I don’t know what it is about spring that seems to bring all the crazy and drama to the surface, but it’s been a rough
week month for my students, all around. (Probably not coincidentally, our prom was last month and things have been bumpy ever since.) Pregnancy scares (and some real ones), break-ups (and get-back-togethers – can you just STOPPPPP), and raging senioritis are wreaking general havoc, but this week was especially rough.
A student from one of our home schools took his own life, and quite a few of my students were upset. Another student, one of mine, was suspended for the remainder of the school year for allegedly possessing and using tobacco products on school grounds. She’s a senior and at least she’ll be allowed to participate in convocation and her home school graduation ceremonies, but it’s just a bummer to see her senior year soured. And today one of my students hovered around after class to tell me that she was moving out (or being kicked out, I wasn’t very clear from her story) of her mom’s house.
She’d been telling me for several weeks about increasing friction at home, and I guess things just got to be too much. She’s not sure where she’s going to go but plans to sleep in her car if necessary. (I flew to her guidance counselor after our conversation to find out how we can intervene.) This is the same student who had been working 40 hours a week, in addition to school, to help pay her family’s bills. During our conversation I asked if she wanted to go get some lunch; she said she was broke and tried to refuse the three dollars I dug out of my wallet. Then she started crying, “Not because I’m sad but because you and the other teachers have helped me so much more emotionally than my mom or grandma ever did.” I brought her some tissues, we talked a little more, and then I walked her to lunch.
This is the reason I get up every morning and drive an hour to school. As tiring as it is to bear the burdens of a hundred people, it is good hard work that strengthens my spirit. A year ago I spent a third of my waking hours doing work that ultimately did not feed my soul. I craved this connection, but for the first part of this school year I was afraid that the intensity would overwhelm me. Gradually, I got stronger, wiser, better at organizing the academic teaching part so that I could focus on the person-to-person work.
I still feel conflicted about my decision to accept a job at another school, much closer to home and possessed of far greater material and intangible resources. It was really hard to realize that the long commute and peculiarities of working in a career center were draining more energy out of me than I could afford, that I had to make changes or risk burning out (again). I didn’t want to acknowledge that the situation wasn’t sustainable. We might move in another school year. I’ll have a whole year of experience under my belt, so I’ll be better prepared. I could do this! But…if I found myself here for two more school years, how much of my life will I have spent driving to and from school? Did I really want to teach anatomy for another year, when I already felt, for a variety of reasons, like I wasn’t able to teach the class in a way that felt authentic to my teaching style and philosophy?
So I started applying for openings, interviewed for and accepted a position, and have been welcomed into my incoming department with open arms. (Hopefully more on that in a future post.) But I’m scared. Not just the usual pre-transition jitters. I’m scared that my new students won’t need my support because their parents are supportive and involved (perhaps overly so). I know that’s a good thing, and something I wish all my students could have, but I’m afraid it will limit my work to knowledge dissemination, which is not the most important reason why I teach. I spent a quarter student-teaching in a similarly affluent school and it was harder to connect with those students, though that is probably more due to the fact that I appeared midwinter and stayed only for 10 weeks.
Then again, there are students this year with whom I have a pretty purely academic relationship, and that is still gratifying. I got to see them progress and grow throughout the year, and I just hope that I’ve played some role in their development. And there will always be kids who need extra support, or a vote of confidence, or just a pat on the shoulder and a “How was your day?” even if they don’t realize it. Changing schools will allow me to recharge more and be able to give that much more to my students.