there’s a myth that teachers work seven hours a day, nine months a year. there’s this joke: name three reasons to become a teacher - june, july, august.
if you’re worth your salt, you know better. you know the day usually is at least nine hours long, if not twelve (thanks, staff meeting that ran late again), you know that you spend your summers locked in small rooms learning and re-learning the smallest tactic that might help your students; endlessly on Pintrest because oh my gosh, isn’t that just the best idea for a sensory table. or a new name board. or this would really help them understand the activity; yes it’s going to cost me but gosh, isn’t it lovely. you know that being a teacher also sometimes means being a parent, kind of, and being a jailer, kind of, and being a hardass, kind of, and being the kindest person in their life. you know sometimes your role is “you gave me the hope i needed to keep studying” and sometimes it’s “you showed me i needed to work harder.” being a teacher is watching the entire series of my little pony just because it’s what’s cool with the kids and you think you could make a curriculum from it and it’s also deliberately pretending you don’t understand cultural references just because it makes kids squirm. it’s giving “a little extra” all the time, every day, a little extra points for that one student who needs it, a little extra hug, a little extra thought, and time, and emotional labor, and heart, and heart, and heart.
the interesting thing about being both a student and teacher at certain points in my life means that i came face-to-face with the idea i was going to lay down my life for a student before i’d even hit 21. at 19, taking lessons on how to distract a shooter should-it-ever-occur; a cop looked me in the face. “are you ready?” he asked. “will you die for them?” he had a gun on his hip. i hadn’t even met my class yet.
sometimes, i don’t match perfectly with my students. i mean, you always like them, a little, even if they drive you nuts, but some kids just won’t click with you. it’s kind of a hard thing to learn; you assume it’s because of you, and your failure to become some movie-star teacher who touches the life of every bill and sally. but the truth is, kids got stuff going on at home and in their bodies and in their friends and they don’t always have time or energy to be patient and listen or whatever you need from them. but you try, you know. and then you’re asked. hey, this kid that won’t listen, that hits other kids, that uses slurs. you’ll die for him, right? you’ll give up that big beautiful future you got, that family that loves you, that home and that slice of cake. you’ll give up that summer cruise you’ve saved up for since july and your brother’s wedding. for this kid?
i do have, like. a gauge about things. sometimes, and i mean this truly and deeply, i am simply not paid enough for certain nonsense. no, no, who cares i’m not paid enough for crayons or markers or books or literally half the supplies i have in my classroom (i’ll find a way, in my budget, to provide, always, every time, no matter what it takes out of my mouth). usually it’s inter-community drama or parents who are somehow standing in the way of their student’s education or administration yet again slashing an important lesson/curriculum/whatever-they-get-their-hands-on. i’m not paid enough for a lot of things, but i still do them. i’m not paid enough to make your children extra food or be sure they get their vitamins. i’m certainly not paid enough to die for them.
often the argument “just bring a gun” comes up. how silly to anyone who has worked with children. there’s safety risks, huge safety risks, and then there’s anything in a classroom. if you think something is safe, it is not. kids will find a way to hurt themselves on nothing but an empty floor if you give them the time. i wonder if this what they tell police officers who were shot in the line of duty - well, it sucks but you should have had some type of superhuman reflex and simply not been shot. after all, you had a gun. this personal gun somehow cancels out the bigger automatic gun. two wrongs make a right. my personal gun would somehow empower me in such a way that i could not only predict the movements of a shooter but also have the aim, calm, and consideration to shoot him before he shot me. my teaching degree did not come with a CIA training course. i have bad vision. i know, faithfully, in the pit of my stomach, where the tiny terrors are that, should i even have a gun, i would not shoot it. i wonder, always. what would that look like. the police don’t know who is the hero when they break down doors. and, should i die in that classroom, my death will have a whisper: don’t politicize it. let it, the others say, remain meaningless.
sometimes a cop will look at you and ask, are you ready? are you willing? are you comfortable knowing that this humble job, this often-thankless, often-joyful job: it has a policy expecting you to face a man armed to the teeth. and die for each child in that classroom, even the child who drives you nuts, even when you aren’t paid enough, even when you’re giving up your family and your love, even when people will blame you for not having a gun. and you know, somehow, the minute you step into a classroom. you know the minute you see them. it rings in your chest like a second heartbeat: yes, yes, yes, i would gladly do it, i would die twice if i was allowed to do it, if i could save one, if i could save any, yes, of course, unhesitatingly. because you love them, even when you hate your job, and you love them in a way that means you know would stretch out your body at 19 years old and give it up, because, somehow, you understand “protect and serve” in the core of your bones, in the grit of you, that these children are yours, are an extension of your twelve-hour days and hungry belly and endless working, and that the love you have will make that choice effortless, easy, a promise you make even if nobody ever asks for it.
three days ago, my second graders came in from the cold when i got the first question. a tug on my sleeve. “miss raquel?” her eyes are dry. she’s just thinking. “when a shooter comes, are we ready?”
and i realized: we’re asking them to die, too.