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Why I Can’t Just Be Fired

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Earlier today, in the throes of spelling-induced temper tantrum, a student asked me, “Why can’t you just be fired?!?”

(Allow me to take a brief sidebar here to thank God for giving me a pretty stellar filter. It sometimes takes a long time for words to make it from my brain to my mouth, and today, that was a good thing. Today, that quite possibly saved my job.)

I responded with something along the lines of “Because I do my work, and people who do their work do not get fired.” (Don’t let the punctuation fool you. Those were my words, but I was not that calm.) I was, for a moment, annoyed at the tantrum. I’d had enough of the whining. Then I pulled some empathy out of my back pocket (I always keep a little there for emergencies) and put myself in this little guy’s shoes. I get it, dude. I know that frustrated feeling. And honestly, I see your point. Firing me would have, in that moment, given me just as much relief as it would’ve given you. Thanks for thinking of me.

And now that I’ve had some time to reflect on the day (and the week, and the longest February in recorded history), I have a few thoughts about why I can’t “just be fired” – and why you can’t either.

Teaching is hard, y’all. We all know it. I’ve written about it before. It’s brutal, butt-kicking work, and it’s not the teaching part. It’s the other stuff. The stuff we can’t fix but really, really want to anyway. The stuff we think about when sleep eludes us at 3am. It. is. hard. So why do we do it? Why does anyone with an ounce of love for themselves sign up for this job? And why do we stay? Why can’t we just be fired?

Because we’re needed. I’m needed. You are SO needed. Great teachers are leaving the field at an alarming rate. 40 to 50 percent of teachers will leave teaching in their first five years. (9.5% of those are gone before they even make it through the first one.) Studies have confirmed this, but none that I’ve found have really put a finger on why. It’s definitely not due to a lack of talent or ambition, and it’s not always a lack of training or support. I think maybe it’s because you don’t know how very needed you are. And THAT, my friends, keeps me up at night. Because if not you, who? Who will do this extremely important work of training up future generations to carry on a functioning society?

I was filling half-empty water bottles with glitter glue earlier this week and thought, “I have two college degrees, and this is what I’m doing with them?” I have friends who’ve told me about similar feelings when they cut out piles and piles of laminated items or staple blank booklets together for writing workshop. Certainly, anyone can do this. Why does it need to be me? How about I go do something that lets me sleep at night and leave my laminated stack for someone else? I pass a billboard every day that says, “Want to teach? When can you start?” Let that guy come staple these booklets together. Can he start tomorrow?

The minutia is what wears us down, what sends us running for the hills, but I’m here to tell you that it’s not enough for you to just be fired. It’s not enough for you to throw in the towel. It’s enough to make you crazy, but please, please, don’t let it be enough to make you leave. As February comes to a close, take a minute to remind yourself of the reasons why you came here, and for the love, please remind yourself of all of the reasons to stay.

Seconds after today’s temper tantrum ended, that same student FINALLY finished his work and said, “Hmm. I thought I was bad at this, but I guess I’m not.”

Ditto, buddy. Ditto.


Teaching is hard.

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I shared these thoughts tonight on Facebook, and they seemed to resonate with my teacher friends. Maybe they’ll be a blessing to you as well…

When we say that teaching is hard, please don’t misunderstand us. We’re not talking about the mountains of paperwork or never-ending to-do list. It’s not the meetings or the parent conferences, or even the curriculum. We can handle the lesson plans, and we can go entire days without a bathroom break if need be. That’s not really what we’re referring to either. We say that teaching is hard because year after year after year, 25ish families put their precious angels in our care, and we begin a race to be enough. Smart enough, sweet enough, tough enough, flexible enough – we are one person trying to stretch and grow enough in order to meet the very different needs of every single student. Every year, we love them like they are our own and give everything we have so that they can successfully leave us behind. They make us laugh, cry, jump for joy, and bang our heads against the wall. They are our greatest pride and our overwhelming responsibility. We work long into the night and, yes, all summer long. Those precious faces are why we say teaching is hard. And why we can’t imagine doing anything else.

I keep looking at the faces of those precious babies in Connecticut, and I just pray their teachers know that they were far more than enough.