Blog Post by Anthony Grisillo, PTAC Member
Twelve hours after celebrating with a former student who had qualified for the national finals in the Reebok CrossFit Games I learned that another student had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away.
This is one of the great challenges of teaching.
This emotional roller coaster takes a toll on you. It keeps you up at night reflecting on why you teach and constantly makes you look for better ways to reach and help all of your students.
In 2014, a study shared that people without children consistently live a happier life than those with children. The study also shared that parents actually experience higher highs and lower lows than people without children. Parents have extreme elation when they see their children succeed and be happy, while they also have more stress and fear when they see their children depressed or dealing with difficulty.
I remember reading this study and thinking that it probably relates to teaching.
Teaching is full of ups and downs. There are days when I finish teaching and I think to myself, “I’ve got this. I’m a rockstar, a superhero, an educator changing lives. Nothing can stop me now.” I go home, sing and dance with my family. I am king of the world.
Then I return to the same classroom, in the same building, the very next day and nothing goes right. “I am the world’s worst teacher. What am I doing wrong? Why are kids unable to understand what I am trying to teach?”
That dichotomy doesn’t stop with teaching. I think many professions can be fraught with feelings of inadequacy and superhuman success. But teaching is different—there is an intense emotional investment.
Teachers are a lot like parents. We are elated when we see our students persevere and succeed. We celebrate all of their achievements, honor their accomplishments, and praise their persistence.
But then there is also the flip side. Our hearts ache when we learn of tragedy and disappointment that our students endure. I am not only referring to academic struggles. Those struggles are often the easiest for teachers to handle.
I am referring to those events and situations we can’t control. I’m referring to the moments in too many of our students’ lives that make them feel worthless: the family dysfunction; the unavoidable tragedy robbing them of their childhood; the unattainable expectations of parents who confuse unreachable goals with ambition.
These moments weigh on us. Teachers love their students like they are their own children. Their pain becomes our pain.
I don’t want to imply that teaching is filled with sadness. It is not. The joys definitely outnumber the pains. The successful people that my students have gone on to become fill me with great pride and satisfaction.
Recently for Teacher Appreciation Week, I asked my former students on Facebook to share with me how they were doing. Their stories brought tears to my eyes, not because of disappointment, but rather for all the incredible things they are doing.
In the 1989 movie Parenthood, the character played by Helen Shaw says, “...when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster. Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride! I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn't like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.”
This is teaching. Just like parenting, it is like a roller coaster. It is not easy, but it is worth it.
Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee