Hallelujah Highway

Celebrating the Journey

Exhaustion~ Kristi

on July 3, 2013


The voice of my writing muse has been practically silent.  What she “throws at” me is not coherent enough to write out, let alone publish on a blog.  I am tired.  Down-to-the-bones tired.  Can’t-get-my-butt off-the-couch tired.  Let’s-call-Pizza-Hut-for-dinner tired.  This happens at the end of every school year.  My mind goes blank, sheer exhaustion takes over, and my life revolves around trashy reality television watchin’, good ol’ couch sittin’, book readin’, friend playin’, and nap takin’.

Since I have been a high school teacher for over ten-years, I have come to expect this exhaustion that starts lurking late February, but life, work, and mothering keeps me going fast enough to keep the exhaustion at bay.  Even on my week-long glorious spring break I fear totally relaxing because then I would have to surrender to the exhaustion that takes a long time to recover.  Weeks…  Many, many weeks of recovery.

At the beginning of every school year, I promise myself that I will not over extend myself or give of myself so much that I am left incapacitated come June.  As I was packing up my classroom, I thought about that unkept promise and I accepted the exhaustion as a sign that  I gave every last ounce of myself to my students, my student teacher, my co-workers, my school, and my profession.  As I locked my classroom door on the 2012-2013 school year, I whole heartedly knew that I gave 110% each day.  I was not perfect and there was a lot more I could have done, but I left this school year knowing I gave my all—that is a tremendous accomplishment.

My exhaustion is a symptom of a much bigger process.  At the end of each year, I grieve the lost of my beloved students.  On the first day of school, I accept my students into a special place in my heart—a place that is full of love and compassion.  Each student becomes like a child of mine.  Like a mother, their successes are my successes; their failures are my failures.  I work with them as a pseudo-mom by learning and working with their level of abilities, holding a vision for their potential realization (despite the erratic-ness induced by hormones), placing firm expectations on their academic performance and behavior, giving them fair and just consequences for inappropriateness, and, most importantly, rewarding them with praise and encouragement.

As their teacher, I get to know most students on a deep, intimate level.  I learn their stories and those stories stay with me forever.

Like the foster child who was the most annoying student I have ever taught and that is saying a lot…  Every day before second period, I would pray for patience as this boy needed constant attention and he would get it through incessant inappropriate behaviors.  It felt like I spent more time trying to contain his “exuberant” energy than actually teaching.  In order to teach effectively, he would be removed from my classroom, but that bothered me because that is what this boy has experienced his entire life.  Abandonment.  Rejection.  Removal.  I wanted to help break that cycle, but this boy had been burned so many times by the adults in his life that he was unwilling to reach out for an ounce of help.  He decided he was going to “stick it to the system” by waiting until he was 16, dropping out of school, and going to work in construction.  Ultimately, he was transferred to another foster home and he was removed from my classroom.  Part of me happily signed the withdrawal from because now I would be able to teach without interruption, and part of me was heartbroken because I could not hover around him and make sure he was “safe.”  I hope and pray this boy makes it, but the chances may be slim.

Or, the student who bragged that he just got out of juvenile detention…  He, too, was loud and needed attention all the time.  He was doing “well” and by well I mean he was able to show up to school with a folder, pencil, and sit in a chair.  He did no work.  He was there to soak up the attention, compassion, and respect I gave him.  Until Christmas vacation.  He came back a different kid.  I noticed.  His other teachers noticed.  Administration noticed.  Something happened and he wouldn’t talk about it despite my attempts time and time again.  Then, he was caught with drugs and he was gone.  My heart was broken.  I really liked this kid and I was pulling for him to break the cycle, but he didn’t care.

Or, the girl who worked really hard to complete her anger management classes.  We rejoiced the day she brought me her anger management certificate.  She was focused, working diligently, and had earned a “B” for the first semester.  Then, her anger erupted, she was in numerous fights, and she was suspended- again.   Upon her return we had a conversation about it.  In that conversation she revealed her past that was riddled with abuse, court cases, and a family who had ostracized her.  No wonder this young lady was angry.  I would be angry too.  Another cycle I wanted to break, but I couldn’t.

There are numerous stories like this—the girl who battled cancer for years and was just re-entering into the school system, the girl who found out during the passing period before my class that she was pregnant, the girl who had a child in foster care, the girl whose dad is in prison and the big sister is fighting for her little sister not to follow in his footsteps, the gay student who had such poor peer relations that his mother was afraid for his safety at school and feared he would hurt himself at home…

As a public high school teacher, I teach students from all walks of life.  I became a teacher because I believe that education can empower people and take them where ever they want to go.  The reality of being a teacher is I get the backseat and the kid’s parents and the student’s decisions are driving.  I can warn them about the upcoming potholes, dangerous curves, and cliffs, but I am not in control.  That is hard.  It hurts to watch students, who are like one of my own, make decisions that are counter to their success.

I vowed I would never become a teacher who didn’t care.  But, there are some scars on my teacher’s heart, and those scars hinder my ability to love as wholly and completely as I once did.  Summers allow me the necessary time to heal.  It gives me time to not take their “failures” so personally.  My hope returns and I enter the next school year with the hope that I will be able to influence students in a profound way.

Hallelujah for my profession as it is truly my life’s calling.  I am grateful for the exhaustion and grief.  I welcome in the hope that is the balm for the wounds of my teacher’s heart.  I pray and bless my past students.  I know they will move in the direction of their destiny.  I pray and bless my future students.  May I serve and educate them well.  I pray and bless all teachers.  May their summers rejuvenate them.

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