The Joy of Teaching Through Our Battles

I remember it like it was yesterday.

It was my first year teaching.  My parents set us down the weekend before and told us that my dad had taken a superintendent job almost 3 hours away.  And this daddy’s girl, who had never been away from my parents longer than a week, bawled like a baby.  Like, the ugly cry.

And just about the time I got it together, it was time go teach first grade the next morning.  At some point in my trying-to-be-cheery morning at school, the rest of the staff found out my dad was leaving our district and moving away.  And with everyone around me knowing my life-changing news again, I bawled.  Again.  In front of my firsties.  And it was so noticeable that I kept getting asked by my sweet kiddos if I was okay.

As terrible as that was to deal with my first year teaching, I had no idea that would be one of the smallest personal battles I fought on the public stage of teaching kids.

Over the next 10 years of my teaching career, I received all kids of shocking, life changing news and battled through numerous personal struggles…all surrounded by 6 and 7 year olds.

It was in my first grade classroom that I fielded phone calls from nurses about test results.

It was in my classroom that I dealt with the eminent death of grandparents.

It was in my classroom that I quarantined myself from my teacher besties so I could pump and continue to nurse my baby for 13 months.

It was in my classroom that I cried tears of separation anxiety from leaving my baby boy each morning.

It was in my classroom that I learned my newborn niece passed away.

It was in my classroom…minutes before parent teacher conferences that I got a phone call that we weren’t pregnant.  Again.

And the list goes on.  The list is even longer for many other teacher friends.

Receiving and dealing with shocking news isn’t a teacher thing.  It’s just called life.  But what is different for teachers (and many other professions) is dealing with the shock in front of 25 little people.

There’s no place to hide.  There is no quiet office to run to and close the door.  The hallway is filled with teachers, parents and students. And walking to the car to have a good cry and leaving first graders behind to fend for themselves just isn’t a real option.

The personal battles are real.  And for extremely private people like me, dealing with those battles on a public stage can be enough to send us over the edge.

So what do we do? How do we make it through?  And how do we find the joy of teaching through those personal battles?

Use teaching as a distraction

For me, teaching is a job where I have to be in front of kids teaching, managing and guiding. I can’t sit back in a corner and feel sorry for myself and get lost in my sadness. I have to be busy making sure my classroom still functions. And the busy-ness is therapeutic for me. During my biggest personal struggles, the busy-ness of teaching is my sanctuary. It’s my place to get lost from the stress going on inside of me or outside my classroom walls. Yes, there are moments when I break down–especially those initial moments–but for me they are short lived because of the little sweeties in my classroom that are so good at pulling me back into teaching mode!

That’s the joy of teaching through the struggle.

Make Our Class Family Stronger

Life throws teachers curve balls…but life throws people curve balls too. And little people aren’t exempt from that. The reality that I’m not the only one inside my classroom walls dealing with “stuff” is a comfort and a teaching opportunity to me. As a class family, my first graders and I have dealt with the hospitilization of a brother of one of our little friends after he was run over by their uncle. And he dealt with that at school. Another year, a little girl’s sweet mommy died while on the operating table for a routine procedure. All while we were at school.

Our little people are not exempt from personal battles. And how we respond to their personal battles models how they respond when we are struggling…or when their friends are struggling. To many of us, teaching goes beyond a textbook. We teach literacy and math, but more importantly we teach life. In 178 days together, one of us is sure to have some curve balls to deal with. I find the joy in the midst of my struggle to be the opportunity to show my kids how to gracefully deal with whatever “stuff” comes my way. It may not be appropriate to unload all the nitty gritty details on our little people, but it’s okay for them to know we are feeling sad or upset and to see that we make it through just fine with the kindness and support from each other. That’s what family is all about. That’s what our class families should be about too.

And that’s the joy of teaching through the struggle.

Having Teacher Besties

As a teacher, it’s hard to leave my classroom in the hands of someone else. It’s hard to release control. It’s hard to justify writing sub plans when I have a cold or feel under the weather. It’s so hard. But sometimes it’s necessary. I was blessed to have a teacher bestie that wrote sub plans for me when my grandfather passed away. I am so thankful for a team of teacher friends who knew when I needed a mental break even when I was at school…when I needed to go find a bathroom and have a five minute cry by myself before heading back to my classroom.  I find joy in the midst of my personal struggles when I have wonderful people around me who can help take care of my daily teaching needs so I can focus on the “stuff” that matters…when many times those same teacher friends don’t even know the details of our “stuff.” That’s a teacher bestie for you.

And that’s the joy of teaching through the struggle.

I have a choice when dealing with “stuff” in the classroom. I can let my personal struggle get the best of me if I want to. I can be angry that I’m locked in a classroom with loud little people without any adult contact, the ability to process my thoughts in the peace and quiet, or the ability to even answer my phone.

Or I can choose To see the joy of teaching through the struggle.

“Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you will be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
James 1:2-4

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