Every so often someone you know, someone whom you really know, surprises you. In my case it shouldn’t have, but it did anyway.
I’ve known my wife for half her life now. We’ve been married for most of that time, and we’ve two impulsive and inquisitive daughters to show for it. However, this past week I saw a new aspect of her I’d never known before — one I might have seen had I been a co-worker. Well, maybe it was less about knowing, and more about understanding.
My wife is a teacher. A good one too. She’s one of the ones that not only puts in her 40 hours a week, but once our girls are in bed, takes out her laptop and starts working again. She’s the one that opponents of school budgets don’t tell you about — they know what a deal they’re getting with teachers like her. I’ve always known how hard she works, and not only how many hours, but how many quality hours. I know how much she inspires her students to succeed and how she cares about them and their families.
It’s this last bit, though, that I didn’t quite grasp the extent of.
My wife is an early childhood and special educator. She works with young students, most of whom are the same age or younger than our youngest daughter. One of those students, one whom she’s championed, advocated for, and supported for almost two years, passed away. The news, and the resulting heartache, are things she never could have prepared for, steeled herself to. The loss of this student has hit her profoundly.
I watched her this weekend, expecting to see her hovering more about our own kids than usual, but I also observed the effect this loss has had on her as a teacher. This was her “little guy” whom she would talk about at dinner — not in too much detail, but about challenges, and more often than not his successes. She cared for this boy — maybe not as a parent, but I’ve learned as only a teacher can.
Teachers see our children for, in my case at least, more waking hours during the week than I do. When my daughters average 11 to 12 hours or so of sleep a night, and spend about seven hours in school a day, that leaves me about five to six hours. These professionals, who spend so much time and energy on our children, care for them deeply. It’s a part of who they are, not something they can switch off or ignore. It’s why they went into teaching in the first place. They are passionate about education, about children, and brightening their worlds.
So, what I realized is this: when I gripe about her working late, or working after hours when she’s home, it’s not something she can easily let go of. Her students’ successes are hers, their setbacks and challenges are hers as well. She can no easier let them go than I can let go of my daughters. It’s what drives her to be a better teacher, so she can do better by her students. Why when she’s not working extra hours, she’s taking courses and workshops to further her professional development.
These are our children’s teachers. Their students aren’t just office co-workers or even colleagues. They are children. Malleable and impressionable little people who look to their teachers to define their little worlds for them. And from the teachers I know, they do not take this responsibility lightly. Teachers have been much maligned of late in the media as greedy and lazy. Wanting higher pay for fewer hours and no accountability.
Except, here’s the thing: of all the teachers I know, none of them fit that demonized bill. Granted, some teachers are better than others, and while some are exceptional others are much less so. However, there are very few who are not passionate about education and children.
I should have known this, after all I fell in love with an idealistic, education major a long time ago. I should have seen it then, or even picked up on it once she got her own classroom. However, I think — like many of us do — I took its inevitability for granted.
And so, once again, my teacher has taught me that educators are not just assembly line workers cranking out smarter kids by the year, but an amalgam of roles from parents and mentors to friends and confidants. They are that emotional surrogate at school when our children are away from home. And when they lose one of their students much too early, much too young, they feel that loss as only a teacher can.