Saturday, March 8, 2014

Is it Spring Break Yet?

 “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” they said.

And so many days, I struggled finding something nice to say. So I refrained from writing. When did I become such a negative person?

The realization freaked me out. Going into each day with an impending sense of doom gave me so much anxiety. Or as we call it “The Fear” that sets in before the morning bell rings.

As a non-confrontational and pretty cheerful (or so I thought) person by nature, being strict and having to yell at children to be respectful every day is daunting. I can’t even remember the last time I had to raise my voice before this job. And now it’s a daily ritual I practice throughout the 8 ½ hour school day.

I suppose “yelling” is not the right word; it’s more of a loud, long-winded preach. I’m actually surprised how articulate I can be when giving dramatic speeches to the children. They know being fierce is not my nature. So they test me. And sometimes the only way I can reach them is by proclaiming that I too am human and I came to help them learn how to read and get a better life for their families. They need to learn how to be respectful to all of the people in their lives that are trying to help them because my god, they deserve a better chance in this world.

And I continue preaching, until I no longer see preteens with attitudes, but the vulnerable eyes of children. When the room becomes silent, I take a deep breath. And onward I go with the rest of the lesson.

After staring into a sea of deep brown eyes, I’m sometimes taken aback when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. It’s a peculiar feeling, like looking at a stranger. I can only imagine how my students must feel, being taught by someone so foreign in the way they look, act and were raised.

I try so hard to be patient and empathetic for them and their lives that I know nothing about. After so many hours of expelling that energy, it becomes draining. The other day as I found myself frazzled with the children at 4:28 pm, one of my sweet, little 6th graders looked at me concerned and pleaded, “Ms. Lenzen please do not explode!” And in that moment you feel like such a bad person. Have I become another unstable person in their lives that has lost patience with them?

The struggle is real.

Teaching in an environment where the stakes are this high is immeasurably demanding. You want so badly to be a positive presence in their lives and somehow maintain your mental sanity. But finding that balance, or any balance at all, is a struggle.

Before the start of the school year, I laughed when they told us one of our benefits was 6 free counseling sessions. Now I get it. I finally understand why “Teacher Retention” is one of the biggest problems my organization is facing. Because frankly, as one of my teacher friends put it, “Maybe we don’t want to be retained.”

For me, it feels a bit like a catch 22. You should stay to save the children. But if you stay you will be putting your mental sanity in jeopardy.

I do also recognize that I am a first year teacher and the school I’m at is in its infancy. With both accounts come growing pains with culture and discipline. In the learning curve of the teacher world, I’m already seeing more clearly than I was first semester.

I can only imagine it truly would get easier with each year. Even so, I’m still in awe and admire the people that can persist in these classrooms year after year. I know my heart is in the right place, but man.

Is it spring break yet?

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