I’ve been a public school teacher since 2003, but I’ve known that I was going to be a teacher since 1992, when I was in the seventh grade. When I was in middle school, I had no idea what or where I would end up teaching, and I certainly had not heard of Manchester--the beautiful town that I am proud to call home.
It’s funny how life works out sometimes. I have ended up teaching high school English about an hour from where I grew up, and it’s fair to say that the notion of teaching public school crept into my soul 25 years ago, while sitting in a 7th grade math classroom in the heart of the projects near downtown Nashville, and consumed it.
I’ll be the first to admit that the all-consuming nature of following my passion of educating young people frequently creeps into the safe space where family life should exist. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I would like to thank my wife and my kids for being so incredibly understanding. My wife didn’t come from a family of teachers and, when she married me, I don’t think she knew at the time what she was getting herself into. For that matter, neither did I. Never would I have predicted all of the ups and downs and persistent changes that have happened in public education over the past decade or so. Never would I have predicted being able to sit across the table from the state’s Commissioner of Education, Dr. Candice McQueen, and discuss education policy with her--thanks to the Hope Street Group Tennessee teacher fellowship. Never would I have imagined being invited to a White House ceremony honoring some of America’s most distinguished teachers.
For the non-teachers out there--and especially to the teachers’ spouses--I want to explain something that is most difficult, even for an English teacher that typically employs vernacular with relative dexterity.
Teaching is difficult because it’s a never-ending job. I can literally never turn it off. I’m always looking for new and better ways of doing things (hence, the gradeless classroom that I operate). When I sit on the couch and watch a TV show, or when I’m listening to music in the car, in the back of my mind I’m always wondering how any of it can be effectively utilized in my classroom. Everything that I see and experience is fair game.
Teaching is difficult because Darwin’s evolutionary theory of “survival of the fittest” has never been truer than in public education today. I must adapt to and master changes to my standards, how students are tested, and how I am evaluated. This would be much easier if I had the same group of students year after year, but that’s mostly an impossibility. Accomplishing this feat with a brand new group of people that I literally just met and adapting to their interests and their needs requires an utmost attention to detail. Teachers must efficiently adapt to their environments, or quickly find themselves both ineffective and irrelevant. I must also help my colleagues fight off predators who wish to steal public education’s most valuable resource--money. This fight is frustratingly unending but entirely worth it because I love my students, and they need someone in their corner fighting for them.
When I come home exhausted in the afternoons, please understand that the source of the exhaustion (at least for me) is occasionally physical, but mostly mental. I literally make hundreds of crucial and not-so-crucial decisions every single day. Then, once I'm home, there’s the mental journey to prepare for the next day and do it all over again. Please forgive me when I sit in line at the fast food restaurant and take five minutes to decide what I want to eat. Sometimes, I'm just over making any more decisions.
Spouses, I want you to know that teachers need and deeply appreciate your support. We need you there to listen when we've had a frustrating day; we need your help around the house while we're evaluating papers and busy saving the world; sometimes, we need you help setting up our classrooms at the beginning of the year. No one else can support us like you can and, even though we don't always say it, from the bottom of our hearts, we thank you. I'm extremely lucky to have a wife who understands all this, and I especially want to thank you for being my rock.