I was at a conference in Chicago recently for science teachers. I was fortunate in that my college, through grant money, was able to pay for me, an alumnus, to go. While I was there, I had a good time for many reasons. I got to see my best friend and his wife. I got to spend time with educators and pre-teachers from my college; it’s always nice to catch up with fellow Norse. And I got to see Bill Nye.
Seeing one of my childhood heroes speak was incredible. I was in awe just from being in his presence. But his talk had a subtle pessimism to it. It might just have been the pessimist in me, but I honestly saw a sad, angry, pessimistic version of Bill Nye. And later the next night, I had a sad, angry, pessimistic conversation with two fellow teachers. We talked about how difficult our job can be. They’re not difficult in the same way other jobs are. But we face a truly Sisyphean struggle as teachers.
We go to school everday of the school year. We have students that don’t. We have students that don’t eat regularly, that have no home, that have no support, that are from splintered families. Anyone familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy knows that the basics for survival have to come before learning can happen. We have parents that think they know how to do our jobs, we have parents that think we aren’t doing our jobs, we have parents that think we should do their jobs. We have students that have 2 hour bus rides, students dealing with depression, students struggling to find a balance between who they are, who their friends want them to be, who society wants them to be, and who their parents want them to be. And somehow, in the midst of all of this, we expect them to learn. Do you know how difficult it is to help a student understand the importance of their education when they go home at night and are not supported in their education? Do you know how hard it is to get a student to stay awake so they can learn something because their anxiety keeps them awake all night?
I try so damn hard to give something to my students. To be a person they can voice their concerns to, to be someone that will understand that today they’re just struggling, to be someone that knows that life exists outside of our walls and it impacts them each and everyday. And I still have parents telling me I’m not doing my job. I’m not forcing their children to sit through torture everyday for some nebulous or totalitarian conception of what learning is, of what school is for. Then, when the students aren’t having bad days but just don’t want to do anything because they have no one telling them their education is important (or popular culture and politics are telling them fame, glamour, looks, money are more important than being articulate), they don’t want to do anything.
I want a better world for myself. I want one for my friends, for my family, for my future children (or yours). I firmly believe that education is the way to a better world, and I know education is the way to a better world. But I can’t convince parents of this. I can’t convince students of this. All I can do is go to school everyday and push my boulder up the hill. I might reach a handful of students. I might have an impact on their lives. But even then, they leave my life. My boulder rolls back down the hill and I start over again.
This job is draining me. I do not know how much longer I can keep doing it. I romanticize the absurd, I like to think I embrace the absurd but it is wearing me down. I don’t know how much longer I can see parents destroy their children or students throwing away their lives and our world with it. I know it will continue to happen, but perhaps if I go far enough into the wilderness I can truly embrace “out of sight, out of mind.” Because right now, it’s always in my sight and always on my mind.