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Elsa Stanley: Teachers’ resilience shows their dedication

Ethically Speaking

Posted: August 26, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 26, 2012 2:00 a.m.

I am a teacher. In this job, you will get knocked on your face. No matter how prepared you are, you’re still dealing with 27 warm-blooded, wonderful little time bombs. They will drive you crazy, and the best you can do sometimes is just ride it out. Roll with it. The difficulty in teaching is that it’s easy to assume that anything that goes on in your classroom is your fault.

So say, for example, you have a bad day. A bad day of teaching results in a myriad of symptoms.

Physically, once the adrenaline wears off, there are the headaches, mind-numbing exhaustion and scratchy throat at bare minimum. You’re really fighting the urge to curl up under your desk and suck your thumb.

You look haggard.

Emotionally, you’re experiencing so many things that you can’t name them all. You feel infuriated on behalf of your students and on behalf of yourself.

Some days it’s “They don’t deserve this!” and some days it’s “I don’t deserve this!” There are really a lot of things to be infuriated about, and when your body is in its weakened state, your mind really goes to town.

You start to think about how, despite the fact that you work three times as hard as people in other jobs, you make one-third their salary.

You think about how much of your own already-scarce money you have to spend on your own classroom.

You think about your kids’ families, and the systems that have put them down and kept them down.

You think about how incompetent you feel 95 percent of the time.

You think about how your personal life is put on the back burner, and how easy it is to neglect your own health.

You think about how some of your boys have no idea how to treat women, and how it’s because they have no male role models.

You think about how some of your girls have no idea how they should be treated either, and how hard you have to work to convince them that they have value.

After all this thinking and even more of a headache, you come to the tired realization that it’s not fair.

And maybe that’s the point. We are choosing to leave a situation where we could be paid a salary we deserved for working reasonable hours. We’re choosing to count ourselves with those who are already being treated unfairly every day of their lives. We’re giving up our “rights” in a lot of ways to help those who have their rights stripped from them by a system that they were born into.

I’ve come to this conclusion so many times after a rough day, and it doesn’t get any easier to swallow.

After your tired realization that it’s not fair, though, you do the important thing.

You move on.

That’s where resilience comes in, I think. You work and work, and if it were a sports movie and the outcome was based on your effort, you would win the game.

But let’s face it: You’re doing an incredibly difficult job, a job that many people would not do.

Of course you’re going to get knocked on your face. The key is what you do while you’re lying there on the ground. In my life, resilience has come to mean having the courage to just do the next thing. Baby steps. Acknowledge that it’s not fair, but then move on.

So when you’re curled up in a fetal position underneath your desk, or hitting the snooze button for the fourth time, resilience is getting over yourself for a second and thinking about them. Resilience is also stopping to take care of yourself so that your students will have a sane person who wants to be in the room with them.

This is resilience to me. Acknowledging what we’re up against, but then moving on and choosing to get back up and finish that PowerPoint presentation or grade those papers.

Because, after all is said and done, it’s not about us at all.

Elsa Stanley is a seventh grade teacher with Teach For America in Crossett, Ark. David Hegg’s column will return next Sunday.


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