A mentor once told me that teachers should never actually figure out what their time is worth – never divide your salary by the actual number of hours that you spend being a teacher. Looking back, I think this is rather misguided advice to give to a new teacher. The advice is foolish not because I think teachers should calculate their worth, but because no one goes into education to make money. Teachers do what they do because they love working with students – being a part of that moment when a student makes a connection to what you are teaching, when you’ve just witnessed a young person make a discovery that will potentially change the way she understands herself and the world she lives in. I love my job. How many people get to say they enjoy what they do each day. I wake up thankful (darn early, but thankful) that every day I can expect to be surprised.
That said, this has definitely been one of my more difficult weeks. It is Thursday and I’ve been at school every day this week until a little after five, picking up after student presentations and preparing for the presentations that will happen the next day. When I arrive home, the book bag is hurled onto the couch, its contents spilling everywhere because the zipper can’t contain the student essays, projects, pen pal letters. I nestle into the worn cushions, piles of homework and quizzes form an arch around me and extend to the coffee table and floor. There I sit and grade until about 10.
It was at about four o’clock this afternoon when I realized I had not stopped to eat either breakfast or lunch. I love that students are always in my classroom – before school, during lunch, and after school. It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished one of my goals of setting up a safe and inviting space for students to be. But I am occasionally (often) guilty of neglecting myself in order to take care of others. In fact, I think most teachers are guilty of this. In a conversation with a colleague the other day, we joked that both of our significant others find it exasperating how much of our time is taken up thinking about, planning for, preparing to, and evaluating our teaching. My husband will often arch a disapproving eyebrow in my direction when I tell him I’ve volunteered to sponsor another after school club or have spent part of my paycheck on more books for my classroom. But other teachers understand this. Teachers give of themselves, and not just part of who we are. Good teachers give themselves wholly to the art of teaching. Teaching is a labor of love.
However, this is not to say that I think it admirable or wise to neglect oneself. In fact, I find when I do this, I am actually a worse teacher. When I take on extra duties or volunteer for another committee, I don’t have enough of myself left to give to teaching. On his blog So You Want to Teach, Joel confronts this same issue and has some great advice for avoiding the burnout that many teachers experience – “All Work and No Play...”. Read any teacher’s blog, listen in on any conversation between teachers, and you will hear about the struggles of juggling teaching and a life outside of teaching. I am worse at finding that balance now than when I first entered the classroom six years ago.
But what makes it all worth it is that moment when you know a young person got it – that “ah ha!” moment. So I will grade until 10 tonight, I will get up early, I will not calculate my time because I live for those moments.