Ever since I got the news last week that I was to be on restricted rest the remainder of my pregnancy and not return to teaching for the rest of the year, each day has been a jumble of tears.
For me, the past two weeks have been a whirlwind. There is a surreal feeling surrounding my soul that everything that has happened, and is happening now, isn't actually happening. Trying to wrap my brain around what has occurred and where God has led me to is proving confusing and difficult.
With only 24 hours after receiving the news to try to decide what I needed to do to be prepared, how I was going to say goodbye to my precious 20 students and their parents and families, how I was going to say goodbye to my beloved staff, all without over-stressing myself and going into real labor...the past few days have been nothing but an attempt to process in between moments of fear, doubt, uncertainty, and lots of kleenex.
But the most sobering reality of all is that I didn't only say goodbye to my beloved first graders, their families, and my out-of-this-world coworkers.
I said goodbye to my teaching career. For now, at least. After six of the most rewarding, stretching, unfathomably meaningful years of my life.
This week is Teacher Appreciation Week in our nation, and there is a hashtag on Twitter circulating around called #whyiteach. So today, I want to reflect and pay tribute to those six years that I got to share and spend my days with our nation's most precious resource: children. I know I will forever be a teacher, and I may even perhaps return to the classroom one day, but instead of writing about #WhyITeach, this will be rather "#WhyITaught."
A lot of people don't understand why someone would want to teach. The pay isn't necessarily high, the hours aren't what you expect, and the emotional and personal sacrifices that you have to make in order to be effective and organized and prepared are many. You are constantly in a limbo, being pulled in several directions, having to make hard choices. You surrender a lot of your personal "me time," as going to a yoga class after school, for example, takes a backseat after conferencing with parents or prepping for that fun science lab tomorrow. Your heart breaks and mourns with your students as they experience the hardships of life. You don't really have the freedom to do basic things like eat your lunch in a timely fashion, or even go to the bathroom when you need to. You and your pride, self-worth, identity, and ego are daily put on the chopping block. You don't always please everyone and sometimes people are very unhappy with you if you don't do everything just right.
Yes, there is all of that. And a lot more probably, but I don't want to focus on the negative anymore. One of the rules in our classroom has always been "I will have positive energy, not negative!" and I think it's time to ramp up this post towards the former.
1) Because children are worth fighting for. They are worth us fighting for their education, their growth, and their feelings. These children are but that- children- and need advocates all around them, in the home and at school. As a teacher, I was able to be an advocate and help foster the development of each child I taught. I was able to help them build their character, mindset, and grow in their ability to love. I was able to see their hearts change over time and grow in kindness, strength, empathy, and courage. To me, nothing, nothing, nothing beats this.
2) Because our work is meaningful. Not one day can a teacher go into work and leave saying, "Man, that day was pointless." Each day holds such meaning. Each day is an opportunity for students (and teachers, alike) to learn something new, to grow in perseverance and character, to make others smile, to gain a new friend, to leave each day changed by the things experienced. We are helping to make huge differences in the lives of others when we step foot into our workplace each day.
3) Because it is life giving. Your days as a teacher are spent pouring into others, yes, but what you receive in return fills your cup up beyond your understanding. The rewards might not be monetary or physical. They might just be a child crying in your arms as you comfort them, because they feel safe with you there; a heartfelt handwritten note secretly left on your desk about how much a child loves you; an email from a parent about how you have changed their child's life; a sense of accomplishment and joy when you see your students engaged and excited about learning and school; a postcard from a student you taught three years ago arriving in your mailbox just to say hi and update you on his life; sitting around a student's family dinner table as they invite you into their lives and home; watching a student in their element, such as being invited to a baseball game or a diving meet; hearing a student say "I love you" or "I feel so safe with you, Mrs. Rubinson"; this list could go on and on, but as I reminisce about my days as a teacher and think back on my experiences, these are the things that I hold onto and remember.
4) Because I got to spend my days loving children. Caring for them. Knowing them, their hearts, their minds, their likes and dislikes, their fears and worries, their interests and things that got them excited. I got to be a stepping stone on their paths of life. I got to be a part of children's hearts. And they are forever parts of mine. They have changed me. They have helped me grow, too. They have taught me so much about forgiveness, grace, and mercy. They have shown me the perils of perfectionism and how it is okay to make mistakes as long as we learn from them and they change us for the better next time. They have illuminated and brought to the surface parts of my heart and mind that needed serious mending and redeeming. Children have the tendency to do this to us as adults. They are great sharpening tools.
So, #WhyITaught? In short, I was able to have my life changed forever by 119 students over the course of the past 6 years in our classrooms, and by far many more who I did not even teach but interacted with on a daily basis. I learned more about God's love for me as his child through the love I was able to feel and experience for my own students. I have been stretched, tested, and pushed to limits of my own that I did not even know could exist. For all of this, I am eternally grateful and thank my heavenly Father each day for the love he has for me, in that he knew it would bring me so much joy to be a teacher, and he led me to this profession and life.