Bearing the Load: Part I
My Hands are Full because I am a Teacher
“You have your hands full,” says our gentle custodian Ms. Shirley, as I pass her on the way to the office.
“Always,” I tell her with a smile.
She nods, knowingly and holds open the door for me. I thank her for the first of many times that day.
Every morning I enter the school building looking more like a juggler than a teacher. My right palm soaks up the condensation from a half-full Dunkin Donuts iced tea while my fingers grip the bagged lunch I may or may not have the chance to eat. My left shoulder droops under the weight of a purse the size of a sleeping bag. A thick leather folder stuffed with papers rests on my left forearm in the same spot where baby Frank likes to sleep. My left hand is reserved for the random (often unwieldy) items I bring from home for lessons or students, which have recently included:
• a stuffed sheep swaddled in a receiving blanket for a skit requiring a “baby” (dolls are hard to come by in a toy room full of trucks)
• a heavy duty bike chain for a student who was afraid of losing the only mode of transportation he had
• a shopping bag full of magnets for hanging student work on my board
• almonds and veggie crisps for a young man who wants to try some healthy snacks
The tea has a five minute lifespan after I enter the building. The random items have found their homes in my classroom or in the lives of my students. My purse has been emptied of nonessentials and my shoulder perks up. The folder is the wild card: it depends on whether or not I had a chance to finish my grading.
The load is somewhat lighter when I leave school, but my hands are still very full.
Unless you are a teacher or have lived with a teacher, it’s hard to imagine just how much time at home is devoted to our classrooms. Our short planning periods seldom offer enough time to organize our classrooms, create lessons and activities, gather materials, grade assignments, discipline students, contact parents, and complete necessary paperwork, so our work infiltrates our evenings and weekends.
A teacher’s workload can be overwhelming, but the truth is, our hands are full because our hearts are also full. Teachers believe so much in the goodness of others and the future of this world that we have dedicated our lives to educating the children of strangers, assuming every challenge and responsibility that entails.
Often we are entrusted to care for a student who might be referred to as a “handful.” At the alternative school where I teach, that label could be applied to a majority of my students, who have struggled to find success in the average classroom. Our classes are very small in number compared to traditional schools, but the amount of personality and academic strife in ten of my students is proportionate to a classroom three times its size.
Having taught in both worlds, I prefer my current situation. I believe God called me to work with these young people who have been written off by many as being delinquents. He has provided me with the necessary gifts to meet these students at a key crossroads in their lives.
I look at all of my students as Jesus looked at His disciples. My students are sinners like the rest of us, but that doesn’t mean I should judge them or turn them away. Instead, I remind them that it’s never too late to change the path they’re on. Like every teacher should, I guide them in the direction of making positive decisions in their personal and academic lives.
As teachers, we are there to light the way, but, we can’t follow them on every step of their journeys. Some young people continue to make destructive decisions despite our interventions. We can only pray for their return to the narrow path and redirect my attention to others who need me.
No matter where you teach, you will inevitably find your hands full. There are times, even three weeks into the school year, when I’ve felt like giving up on teaching. But, without fail, Our Good Lord blesses me with the resources and reassurance I need to keep teaching.
Sometimes when I feel like I will break under the weight of my work load, God sends me a message to remind me that I can handle anything because I have Him:
• A student might confide that a parent has been laid off, and I’m reminded that I’m blessed to be working during these hard times and that I have a duty to serve those less fortunate than I.
• An old letter from a former student who is now in college falls out of a classroom management book to remind me that my efforts do not go unappreciated.
• A verse from my daily Bible study will help me to suddenly make sense of a pressing situation.
• Or, it’s as simple as someone who appears just when I need a door opened because my hands are full.
9/20/2012 5:03:35 PM
By Robyn Barberry