C.S. Lewis says that to love at all is to be vulnerable, and though I certainly have felt that in areas of my before-I-was-a-teacher life, I never realized how much teaching and vulnerability are inextricably tied.
It’s easy to look at this idea and think – breakups. Thanksgiving. Prayer. Religion. Best friends.
But when I look at this…really, really look at this…I think – my students.
I’m not one of those teacher who says “I love you” to my kids, or even uses the word “love” when referring to them in conversation with other adults. I don’t use the word “love” at all, really, in my classroom. And it’s not because I’m scared of showing feelings. God knows there are lots of feelings in Room 23, but love is too big and deep and wide and scary for where we are in the year. Love is a thing, love is real, but the word is overused and until I’m ready to use it in my class I’m not going to.
But in other ways, all of that is just a lie I tell myself so that I won’t feel too emotionally connected. So that it won’t hurt when my kids are disrespectful or rude or zoned-out. Loving people requires putting a little bit of your heart out there, in their control. It’s scary as hell to put a little of my heart out there for my angsty, hormonal, still-developing, scared, anxious, wonderful 8th graders to hold in their hands. And yet, I do it. every day.
That’s why being a teacher is hard. I am required to be kind to students who are breathtakingly rude to me on almost a daily basis. I feel buoyed by the smallest kind things they do – like having a conversation without rolling their eyes or sucking their teeth or saying Aw, MISS as though I have burdened them with some great task by holding them accountable for their behavior. And, just as swiftly, I am cut down when they are rude or angsty or tired or disrespectful or all of the millions of things that make them the middle schoolers they are.
It’s exhausting, really. I am, little by little, learning to untie my own emotional wellbeing from what my students do and say to me every day. It goes against my nature. I am used to being raw and vulnerable. to letting myself feel my feelings as they roar and crash ashore, love until it hurts – then love some more, nothing ventured nothing gained. so to pull back this vulnerability is difficult. but it is deeply necessary.
I have learned to keep my tone firm and calm. To never let a shaking voice or a trembling hand betray my fear. To silently stare as though I have all the authority in the world, despite whether I actually feel like it or not. To trust myself. Yes, he was talking. Yes, he deserves a mark. No, you did not make it up and no, you will not let yourself think you made it up because he’s protesting now. To believe that I am the instructional leader of my classroom, that I set the expectations and the tone and the way my students treat one another. To carry vulnerability, deep within me, and tamper it down just enough so that it still ignites me but remains on the inside.
it’s a work in progress, I suppose.