A Journey to the Unexpected

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 22 2012

The things I’ve been paying the most for.

My sister said it best this summer. “You love the things most that you’ve paid the most for.”

Every minute of last year cost me blood, sweat, tears, and years of my life—probably more literally than anyone, including myself, really gets just yet. True, this year is better than last, better in a way that makes using a comparative adjective (shout out to my kiddos there) ridiculous, because even with all the challenges this year has, which are many, and even though it’s only September, I’m fairly certain the two will never compare. I was reminded of this as I was began reading Psalm 6—“My soul is in anguish.” Yup. The words triggered that familiar anguish—the anguish that last year, in my more masochistic moments, the moments I most wanted to escape, I wrote endless poems about to know that I would never, never, never forget—as if it would lose its validation, its reality. I know other anguished souls have experienced things much more brutal than my few first months, but I have only found a very, very few scattered first year teachers who have swallowed this particular flavor of anguish—the kind of anguish that years after triggers panic attacks in the middle of the night when your classroom, in complete disarray, and your students’ destroyed futures flash before your eyes—and then, when it’s over, you’re awake, and everything you’re left with is sick, disturbed, darkness.

Oh, I know I’m overdramatic—but really, the point is, I’m under-dramatizing my reality. I don’t have a deep enough way to express what I’ve paid: inching, clawing, grasping at any blade of grass or hope that looked like it could offer some sort of chance at survival. None of them held in the moments I felt I most needed them to.

Now I see what I’ve really paid for, though. Not being a great teacher. No Sue Lehman award. No Teacher-of-the-Year. Not “everyone’s favorite.” I can’t even say that I’m a good enough teacher that I’ve discovered my life’s calling and have burst into butterflies and joy and happiness. But I love my students.

I love my students.

And I love the crazy-busy parents who take the day to support their kids at academic meets, always focused on their kid’s future.

And I love the teachers who desperately want us to be better than the top school in our district.

I love the principals who spend every waking moment at every school event, know each of their kids names, homework habits, and entire genealogies, and still make time to go fishing with their boys on the weekend.

I love the moms and their kids who bring in snacks from “The Snack Fairy.”

I love the ones who sneakily over-pay me back for lunch.

I love the ones who are late to basketball practice so they can listen to my totally useless explanation of factoring binomials.

I love the ones who tell me they hate me because I have no idea how to get them to write.

I love the ones who failed their test, and I’m terrified will lose all their confidence.

I love the ones who did their best, and I love the ones who copied, and the ones who couldn’t care less and left it blank.

I love the ones who drive me up the wall and I lose my temper with, and the ones who I drive up the wall and they lose their tempers with me.

I love the ones who are so quiet that sometimes I don’t notice them.

I love that somehow this year I can see at least an inch or two beyond my own nose. We are a community, a whole, and I love that.

I’m still paying for my kids, and if I only thought about what I was giving in terms of how successful I was, it would never be worth it. But I come home every day and listen to Jason Mraz’s demo of “I Won’t Give Up”—not the famous one, the beautiful over-played-on-the-radio one. I listen to the scrappy acoustic one, where you can feel him almost cut out a couple times, and I can imagine Jason at his kitchen table picking away on a rough, hung-over, Sunday morning. It’s a scrappy Saturday evening right now, and I have way more to do this weekend than is physically feasible. I have further to go as a teacher than I’m very likely going to get this year. I’m so unspeakably thankful just to know, though, that I don’t even know what I’m buying with each drop of blood from papercuts, sweat from moving tables in broken air conditioning, or tears from, well, everything else. I’m this far in, though, and teaching aside, God knows we’re worth every minute—or year—that’s being paid for right now.

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