The Real Reason Teaching is Hard

There’s all sorts of stuff out there about the long hours, the scorn we get from politicians and other morons, the relatively low pay, the socioeconomic issues that create students who don’t actually care to learn… I’m not going to talk about that stuff today.  Because while all that does make teaching difficult, it isn’t the hardest thing about this job.

No, the hardest thing is that the kids can break your heart.  Often, and in very jagged pieces.

I have a student who is unhealthily large.  He can’t wash himself properly, so he always has an aggressively foul odor.  He has no support at home.  I’m a big guy myself, but this kid… nobody should be so heavy, at 15, that they break a desk just by sitting in it.  He’s drowning in self hate while also putting on a happy minstrel face for his friends.  He’s told me how much it hurts him, but he won’t stop.

Another student has physical and mental issues that could easily be solved by medication, but her parents won’t allow her to take the medicine, because they are afraid she’ll go to hell for taking medicines.  They control every aspect of her life, including not letting her go to school when they want to punish her.  She’s missed 54 days of school so far, out of the 100 we’ve had.  If she gets the medicine behind their backs, they’ll send her to Nicaragua to be controlled by relatives there.  We’re trying to help her, but there’s only so much we can do.

There’s the seemingly model student, who is clearly going through something pretty traumatic, but isn’t willing to talk about it with anyone, even though he admits he probably needs help.

And then there’s the kid who wrapped his car around a tree, and who over the weekend tried to kill himself in shame, and is now in a psych ward.  I’m not making that up.  My fiction isn’t that fucked up.

On top of all that, there are the kids who just hate school, and by extension teachers.  They complain no matter what, and they’ll tell you “Fuck you” to your face if you call them on any of their nonsense.

And through all this, we teachers have to keep going.  We’re expected to wear a neutral face, and be on-task and learning-oriented all the time.  We’re expected to smile and nod at ridiculous, utterly stupid comments from parents, take abuse from students, and be utter professionals when all we want to do sometimes is scream, or break down and cry.

In ten years, I’ve been very lucky not to have lost any students to death, but even the ones who don’t get expelled are often lost, even though they’re in class every day.  There’s just only so much we can do, especially in the face of dwindling resources, politicians who think our job is easy, and parents who are utter failures at raising their kids.

Frankly, it sucks.

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About Michael Johnston

Father of a fifth grader, high school English teacher, writer. Forty-six years old and feeling almost every bit of it on some days, and not a bit of it on others. Based in Sacramento, California, USA
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