Parent-teacher conferences were tonight at my school. I love the chance to talk with my families about their children. I love laughing at the stories and I love sharing our concerns about the child for whom we both care. They, in turn, love hearing about how a teacher enjoys their child and I never have to pretend that I do. (Even the ones who exhaust me in every sense of the word. Even those little crazy babies.)
Sometimes though, once in a while, there are families who break me down. Kids in these families? Their chance at getting out of poverty, out of trauma, out of a life of hardship born of limited choices… it seems bleak at best. The adults in their lives just can’t seem to get themselves together and the weight of that falls so heavy on their kids. Those little humans hold it all but have to act like they don’t and so it comes out as hyperactivity and anger and poor grades which means they leave one stressful situation only to come to school and have to handle an entire other set of rules they can’t seem to get straight.
I try to make my room a safe place. I try to love them well. I try my damnedest to be a shelter. I try to find the upside, to stay positive, to shine light into darkness when my mind wants to sit there, depressed in the corner.
Most times I can manage it.
Tonight, I could not.
I cried after a particularly tough conference. I can’t fix it for this kid, I can’t take away what he’s heard and seen, and I can’t produce for him a parent who is capable of supporting and caring for him the way he so desperately needs. It isn’t in my power; I’m just his teacher. I see him only enough to love him and see his potential, but not enough to actually make those imperative changes for him.
I know all the pat answers about what a difference a teacher can make. I know all of that. (I even believe it sometimes.) But the children I work with, have worked with for more than a decade? I see the same things year after year after year and it wears on you. I know about trauma; I’ve been around it for a long time now. I see what it does when combined with poverty. You have to beat down the cynicism.
Usually, I can pull myself out. But sometimes, it is good and right to sit in grief for a little while and stop trying to reboot. I will continually stand by my belief that we are worse for the wear when we listen to society’s advice on rushing through grief. Deep sadness is useful for reminding us why it is important to continue to rage and fight and stand up for the change you want to see. It removes calluses and strengthens your resolve and in a job in which you are continually confronted by brokenness, you will not survive if you do not stop to do this work of mourning from time to time.
I’m taking some time to mourn. It is the only way I know to keep going into my classroom everyday, every month, every year and seeing the same scenes replayed- different players, same game.
I try to be positive. I look for the good. But sometimes, you have to be broken anew in order to remember why it is you’ve got to do the unrelenting but necessary work to remain there.