When I first became a teacher in the fall of 2000, I was brimming with optimism, positivity, and enthusiasm. I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was 8 years old, and it was finally happening! I was going to have my very own class with my very own students — and not one, but two assistants! I was going to crush this. I had so many ideas for unique ways in which to help children learn. I developed my very own curriculum which I entitled “The Inside-Out Curriculum” which was to be a framework to help children to learn about their bodies and how bodies work. The curriculum would then grow into learning about their our classroom community; who are the people in our classroom? What makes us the same? What makes us unique? Then we would branch out into our school community, meeting the principal, the janitor, the crossing guard, the cafeteria staff, etc. Then we’d move on to the neighborhood and the people (and animals and plants and trees) within it, our city, our country, and finally we begin to learn about the world. It was genius. I made up songs that seem to just materialize out of thin air; songs that would help children to learn about the five senses or the months of the year. I figured, kids are able learn to sing every lyric of the latest pop song, so why couldn’t that same mental acuity be tapped in order to communicate educational content? I went to sleep each night dreaming about lesson plans and class trips and ways to make my classroom more user friendly for kids. I incorporated different smells into the classroom environment when the seasons changed: the smell of cinnamon in the fall, the smell of pine in the winter, floral scents in the spring, and a beachy, sea breeze sent for the last few weeks of school as we headed into our summer break. I went to students’ homes to talk with their parents about their hopes and dreams for their child, while witnessing their child wearing their most comfortable selves. I was as dedicated a teacher to young children as one could possibly be. I was the first one to the school building early in the morning and I was the last one to leave the school building each night. I was even given a set of keys to the school, which I often used to visit my classroom during the weekends to prepare lessons for the coming week. I absolutely loved the children, the families, and our community. I loved my job.
Then, five years later, I gave became pregnant with my first child.
Suddenly, other people’s children were not going to be at the center of my world. My own child would take priority, as well he should, but I was not expecting the varied, vast mix of emotions that I would begin to feel. The guilt I felt in leaving my students and the community that I loved so much, just so I could go on maternity leave. Who would take care of them? Who would sing for them? Obviously, no one would be able to fill my shoes. I love them and they love me. How could we survive without each other? I felt nervous, yet excited; eager, yet hesitant; elated, yet melancholy. I was about to become a mother of my own child for the first time, while leaving other children behind.
Many years and 3 children later, I now realize that it’s not as dramatic as all that, but that is how I felt at the time. I deeply loved my unborn child, a being that I had never actually met, whose image I had seen for just a few minutes on a blurry screen, whose heartbeat and movement were the only real indication of a life growing inside me. I loved this being. However, I also resented him for taking me away from the children whom I already actually met and actually knew and really loved; the birth of this child would take me away from the life I had, from the version of myself that I had come to appreciate and embrace. The resentment was real.
Then I gave birth. The tables turned.
I thought I knew what love was before my son was born. But I didn’t. I love my mom and my siblings and my husband, of course, but this? This was different. This little ball of mush with eyes like mine, a smile like his dad’s, and my mother’s nose, was all at once all the types of love that I had ever felt combined — and still, a love that was unlike any other. I can gush more, but I’ll save that for another article. For now I’ll just say, that one look at him caused all remnants of guilt and trepidation to disappear. It was as if I had written the words “I will never leave you. I will never leave you…” 100 times on the chalkboard in my classroom as a reminder to my students, but my son’s birth was a damp cloth that wiped the words away, leaving a brand new slate upon which we would write together.
While on maternity leave, I took my son everywhere! There was no place we didn’t go, there was no conversation we did not have. I talked “with” him all the time; pointing out fruits and vegetables to his half-opened eyelids as we walked through Whole Foods, gossiping with him about the neighbor’s baby who wasn’t nearly as adorable as he was, and making up songs where I would cleverly work his name into the lyrics of a nursery rhyme, while listening to the rhythm the raindrops made on our umbrella during our daily walk around the neighborhood. Being with him was heavenly.
As my maternity leave drew to an end, I began to resent my students more and more for taking me away from my little slice of bliss. Who would take care of him? Obviously, no one would be able to fill my shoes. I love him and he loves me. But, how could we survive without each other?
I returned to work after being home with my baby for 5 months. My husband and I could not afford to not have me work, so I had to go back. There was plenty of resentment to go around during this time in my life. I resented my husband, thinking, “Why couldn’t he make more money so that I wouldn’t have to leave my baby so soon?” I resented this country, thinking, “Why is motherhood treated so poorly here, as to guarantee pay and healthcare for only 6 weeks after childbirth?” But, I resented the families and the school community for making me share myself with them. I was (and still am) a very dedicated teacher. I don’t do things half-heartedly, so how was I supposed to give so much of myself to my work and still have something left over for my family? For my baby?
Somehow, I got through it. There was a lot of crying, a lot of breastmilk-filled late nights, a lot of calling out sick to spend the day with my baby. And with each successive child it became a little easier to go back to work.
But, the resentment never left.
I still hate the fact that I’m pulled away from my kids so often to perform tasks that I care so little about. I hate that I no longer feel the excitement and energy for my career that I once did and, as a result, I don’t feel worthy of doing it. Teaching children is a labor of love and, as difficult as it is to say, I no longer love it. That is not to say that I don’t love children. Quite the contrary! I marvel at them every day. Their sense of wonder, their undying resilience, their infectious laughter, their fierce honesty. I treasure every aspect of what it means to be a young, innocent human and all of the discoveries that come along with it. I observe children every chance I get — at the playground, when I take my kids to the doctor and there are other children in the waiting room, in the grocery store. I watch them. I listen to them. I listen to how the adults in their lives talk to them. I can’t help it. I love seeing how children learn.
What I don’t enjoy is the ever-present assumption that teachers should and could be doing more. If you are a parent and a school teacher, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m trying to hold firm to my love of children, hoping that it will be enough to squeeze out any disdain that I may feel for what my job has become. However, when confronted with the constant, gradual, systematic chipping away at the optimism, positivity, and enthusiasm that we all start out with, it’s difficult to ignore the inevitable disappearance that comes with the wipe of a damp cloth.