I spent the evening with my husband’s family, celebrating his brother’s birthday with dinner at their parents’ house. It was a nice evening, albeit a bit exhausting; I have a six-year-old nephew and an almost-three-year-old niece. For whatever reason, I was exceptionally popular tonight. Both kids insisted on sitting by me at dinner (and from my niece, that’s nothing short of freakin’ remarkable, as most of the time she prefers to act as if she has never met me before and regards me with the sort of disdain you normally save for, say, a slug that you’ve just accidentally stepped on and whose guts are smeared across the bottom of your foot).
Dinner was a mix of trying to persuade my niece to eat without physically assaulting me (I was kicked, scratched, smacked, raspberried – she stopped each after getting the teacher death glare and a firm no, but kept coming up with new ways to attract my attention, each more charming than the last) and trying to listen to and field questions from my nephew (he finds my job endlessly fascinating and loooooooves to compare my kids’ behavior to his own).
By the end of the meal, after two timeouts for him, one meltdown from her, one spilled bowl of ice cream (a joint effort) and one ear-piercing screech, again him, I was exhausted. And they weren’t even my responsibility!
When I tell people that I teach middle school, I almost always get a Look. Its makeup varies – sometimes incredulous, occasionally horrified, oft sympathetic, periodically stunned, frequently a mix of two or more. I can usually predict the next thing my listener will say. “How on earth do you DO that?” they sputter, adding, “I could NEVER. That’s a really tough age.” And I smile, and say that I like that age, that they’re a lot of fun. If they seem interested, I expound, but mostly we leave it at that, because we both know: they think I’m crazy for doing what I do, and I think they’re misguided and shortsighted for not seeing how ridiculously great middle school kids can be, and ne’er the twain shall meet.
But after an hour or two with my niece and nephew, I am the shocked observer, ready to ask any ECE or early elementary teacher around, “How do you DO that?” Because it’s true – I could never.
Thank God I don’t have to. Thank God the people staring at me bewilderedly don’t have to. Thank God we can all specialize and spend our time with the ages we love and not have to be with the ages that leave us befuddled and frazzled and simply done.
A woman on an airplane told me once that I was doing God’s work by teaching middle school. I’m not religious, so I sort of brushed it off because I didn’t really know where to go from there. But now I think she’s right.
We’re all doing God’s work. Or gods’ work. Or no gods’ work; secular humanists’ work. Atheists’ work. The point is, whatever your religious beliefs, teachers are doing work that matters, that changes the world, that’s so damn hard but so damn worthwhile, and it’s okay if other people think we’re nutjobs for loving what we do. We know we’re not.
(Photo credit to Drifter Jen, http://www.flickr.com/photos/drifterjen/930584805/)