One of my pen pals asked me in a letter the other day how I do it all. Here's the answer: I do it all until I do this thing I'm about to do right now, which is be at my wits end.
I am grateful for my job. I am grateful to have a job. This moment is not about that. This moment is about venting, about being a human being who is not perfect.
Today I am exhausted.
Today teaching is too hard. Today it's just too much. Teaching is a job that asks sacrifice to the point of self harm. They don't tell you that when you get your credential.
Or maybe it just is the way I'm doing it--that's the more likely scenario. Why anyone would say sure to the kind of schedule I have is beyond me, and yet there I was last spring, saying yeah, okay, I can do that! Sure! Never mind that I'm trying to get my MFA. Never mind that my kids are 8 and 10 and won't ever be the age they are today again. Never mind that I have a marriage, and it's one that needs more attention than a rare orchid to stay alive.
And no, Internet, I'm not having this tantrum because I'm a lazy slacker who let things get away from her. I'm doing it. ALL OF IT. I'm working my schedule like a mofo, and I am on-task. I'm on-tasker than anybody you have ever met, but I am at the point in the school year where I lay down on my carpet after school and kick my feet and go I can't do this. I just can't do this anymore.
Because illusions I had about making a difference in a big way are out the window. I have 110 AP students (and 75 freshmen). And honestly, even though I'm grading their weekly essays like a beast, I'd say a goodly percentage of the writers don't really care what I write on them. In the last week I've had 2 kids come talk to me about their writing. Two. Out of 110. Not even 2% of the most ostensibly advanced writers in the school--the ones who are taking a college-level test in a little more than two weeks--want to talk about how they can improve. We can talk about why that might be some other day, but the fact is that they're not. It's disheartening because I want to help. So we press on, hoping that some quiet kid is getting more out of the class than I know, that he's learning something even though he's afraid (?) to talk to me. And I tell myself that I would do the job no matter what their response because it's the right thing to do. Because it is. And I am. And like an idiot I still keep hoping they'll read the comments or come see me when I offer.
But still, still I feel like every single act, every step and word and movement I make is being critiqued from afar. I could have never known that was the life of a teacher. It is being on stage five hours a day, and your show is getting reviewed in the paper constantly. I am conscientious to the point of obsession, and still I'm getting panned. This is the point in the year where I surrender, where I say enough. I did my best, and it isn't good enough.
Listen. I know it's me, too, this mood. I take things personally. I know that some days I can handle the BS better than others. Today was not one of those days. I can't hear kids mutter things like "I fucking hate this class" while I'm teaching curriculum I love and not feel a sting. This afternoon a precious snowflake looked right at me and said "why are you wearing that dress? It's so ugly." I just don't think that's the kind of thing you say to a person. Teacher or not. By the time I had to deal with a group of boys who thought it would be really awesome to repetitively blurt out the word "boner" while I was trying to teach the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, I was about to lose my shit.
Yeah, haha. Boner. But you try teaching something you love while somebody does that.
I didn't lose my shit, though. Because teachers don't. I kept it together. I kept them together.
No, I waited until I got home and saw the dishes in the sink that were there from before I went to LA.
The dishes that E left for me until I got home, the dishes that I then left for him in an immature act of defiance I could no longer maintain. I was faced with week-old bowls of cereal milk and the stench of my own defeat. That's when I lost it. That's when I lay on the floor and kicked my feet and cried a little.
That's the thing about the job that's hardest for me. It's everyone at home who suffers. My real life--my home life--is what matters, yet that is always where the emotions boil over and make a mess. Not so often in the classroom, where I feel like it's off limits. I start to feel out of balance when I'm giving away more of myself at work than I save for my family.
That, my dears, is how I do it. I do it until I fall apart.