Superpower [A Tough Love]

Jose Vilson Education, Featured

I’m not here to convince you I’m perfect. I’m here to convince you I’m not.

There’s a school in my old neighborhood that took the time to set up a book study, read my book, and invite me to one of their meetings. It was odd sitting there as a colleague in this work being asked to speak like an expert. It was uncanny sitting there as an introvert who spends a few hours turning into a temporary extrovert because the work matters. A few hours prior to the meeting, I had to quit beating myself up for the mistakes I made in the classroom. A few hours before that, I got messages and e-mails that made me question whether this system and I were compatible. A few hours before that, I was worried whether the students in front of me would pass this quiz I prepared for them with care. I woke up with my brain screaming my agenda to me. My brain found quiet in the crunch of my cereal and the misery others suffered on the news that day.

Doubt can enter my work like nimbostratus clouds do, and I rarely pack an umbrella.

No more is doubt more powerful than when the last days of the school year approach. From a financial standpoint, quitting sounds awful and awful risky. We lose our benefits, our pensions, our rights, and our steady salaries. From a human perspective, it messes us up to hear of well-meaning, hard-working adults leaving the kids in the care in the middle of the year, so we wait. From a personal perspective, the truth is much more complicated than this. Teachers are too often asked to be superhuman.

In the middle of wanting the best for students, we want the adults who stand in front of the children to take on the ills of society and surpass those while still doing the love and labor of teaching. We want them to never get frustrated, to limit their range of emotions, and to snap back into a stable mindset no matter what tragedies befall them. We stigmatize their mental and physical illnesses either as a matter of practicality (“If you’re choosing this job, then you know that’s what’s going to happen”) or as a way to deflect society’s systemic lack of love for students and those that serve them (“I couldn’t do your job …”)

When we say teachers have a “superpower,” I mean that “above and beyond” is a prerequisite that allow us to deflect insults like overpaid babysitter.

So when the book club asked me questions, I had a hard time telling them how appreciative I was of their invite. I’m humbled that so many people want to reach out to me because I put my story out there. I’m still struggling with how to reach every single child. I wince at the debate between having high expectations and meeting people where they are. I’m ecstatic for my teacher friends who win awards and get featured somewhere because they deserve it. I need to ask them if they have bad days, too, even when I’ve had more years than them.

I tell myself that it’s going to be OK. Usually, it is. We as teachers don’t give ourselves the space to fail hard nor do others give us that space to. The stakes are already high when our focus is on the students in front of us. With 30 students per class, we can only wish to stretch ourselves far enough to meet all of their needs. With 20 days left and 140 students with various expectations for themselves, I’m walking the tightrope of getting in as many lessons as possible while ending the year on a positive note.

Is love for this work a strong enough power? I’m not sure, but I get to find out again tomorrow.

photo c/o