It’s May. This time of year is both ecstatic joy and utter misery, somehow a simultaneous experience we English teachers chalk up to the definition of “paradox.”
This year is the end of my eighth in education, most of which has been an amalgam of high school and community college teaching.
In short, I’m tired. In length, I wonder how anyone is expected to run this race longer than ten years. Let me explain.
This spring, I binge watched the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why over the course of two weeks after reading the book again with book club students. I’m glad it raises issues that most people—students, parents, community members, etc.—push under the rug. It definitely details The Struggle, and it shows it from every angle. Viewers see the victim, but viewers also see the bullies and that the patina sheen of their existence is tainted too.
Viewers also get to see the guidance counselor and the administration. The book doesn’t delve into these characters much, but the show adds depth throughout the series to characterize the narrative. The guidance counselor sees the victim, Hannah, after she’s been considering suicide for awhile; she does not say this directly, and her commentary throughout their interaction is veiled by dramatic quips. (Note: The book and the show differ on her reasoning for seeing the counselor; in both, she’s ready to end it, but the show adds a severe assault.) The guidance counselor tells her that she has two options: she can address her issue head-on or she can choose to move past it and let it go.
In both the book and the series, this is seen as her tipping point. That day she goes home and decides to end her life. The counselor is seen as her final reason, and her final chance at being saved lost. (Assuming, of course, that we’re blaming an outsider for her very personal, individual choice.)
On any given day, I can see myself having a similar response to Hannah had she come to see me instead. I would have contacted parents or the principal to alert them of the instability in her emotions, but the conversation could and would have likely been the same. Hannah certainly needed help, but the interaction was simple. Who could have known?
And now, at the end of my eighth year, I have to ask myself, “What about the guidance counselor? Who is providing him with support?” I realize that we, educators and counselors alike, are adults. We have support systems and we are wise enough to know how to get help when needed, whereas students, as minors, need proper care and guidance from adults. But I have to note that there have been days where I go home feeling like absolute garbage, like everything I do is for naught. Some days I need help, too.
For instance, I have students call me a bitch when I respectfully ask them to be quiet so I can teach. I have students consistently mutter things under their breath while staring at me and then tell me I’m being rude and to “mind my own business” when I ask them to be quiet. They have told me that I “expect respect but don’t give it.” When I meet with students to address their failing grades in other classes, I “need to get off [their] backs and stop bothering” them. (I won’t even go into parent interactions.)
I just need to ask: Who’s supporting the teachers? Those who truly can’t take it anymore can, of course, leave the profession. But most are inclined to serve and have lots of reasons why they went into (and continue to stay in) education.
At what point, though, is it too much? How can teachers serve a population of people who do not even consider them to be important or worthy of time? At what point do teachers stop serving 50-60+ hours a week for students who often don’t understand, appreciate, or respect the hours they give for students’ success? This career is not based on commission, nor has it ever been. It’s based on service, a consistent drive for the success of posterity.
I am an adult. I have a support system. But some days I truly wonder about first year teachers, those without support systems, and those in critical districts where administrators are analyzing every piece of data surrounding their coursework. Who’s looking out for them? Who’s making sure they go home OK every day, even when those they’re working for treat them like they deserve no respect at all? I hope they know they have the support of other teachers. I hope they have a support system.
But I have to ask, if it got down to it, would anyone listen to their tapes?
I truly hope no one has to find out. But I do hope that parents, community members, and legislators understand the atmosphere and system they’re setting up for those that will educate future generations.