A lesson I’ve had to re-learn many many times in my life is “I can’t fix them.” I have had to keep reminding myself of that year after year in 6th grade, made more difficult by the fact that, well, I’m kind of supposed to. Or, at least, I am supposed to try. And help. That’s kind of the definition of public middle school teacher. Nurse, mother, counselor, sun-maker, tone-setter, model and mentor, all while making sure they hit proficient or above in their MCAS scores.
Increasingly, I have struggled with the futility of it, and yesterday was one of those days when I kind of hit the wall. I am tired of chasing kids down for their 6-sentence homework sheet on writing topic and closing sentences, and Egypt packets, and parent signatures on quiz scores below an 80%. I hate that part. I want to stay true to my mission. I want to give reasons to make school important for them, to help them see that their investment in their education is a matter of character, and not just grades on a piece of paper. No matter what their world is like outside, they can choose who they are in school. That’s the message, anyhow.
I have two boys this year who just hurt my heart every day. Total apathy and disconnection and rudeness, actively trying to not only spoil their own experiences, but to bring down the rest of the whole class. It’s exhausting, and really, when I think about it…it always seems to be the case. Every year there are a couple of kids who basically kick my ass, and require their own candles in the end-of-the-year burning ceremony, and they usually get the same message when I release them: “May they find joy and peace in their hearts, and understand that investing in learning is the ticket out of the sad place they dwell.” I berate myself for not having “fixed,” them, but really, what can I do? I can only give them the best of myself while they are here…
Here’s the thing, though…I know I don’t always do that. I know I hit the wall, every year, and sort of toss my hands up and say, “You’re your mother’s problem.” (I mean, not out loud or anything. Just in my head.) I think I have hit that point a bit earlier this year, simply out of fatigue. They’ve worn me down.
(Sidebar update…you might remember Sam, my “little fox,” who we kept for another year. He’s thriving in every way. He’s a success story, a wonderful soul, and I think we caught him in time. It took a village, and will continue to require that, but we got him. I think his changes will stick.)
I am 99% overjoyed about the choice to change my life and career. The only place where I feel conflict is the 1% Guilt Factor. And the guilt comes from this simple fact: I know that I can’t totally fix these poor little lost souls…but I can make a dent. I have made a difference in the lives of some of these kids, and now I won’t be here to catch them in the rye. Who will? If I can do it, shouldn’t I? Why should I get to have a much easier life now, full of things that just make me happy, when I am equipped to do much harder work in the world?
I don’t have an answer, and believe me, I am not going to change my mind. And after days like yesterday, that question doesn’t hurt me so much. Some days, though, it lingers.