I survived & “The Giving Teacher”

School got out here in my school district on May 20th for the kiddos, the 21st for teachers.  I officially survived the school year.  I didn’t think I’d make it, but I took it one day at a time.

This was a rough school year (as you’ve heard me say before AND which comes as a surprise to no one).  We fought online hurdles for the first semester, and went back in person January 19th to fight even more hurdles.  It was like reinventing teaching every single day, it was the most exhausted I’ve ever been in my life (and most overworked), but I loved being with my kiddos too.

And I became so angry over some of the injustices in my own school district that I felt it begin to change me.  Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m loving with a big heart.  But I became angry and bitter.  And I do NOT want to be that person.  So I’m going to try and put it behind me.

And sleep.

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

There has already been lots of sleep (even with relatives coming to visit all last week and entertaining them) AND there will be lots more sleep to come.  I knew it was bad when I started taking naps on the weekend at the end of April just to get the energy to deal with another week!  I’ve never had to do that before, that early on.  I was exhausted.

So as I take time to rest this summer and find myself again, know that I might be slower to respond to emails than I have been before.  I’m doing my best.

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

And there WILL be beach time with a trip planned later this month to celebrate my 5-year wedding anniversary.  (I can’t believe it’s been that long already!)  Just being near the ocean is SO restorative for me.  It’s one of the places where I’ve always gone to find a sense of calm.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

I promise not to rag about the horrors of teaching this year any more, but I feel the need to say one last thing.  This year saw a lot of … dare I say abuse of power?  Teachers were made to feel “less than” for standing up for their health all around the world AND treated like work horses like never before.  I’ve felt like Cassandra during the Trojan War, yelling until I’m hoarse and no one hears me: there will be repercussions from this that will affect education for years to come.  The system is broken, teachers are tired, and I think over the next few years you will see a lot of teachers leaving this job.  I saw teachers quitting or retiring repeatedly throughout this year and there are very few of us left.   I’m also beginning to question what to do with my future, as I’m not sure this is a career I can stay with any more.  It’s an abusive relationship.  How much more do I need to take?

On that vein, I who love picture books and write and illustrate them in the hopes of one day publishing one of my own, thought of “The Giving Tree.”  I hate that story.  I know others love it, but that boy is SO selfish.  He takes and takes and takes from the tree (which gives and gives and gives) until there is nothing left.  I don’t find that sweet or touching.  I find that a weird sort of co-dependency of an abusive relationship.  Show me ONE healthy relationship where one partner gives until there’s nothing left, while the other just takes.  I can’t think of a single one.

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

I wrote a story that is an ADULT parody of “the Giving Tree” and released a lot of my pain over this last year in doing so.  Nothing will ever come of it.  It’s not “funny” or “kid friendly” so I know it’s not really marketable as a picture book parody.  BUT I can share it here with you.  If you’d like to read it, here is:

The Giving Teacher    By Jena Benton

Once there was a teacher…

and she loved her students.

Every day they would come

gathering their supplies to learn

and talking and giggling with joy.

(Sometimes even when they should be listening.)

They would share their treasures with her,

give random hugs,

and grow and learn every day.

And the children loved the teacher…

very much.

And the teacher was happy.

But time went by.

And the teacher grew older.

Then one day the powers-that-be came to the teacher and said, “Because of budget cuts, we cannot afford to pay you a salary that will support you.  We cannot give you retirement when you are old.  And we cannot give you class supplies like tissue or pencils.  You will have to buy those on your own.”

“That’s okay,” said the teacher.  “I love the children.  They are the reason I’m doing this.  As long as I get to keep working with them, I don’t mind.”

And the teacher watched as their salaries grew, while budget cuts happened.  Year after year.

Then one day the powers-that-be came to the teacher again and said, “Because of laws that demand things, we can no longer let you teach whatever you want.  We must get rid of art, music, science and social studies.  The only subjects that matter are reading and math.  Every child must learn and succeed on tests.  You can no longer create lessons; you will only read this script we give you to teach.”

“That’s okay,” said the teacher.  “I love the children.  They are the reason I’m doing this.  I want them to learn and grow and succeed too.  As long as I get to keep working with them, I don’t mind.”

And the teacher watched as more and more subjects were cut from teaching.  And more and more tests were brought in to prove that the students were learning.  Year after year.

Then one day the powers-that-be came to the teacher again and said, “There have been guns in some schools.  You might die.  You might have to give your life to protect students.  But we’re pretty sure it won’t happen again.  And we will train you on the right way to be safe, just in case.”

“That’s okay,” said the teacher.  “I love the children.  They are the reason I’m doing this.  I want them to be safe too.  As long as I get to keep working with them, I don’t mind.”

And the teacher had nightmares about children dying.  She cried and hoped it would never happen.

Then a pandemic happened.  The powers-that-be came to the teacher once more and said, “We can’t let learning suffer.  We will teach online until this pandemic passes.  We expect you to learn tons of new technology and be an expert from day one.  We will need you to work harder than you’ve ever worked before.”

“That’s—”

“We’ve changed our minds.  Learning is suffering.  We will be back in school in person, no matter the risks.”

“But people are dying and—”

“And we’ll need you to work harder than ever, because we know how lazy you were teaching from home.  You’ll have to pay for your own safety measures in the classroom.  We will also need you to give us every minute of every day to do all the things we demand, without any breaks, or planning time, or regard for your safety.  But do take care of yourself.”

The teacher watched as many other teachers had to quit for health and safety reasons.

“And we’ll need you to be the lunch server, the janitor, and all of the specialists too because we have to be in school.  And test.  There will be lots of tests that we expect your students to pass, even though they’re obviously behind because you have failed them.”

“No,” said the teacher.  “I love the children. They’re the reason I’m doing this.  I want them to be safe, and learn, and grow, but not at the expense of their health.  Not at the expense of my own life and sanity.  This is where I’m drawing the line.”

And the powers-that-be didn’t know what to say.  Or do.  They didn’t have a teacher to teach the children any more.

And the teacher had to walk away.  Even if she had given years to teaching and didn’t know what to do next.  Even if she missed the children.  Even if it was what she loved and it broke her heart.

6 thoughts on “I survived & “The Giving Teacher”

  1. I’m so sorry you had such a difficult year, Jena. I’m sure your students felt the compassion and dedication you showed. I’m not a big fan of THE GIVING TREE either, but I love how you used it to write and release your own pain. I hope your summer brings much deserved peace and rest!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jena, this is so powerful. It speaks to others out there who have struggled with their own experiences. Thanks for sharing in such a heart-felt and personal way.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jena, I have so much respect for you and other teachers working under impossible conditions the past year and a half. One of my close friends just left teaching at the end of this school year for many of these reasons. You have to put your own oxygen mask on first and do what’s best for your health and sanity. Perhaps with your teaching experience there might be some opportunities in curriculum development or educational publishing? Teaching in the classroom isn’t the only way to benefit students.

    Like

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