Read this letter from a teacher on hiatus (and try not to cry).
A few years ago, I got pregnant with my second child. Sixteen months after he was born, while I was planning my triumphant return to my high school English classroom, I found out I was pregnant again.
Our family decision for me to continue placing my teaching career on hold did not come easily. Despite all that frustrated me about my profession, I knew I’d miss it. In a pros and cons list on staying home, the pros won — but “I’ll miss it” had to be a weighted reason, multiplied by three and underscored.
Making that decision, that list in front of me, I thought I knew how I would miss it. I’d miss talking “shop” for a living — Shakespeare, Dickinson, Thoreau, Fitzgerald. I’d miss the coworkers. And, oh, I’d miss the kids. However smelly, loud, and newly licensed to drive, I’d miss them most.
And each of those things are very true. But that’s not why I’m writing this letter to you. This letter is about the things I didn’t know that I would miss.
This past August marked the fourth first day of school I’ve been marked absent. That day, on a very rare baby-free shopping trip, I found myself in a bittersweet haze, rummaging through bins of sale-priced pencils, dry erase markers, and notebooks in lieu of picking up milk and diapers. This happens more often than I care to admit, but I know you understand. Needing new school supplies is a weakness, and it never goes away.
I miss having a reason to obsess over cool office supplies.
My family lives near my former school. On our more adventurous days, I buckle all four of my kids into my new-to-me minivan and we head to the library or a park or a drive-thru coffee joint. I know, I know. Living the dream.
Inevitably, I’ll have forgotten the time, and we’ll get stuck in the same after-school traffic I used to fear and loathe with unmatched fervor: bumper-to-bumper, with the frequent student driver fender bender. Nope, don’t miss this, I’ll remind myself.
But then we’ll get to where we’re going, and so incredibly often — we’re talking like a 50/50 shot — we’ll run into a clerk or barista who I had in class. (Side note: You will remember more names than you think. You won’t remember what class they were in or what year you taught them, but you’ll remember their handwriting, their best friend, what sport they played, and what their dad said at a parent-teacher conference.)
I miss knowing what the lives of “my kids” are like.
Last week, I met up with my former campus best friend (now she’s just a regular best friend). We got to talking about life-stuff over a shared quesadilla: her new job, our (actual) children, the upcoming holiday season. And it hit me, so hard. I miss opening my door to our shared corridor. I miss hearing her teacher-voice across the hall. I miss our shared eye-rolls during this-should-have-been-an-email staff meetings. I miss eating lukewarm pizza off a Styrofoam tray with her during our 25-minute lunch period.
I miss working with my best friend.
I don’t miss grading essays until my eyes bled, but I do miss passing back papers to students who had a breakthrough. I don’t miss having to wait for the bell to use the bathroom, but I do miss cramming each minute between bells with lessons that I was entrusted to design. I don’t miss the drama (from my high schoolers or colleagues), but I do miss the giggle-inducing blunders of growing writers (“What does forlorn mean? Is that like ‘forlorn and seven years ago?’”). I miss the swirls and doodles left in the margins of homework. I miss the kids who would come find me on my prep to pour their hearts out. Strangely, I even miss the occasional nausea brought on by clouds of Axe body spray and sugar cookie scented lotion.
Here’s the thing. Being a teacher can never be just a job; it’s something you give your life over to. Yes, yes; there are things you hate. You know what it’s like to have your pay frozen and your profession roasted on a newsfeed. You plod through the data charts and you jump through the ever-changing hoops. You feel Pinterest-pressure breathing down your neck as you stress over unit and lesson plans during your summers “off.” Your alarm clock rings before the sun is up — and on Fridays you fall into bed with a sore throat from reading out loud and tired feet from standing all day.
But oh, there are things that you love. And they are weighted, multiplied by more than three, and underscored. These are the work “perks” that only an educator can understand.
I poured my life into my seven years teaching high school English. I coached, sponsored, and said yes way too many times. When a kid was in need, I gave them anything from my clothes, my lunch, and my last pencil to just one more second chance. I helped young minds focus in an ever-distracted society. I learned the pasts of refugees. I held hands with children in the foster system. Every summer, I was assigned about 150 new futures to hope for.
I see you, teachers, and I’m cheering you on from my minivan. And while I haven’t forgotten the grind of the job, I’m a little bit envious of you and your classroom nests. You see, your rosters and your calendars, your hallways and your classroom — they are full of the things that you don’t know you’ll miss one day.