FRANK TALK ABOUT WHAT WE DO WITH OUR LIVES

Entry #21 (2013)

“Bring us into your world. What is something about your work (past or present) that outsiders typically don’t understand? It can be something required by the job, something that happens on the job, something you feel about the job—but whatever it is, do not exceed 800 words.

The Envy of a Teacher

“Mrs. X, I just got into Yale!!” an excited 17-year-old senior screeches as she glides quickly into my classroom, fingers flying over her iPhone as she glances at it during her gushingly enthusiastic description of what her life will be like in September. I appear to be listening intently, my head cocked to one side and my mouth uttering the appropriate words every once in a while. “Just started up a non-profit to help people in NY obtain access to healthcare” was the FB post of a former student that was percolating in my head at the moment, though. Followed by the oft-repeated idiotic mantra that plagues me periodically: “Those that can’t do, teach.”

My confession: As supportive and encouraging as I am (and want to be!) as a teacher, there is a little part in my brain that cannot but help be envious of many of my students. Yes, I feel all of the cliché emotions that a teacher should: pride in her students’ accomplishment; happiness in helping the next generation of youth; joy in providing the spring board from which students will (I hope) find success and contentment in their lives. But I also think, “Why her and not me?” Did I make the right choices in life? I don’t own a house; I can’t afford to even rent in the town in which I teach! My child doesn’t do the extracurricular activities I would want, not for lack of interest, but dearth of funds. I am not helping the poor obtain health care or providing education for girls in Cambodia or planning my next trip abroad as Secretary of State or…. I am teaching in a well-off public school. Sometimes I long to do some of the exciting or lucrative or world-changing things that my former students are off doing in Boston or Belgium or Bangladesh.

And then I shake my head. How can I believe the negative perception, espoused by too many, of public school teachers? How can I think that I am just a teacher? I look at the Yale-bound teenager before me and smile. Yes, I agree to her last statement, I did help you get there. In fact there is a little bit of me in all corners of the globe, helping the world in a myriad of ways, as my students take me there.

***

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  1. There sure is! But I do understand your feelings on the topic. I think my teenager would be lucky to have you as a teacher!

  2. This story allows unspoken thoughts to come forward at last: the empathy a teacher feels for her students can have a flip side – jealousy. This is akin to how we feel when a friend that you introduced to Mr/Ms Wonderful ends up with them, riling you unaccountably by their good fortune. People of honest soul, however, get past those selfish moments. They reach deep and congratulate the lucky one, submerging bad rationalizations and finding enough in the heart to be happy for others. Vulnerable and well- said.

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