“Well, you could teach your kids after you drop me off at school, but you have to come pick me up,” Princess says for the third night in a row after I’ve kissed her good-night.
“She’s mine. I want her all to myself,” Prince says when I talk about returning to my classroom next school year.
Scott interjects and tells him to relax, but he continues.
“If you work next year, you won’t be able to come to my birthday lunch at my school because you’ll be with your kids at your school,” Prince says. He emphasizes the your twice at the end of his sentence. I think he might cry. I can’t tell. This is the first I’d heard about the birthday lunch tradition.
For the 180-day school year, my own two children share me with the 75-80 children on my roster. These other children don’t physically come home with me every afternoon, but they are with me in spirit almost 100% of the time from September to June.
My students are on my mind a lot. I’m wondering about them and worrying about them in a way not entirely unlike how I wonder and worry about Prince and Princess. I think of the girl who was upset that her mother left before her name was read at 8th grade graduation. I wonder how the boys are doing in the Memorial Day baseball tournament. I worry when another boy tells me that he “makes more money” when he’s not at school. I make silent prayers that another girl’s father actually makes it to her after school volleyball game, like he promised that morning because when she talks about his being there, I see a smile that touches her eyes for the first time all year. I celebrate when they’re accepted to the high school of their choosing and comfort them when they aren’t. I listen to them agonize about drama with their friends.
Before I had kids, I thought teaching was the perfect job for a parent. Summers off. Same vacations. Similar daily schedule. It seemed ideal. From the outside. And it was in the beginning. When Prince was in daycare and before Princess was in the picture, teaching was perfect. However, when he began school, things got complicated. His school events were difficult, if not impossible, for me to attend. I had to be teaching my own classes. Scott was able to run out for an hour or so in the middle of the day, watch a concert or volunteer in the library, and it wasn’t a big deal. But, I couldn’t do that. If I wanted to attend something at school, I needed to schedule a personal day or use a sick day. With only two personal days each school year, I had to be especially selective about which events I attended. I couldn’t sign up to volunteer in the library each week or to chaperone every field trip.
When we look at the math, I technically spend more time away from my kids than with them every day. Many working parents do. It’s not uncommon. I think the difference with teachers is that I spend those hours with other people’s kids each day. When we add in how much time outside of my school building that I spend thinking about other people’s kids, it’s no surprise that my own children feel jealous. I have approximately six hours each school day outside of my school building while my own children are awake. In that six hours, however, I also need to cook dinner, do laundry, clean, oversee homework, supervise baths and showers, get kids to after school appointments and activities, and probably at least five other things I’m forgetting. Even weekends aren’t sacred. I’m not at school on weekends, but I am writing lesson plans and grading papers. So, I spend seven days a week with my students.
I’m constantly worrying about other people’s children, in addition to my own. What I can’t figure out, though, is why I stay. I could still be doing curriculum development. I could try to transition to corporate training. I could do something else. We could try to live on one salary. We’re used to almost all of my paycheck covering childcare expenses, so we could maybe even make it work for me to not work at all.
This last option would make it so that I am able to focus 100% of my energy 100% of the time on only my two children. So, what’s stopping me? What’s holding me in my classroom? Anyone who has spent any time with a 13-year-old, 8th grader will tell you that they can be challenging. Managing 28 of them in one classroom for 85 minutes can be quite the trick. Many days I leave school at dismissal feeling like I had no impact on anyone. If I kept track, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that there are more “meh” or bad days than there are rewarding days. A few days a year, though, the lightbulbs go off and the wheels spin.
Scott and I have been around and around on this conversation about my plans for next year. He says I should do what’s best for me and that we can make whatever I decide “work.” He says that I shouldn’t factor in the passing comments of Prince and Princess too much and that they will be okay and only want me to be happy. But, what’s best for them IS what’s best for me. Isn’t it? Won’t I be happier if they are happy? Aren’t they telling me they will be happier if I am 100% available to them? They’ll only be at this stage for a short time. My classroom will be there. I know that I won’t regret the time that I give to my family. I know that there is a big chance that I will regret not taking advantage of this opportunity. But still, taking the step seems impossible.
Monday was day 180. My classroom is packed up for the summer. The file cabinets, the desk, and the closets are cleared out for a new teacher. I talked to my principal. I told her that I wasn’t going to be able to commit to teaching full-time in the fall. She asked me to take some time to think about it and let her know for sure in a couple of weeks. I agreed to that. The boxes with my personal items remain on the counter in the back of the classroom waiting to be moved home or unpacked for another 180 days.
Disclaimer: I realize that I’m extraordinarily fortunate to have these choices and that I seem like (or am) a spoiled brat for resenting the choices I have. Regardless, these are the choices I face and they’re not easy for me. You might long for my problems and you might be thankful to not have them. It doesn’t make my situation or your situation any less than it is.