Next week is fall break, and never have I seen or known a group of people who need a vacation more than the women I work with (including myself). We’ve survived the first two months of school but even though those weeks have been hard, it isn’t the sole cause of our exhaustion.
I left work today in tears. I refuse to let them fall because I kind of feel silly about crying over work. But here’s the thing…I bet I’m not the only one who feels like crying. Once again, we were reminded that we’re not doing good enough. It’s a gray cloud that hangs over our heads or sometimes drifts away on a child’s laughter only to be brought back again by a bureaucrat that reminds us that we’re not worth a raise, or praise, or any kind of positive attention.
There’s this part of me that wants to say kiss my grits just like Flo did when I was a child watching Alice. I want to smack my gum and scream to the universe that I am worth praise now and then, and I am worth a raise no matter what some ridiculous growth measure says about my school. To the people out there sucking the joy out of education – kiss my grits!
I work with incredible people. Teachers who take tiny kindergarteners and somehow, someway change them from babies to students. When they scream for their mothers or refuse to walk in the hall, they endure and they teach. I work with second grade teachers who stop their instruction to console a weeping child who saw a homeless woman passed out by a creek and wrongfully believed it was his mother. This teacher held him while he cried and stayed with him until the police discovered and reassured him that it wasn’t his mother after all.
I work with people who spend their own money buying supplies for children, who feed hungry babies each day out of their own pockets. I work with people who defend bullied children, who clean up after them when they are sick, who give every ounce of themselves until when they go home at night, there’s nothing left in them to give their families.
These people are teachers (and assistants, custodians, secretaries, principals, and nurses), and we work hard and we care. But our number isn’t big enough. We’re not worthy enough.
So they say. But that’s not what I say, and it’s not what I see every single day.
When I want to cry…like I still want to right now…I try to think about my students. They are the only things that keep me going day in and day out. I think about the little girl in my room who is way too smart for her own good. I promise, she could run my room with her eyes shut. She has memorized my routines, my gestures…everything. It’s kind of spooky in a cute, invasion of the body snatchers way.
I think about the little fellow who hugged me goodbye the other day. He said, “Goodbye, Mrs. Wack-a-wee. I hope you look pretty tomorrow. Really pretty.” I glanced down to my shirt and wondered if I looked especially bad right then!
I think about a shy little girl who ran up to me on the playground and said, “Mrs. Rackley, Mrs. Rackley…this boy just said the “C” word.” I broke out into an all body sweat , and then I had her whisper into my ear what she’d heard. Thankfully, it was only kill. I know, I know…it’s not a nice word, and yes, she used her phonetic skills to tell me the beginning sound, but…whew…it was a relief, I promise you.
I think about the shy boy with impeccable manners who came up to my desk and said, “I didn’t know cousins could be different colors.” I told him they could, that I had cousins a different color, too, and then I told him that God made everybody (and I said God at school…I know that’s bad, too…but it was the moment and I don’t care). His smile was so innocent, so sweet. I think he realized in that moment that people can be and are very different.
Every teacher has a million stories like these. We deal with living, breathing people every day. It’s what we do whether someone says we’re a zero or a ten, a one or a five. I finally don’t feel like crying anymore…that’s what thinking of my students does to me…but I still want to scream to the world in my loudest, best southern drawl, “Mel, kiss my grits!”