yea, Becka, cuz it’s not like you do anything important at all. I mean, you don’t have 160 members of the next generation walking through your doors every day or anything. People like Steve Jobs didn’t ever attend high school and get inspired by a teacher or anything like that. You’re right. Your life is absolutely meaningless.”
Ouch. But, oh, what a healing agent was mixed into that painful balm. Bless my brother for his biting sarcasm on Christmas Day 2012.
I thought of it last night. I think of it often. But, last night, the boyfriend and I attended my high schoolers’ spring musical, Hairspray. They did a fabulous job. But, as various kids were coming up to me from former classes, and I was struggling to remember all their names, I suddenly realized just how many students’ names I’d have to remember if I could remember all of them: upwards of one thousand. ONE THOUSAND. In 5 and a half years of teaching high school, I’ve had one thousand kids sit under my instruction for an hour a day, 5 days a week, 4 weeks a month, 10 months out of the year.
The thought is and was both exhilarating and terrifying. The weight of my profession has never been lost on me. But, sometimes, I forget just how weighty it is. I go to conferences like Storyline and I hear Donald Miller and his chums talk about saving lives in Africa and I just want to be there. I want that glamorous crazy story of the girl teaching beautiful brown skinned, wide-eyed babes in the jungle (admittedly, that is actually way too white man’s burden style for me, but you get the idea). I forget how much life-saving there is to be done right here, perhaps because it’s not as sensationalized. But, God knows I’ve seen and heard pain amongst kids in entitled Woodcrest just as real and raw as those of genocide survivors in Rwanda. And perhaps just because they’re in the first world does not mean they are in any less need of rescue, reconciliation, and redemption.
A character who lives a great story must overcome conflict. Teaching is rife with conflict. This week alone has provided all the fuel I need to, ironically, burn out of the job. But, it is finding the meaning in the suffering, learning the lessons in the conflict, that actually transforms the character and saves lives. That’s what it means to be a great character. That’s what I want.
I want to Absurdly Hope that even in all the perfunctory and mundane grading of papers and emailing back to ridiculous and demanding students, lives are being saved, and characters (hopefully not just mine) are being transformed.
Thank you, little brother, for the truth you spoke into the lies a few months back, for the lives who need me to believe that what I do is absurdly important.