This brain. It’s a puzzle that comes apart and I’ve assembled it back together more times than I can recall since the students I work with can’t quite seem to get the trick yet. As I was putting it back together this afternoon it seemed fitting and metaphorical as it feels like this year I’ve had to reassemble myself on umpteen occasions as I would find myself feeling like my brain has been scrambled and pulled apart by kids—only to be left needing to be put back together again.
This is---figuratively—the life of an educator.
These kids will tear you apart.
They tear apart your understanding and what you think you know. The students we are reaching now are worlds apart different then the kids I worked with 5-10 years ago. As society, upbringing and technology changes, so do the cognitive processes and brain development of our students. As a result, what worked back then—is starting to feel like an obsolete method of reaching kids. Instead of the easy paced and comfortable run it used to feel like, now some days—most days—it feels like a full on sprint relay. You go your fastest, hardest and smartest and then you try to pass on the baton to the next one as you catch your breath. It’s societal, developmental, emotional and environmental. Now the fact seems to be, if we don’t change to meet them where they are at, we’ll lose them. Basically, it feels like I need to go back to school to figure it out.
They tear apart your emotional cool. You become dysregulated on the daily as you watch students skyrocket and plummet in their emotional states and often times take it out on you—when it has nothing to do with you. You are actually the only person they feel safe “letting it loose” on. They can be disrespectful, tactless, hurtful and rude and sometimes when that is what you are exposed to on a regular basis, you can find your own emotional regulation to be much like a roller coaster ebbing and flowing up and down while on the outside you try your best to embody a calm, caring and empathetic demeanor. Or on the flip side, sometimes they come to you and confide in you about some really awful things that no child should have to endure or even have thoughts about as you try to lovingly listen to them while hot tears run down your cheek that you try to choke back. And then at the end of the day—what happens? We convince ourselves that we are not fit for this work anymore. Not good enough, skilled enough or passionate enough. We go home and often release the kraken of built up emotion on our most loved and precious relationships or we withdraw and seclude ourselves because any more human interaction is just “too much”.
They tear apart what worked for you before. Well, at the beginning of the year XYZ worked, but now that’s no longer working so you go from plan to plan to plan to set them up for success—another reason to lose your emotional cool. Just when you get into a rhythm of strategies that prove to be successful and you feel like a rock star—you have a handful of little friends that completely challenge that and bring you back to square one. This, in essence, is the Olympic sport portion of working in schools. Pushing yourself and your own philosophy and mental models to the extreme in order to find that holy nugget of a plan that will work for your students most in need. FYI, they don’t teach you how to do that in your master’s program.
They tear apart your heart. Some of them, you invest hours or even years into and then they suddenly leave without warning and you’re left with a hole. Some of them you have to make the choice to protect and advocate for even if it means displacing them from their home environment. Some of them shine bright like stars and remind you of the joys of working with kids. Some test your passion of why you went into education as you invest so much into them and it seems like no progress has been made. And some play with your heart day in and day out as you see them fall apart over and over again, you see them pick up their pieces and start over, you see them find courage in asking for help, you see them have light bulb moments, you see them emerge into leaders, you see them discover their talents, you see them overcome struggles, you see them mature and then one day—maybe---have the privilege to see them as young adults ready to embark on a new adventure into adulthood as really great human beings—thanks to the so many seeds that were planted along the way by educators—seeds that you don’t always get to see grow in your presence, but know they are there.
And then they leave you on the last day apart in pieces on the ground needing to be picked back up again. Insert summer where the school year amnesia begins to form and then we come back in the fall and do it all over again. Your brain is pieced back together—refreshed, whole and energetic towards a new clean slate of a year. Perhaps it’s a cruel and unusual punishment to work in education and let kids tear us apart, but in hindsight—at the end of our careers—there is no doubt in my mind that we will have full hearts as we look back on the garden we helped to grow from the seeds we work as a team to sprinkle.
(Disclaimer: I refer to myself as an educator because I work as a licensed school counselor. I am not and have not been a licensed teacher, so this is purely from my perspective in my work with students and does not speak for all educators. Teachers are superheroes and I surely could not do what they do!)