Worthwhile File

One of the best pieces of teaching advice I've ever gotten was to create a "worthwhile file".  Mine is actually a file folder, and it's full of reminders of why I love my job.  There are notes, cards, and pictures from students, parents, and other teachers that make me smile and feel a few inches taller when I read them.  Don't tell anyone, but I've also kept some carbon copies of detentions past students have gotten (we used to get copies any time one of our Ac Lab students was written up by someone) that make me giggle.  Maybe giggle is an understatement.  Anyway, I look through it from time to time for a boost, but its real purpose is for days like today as a reminder of why it's worth it to work through the tough days.  Today was one of those tough days.

I don't ever want to publicly complain about my job.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again-- being a teacher is an honor and a privilege, and I feel blessed every day that I get to be one.  EVERY day.  Truly.  I also don't want to be too specific because maintaining the privacy of my students is important to me (although if you ask me about those funny detentions, I'd be happy to share a story or two that will make you pee your pants).  With all that being said, here's what I think it all boils down to for me today:

One of the hardest parts of my job is investing everything I have but feeling powerless when kids make bad decisions.

It's incredibly rewarding to see students grow and shine.  When I can give them skills and tools and challenges and then sit back and watch them accomplish things all on their own, it's one of the most amazing feelings in the world.  It's also so much fun to watch kids be kids.  They're silly and creative and wonderful when left to their own devices.  Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.  Kids who act like kids do not always produce rainbows and sunshine.  Allowing them the freedom to make their own decisions also gives them the opportunity to make bad ones.  Bad ones with consequences.  As we get closer to the end of the school year, some of these kids that I have loved and enjoyed all year are not making the kinds of decisions that we've taught them to make.  Our best laid plans and discussions and investments of time and energy are just not always going to be enough.  They do dumb things because they're still just kids, and that's what teenagers do sometimes.  They don't think, they act, and they can throw away all of their hard work and progress with some nasty words or actions in the blink of an eye, leaving me sick to my stomach and teary-eyed on the sidewalk, watching the bus drive away, hoping it was the last big bad decision and hoping that they'll be back to finish out the year strong after a week away.  Patterns have to change.  Cycles have to be broken.  Even though I know each student makes his or her own decisions, I really do KNOW this is true, it's so hard not to take the weight of their worlds on my shoulders.  I'm a fixer.  I'm a make it betterer.  That's my job.  It's the naive hope I had when I signed up for this whole business, and it's what I still carry with me today.  Let's save them all!

"People cry not because they're weak.  It's because they've been strong for too long."

This is why I need the worthwhile file.  It doesn't take the weight off, but it tips the balance back to even, and, in some cases, helps me to remember that we really can save a lot of them.  It gives me the deep desire to jump back in and get back at it.  My job, after all, is one of the most worthwhile ways I can think of to spend my time (the others, of course, have to include some type of family, friends, church, food, and alcohol).

I'm excited for Monday.  I really am. I need a weekend to energize with many of the things mentioned above and to read over the worthwhile file again(yeah... I brought it home), and then I'll get to try again.  Monday can be a great day.  I'm going to make sure it is.

Thank you, worthwhile file, you made my day.


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