Today is Erin’s last day of work for the foreseeable future. She teaches high school biology.
I’ve asked — even begged — her to quit for years now. She works easily three times harder than I do for one third the salary. I’ve been asking her to quit for at least two or three years. “Just stay at home and get fat; I don’t care. Just don’t go back. It’s not worth the stress.”
I uttered those words to her nearly daily. (Note to self: perhaps there are better ways to be supportive.)
As it turns out, Erin has finally taken my advice. She is getting “fat” now, and we’ve decided that she should take a year leave of absence in order to be home with 🌱 when he or she arrives. I will surely beg Erin not to go back after next year, but we’ll see what happens. Nevertheless, she and I both are facing the real possibility that today is her last day of work for, at the least, several years.
(I’ve been telling her she’s “retiring” at 30. That joke is funny until 🌱 arrives and I realize she’s trading one impossibly hard job for another.)
Today, naturally, has brought an avalanche of emotion for Erin. While I do believe she’s ready to be done for a while, both of us can’t help but be nostalgic. Erin has been teaching for eight years, and has made an empirical difference on countless lives in that time. She has worked with a passion and drive that I could only dream to have.
While my heart tells me that Erin is unique in her dedication and drive to teaching, my brain knows otherwise. There are a tremendous amount of teachers that dedicate their lives to improving the lives of others. In America, this is one of the most thankless professions one can choose.
The problems vary from school to school. Erin was lucky enough that her largest problem was usually “helicopter parents”. You know these parents; we’ve all seen them. Erin would often recount conversations with parents to me:
“Oh, how did that meeting with the parent go today?”
“The usual. Their child has a B+ and they want to know what I’m going to do to improve it.”
“Did you talk to that parent today?”
“Yes. Their child has a C- and the parents don’t understand why. I explained that their child never pays attention in class and never does their homework.”
“I assume their special snowflake still deserves an A?”
“Oh yes. The parents recommended alternate ways in which I can teach so it will be better for their child.”
“What about the other 29 kids in your class?”
“Apparently they don’t matter.”
To be fair, this is in many ways considerably better than the alternative. Until America’s recent obsession with school shootings, she never felt unsafe in her class. Her parents are present, and care; however, they feel like they (and their children) are entitled to special treatment.
There’s a phrase that people often like to quote: “Those who can’t do, teach.”.
That offends me.
Or another: “Oh, teaching must be so easy — you get three months off each year!”
It wasn’t until I married a teacher that I realized the amount of work that teachers put into their jobs. Erin works easily 60-80 hours a week. School does not end when the final bell rings. That’s when all the grading happens. And the tutoring. And the parent phone calls. And the ridiculous government-mandated administrivia. The preparation for the standardized testing that does no one any good whatsoever.
Erin, and all the other public school teachers in America, goes through hell and back every single day in order to enrich the lives of America’s future. She puts up with more bullshit than any one human should have to. Erin does so for a pittance of a salary, no thanks from parents, and often times without the support of her administration.
Why does she do this? Why waste her time?
Because she knows what all of us like to forget: that teaching is arguably the most important job in the entire world. That teaching is an investment in our future. Not just our children, but ourselves. It’s a promise we make today to our future selves. It’s a way to ensure that our future is bright.
If you are reading these words, then you owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to at least one teacher in your life. If you are making a successful living, you surely owe more than just one.
I made a snarky tweet a long time ago:
The only groups I can think of whom constantly over deliver yet are constantly called "disappointing" are Apple employees and teachers.— Casey Liss (@caseyliss) March 8, 2012
While I was being snarky, I stand by the teacher part of it. In America, teachers constantly over-deliver and yet are degraded, called “disappointing”, and micromanaged.
This is extremely unfair. Unfortunately, it’s the way things are here in the United States.
However, some of us know. Some of us understand.
So, to Erin, and all the other teachers out there: