The Privilege of Exhausted Frustration

Fifty years ago this month in my high school senior year, I ran the Athens Marathon. Not Athens, Greece! Athens, Ohio, the hometown of Joe Burrows and the Ohio University Bobcats. It was wavering above and below the 32 degree mark the whole day, light flakes of snow erasing any thoughts of heat exhaustion. Halfway into the 26.2 mile run, I started wondering what in the world I was doing. The racecourse took the chilled runners out into the boonies, where the idea of quitting was abandoned because there was the necessity of running back to civilization. By the end of the race the exhaustion had poured over my body, but also a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, completing what seemed impossible.

This year school teachers are in the midst of a marathon education race. Many bystanders don’t understand the challenges of this journey. Just as the marathon runners disappeared into the outer limits of the Ohio countryside, teachers head into the boonies of their classrooms, often weary, emotionally, and mentally fatigued. By March they are about two-thirds of the way into the academic year distance run. It’s a run with endless hills to climb and potholes to beware of.

And the thing is, the thing that many people don’t realize, that folks outside the educational environment have failed to consider, is that this school year includes residue from the previous school year where students were in class, out of class, in school part of the time, at home and distracted, at home and playing video games as remote classes were going on, with students and not with students. The warts that were forming underneath the surface last year have come out black, blue, and a few other shades this school year.

Teachers are instructing in the midst of the classroom acne, unsightly and challenging. Discipline problems are more common than missing commas in a grammar lesson. Teaching young Johnny algebra is often greeted with attitude, and a request to get started on the day’s assignment is met with indifference.

Not all students are like that. Not even close to all them, but enough to where many teachers are hitting the same kind of wall that marathon runners talk about, a cloudy and confusing time where the thought of quitting is lurking in every class of every school day.

Teacher Appreciation Week that comes in May each year needs to be moved up to March…maybe February. A flood of appreciation notes is needed by our educators about right now to help them refocus on how valued they are. They need that to help them rediscover the privilege in the midst of exhausted frustration. When I say privilege I mean the impression and impact they have been, and are having, on their students.

Like yesterday, when two former students of the teacher on maternity leave, who I’m subbing for right now, stopped by after school to say hi to her. She is two to three years in their school past now, but still missed and thought of highly by them. Those actions of honoring former teachers mean so much.

And it’s also the privilege of being a part of a student’s request for advice. Staying the course when the final days of May seem an eternity away gives teacher the privilege of speaking truth into the lives of the young. For some of them, teachers may be the only adults who have stayed the course. Parents have split apart or given their attention to other people and pastimes. Classroom supervision may be the only semblance of order in the lives of some students.

So, teachers, when you’re wondering if it’s all worth it…when Johnny flips you off in the hallway…when Dorothy comes to school sorta half-dressed…when tears suddenly begin streaming from a student’s eyes when you ask him to solve the next problem…when Tim won’t be quiet in class…when Suzy just wants to stay in your classroom during lunch because it’s a quiet place…when missing assignments seem to be more prevalent than submissions…stay the course, stay the course, stay the course! There is a multitude who are cheering for you. You just might not know it until a few years later.

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One Comment on “The Privilege of Exhausted Frustration”

  1. mbmankin Says:

    Bill, I read this late, but it is very moving! Yes, teacher appreciation should be earlier in the year!

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