A couple months ago, I came across a meme that said “When teachers are already counting down to summer, it’s not surprising that so many students dislike school.” The flaws in that argument jumped from the screen. As an AP Language teacher, I work with my students to dissect arguments, and this one would have been quite easy for them to crush. What the meme is really saying is this: When teachers count down to a break, they stop caring about instruction. They stop caring about engagement. They stop caring about students. By default, they are bad teachers who don’t like students, who don’t like school and influence their students to dislike school as well. It is such a loaded and incorrect little meme. I am a teacher who peeks at the calendar to see how many days are left before summer. I count down. And I love my career. I love my students. And I am confident enough to say that they love me too. And this is where the cynics and meme-writers in the class raise their hands and give the side-eye of suspicion. How can an educator love students and love teaching while covertly or overtly counting down to a separation from it? The answer to that question does not live in lesson plans and teaching about equations and literature and science and art. That is not the hard part of teaching. The answer is buried deep in the relationships, tasks, and activities that ripple from the lessons, classes, and content of our courses. Those ripples, the real stuff of teaching, are what emotionally drain and invigorate great educators. What a complex paradox this amazing profession is.
This is why we count down
We count down because we have stayed late in the evenings or gone to school on Saturdays to help students prepare for tests. We count down because we have bought breakfast and paid for ACT and AP tests and shopped for prom dresses and suits when we really didn’t have much extra money. We count down because we have spent countless hours of our own time riding through neighborhoods to find a student who plans to drop out and hasn’t been to school in weeks. We count down because we have shown up in the midst of sirens and flashing lights when a student has passed away to provide comfort for the family and other students. We count down because with limited conference time, we leave school to run to the store to pick up shoes for a student who has nothing. And to be blunt but real, we just needed to go to the bathroom with that little bit of time. We count down because sometimes we have to battle to prove that the things we want to do with our students are necessary. We have to prove that we are not “just” teachers. We count down because [pullquote position="left"]our presence, our classroom, has been a place of refuge for students when we were in need of a refuge of our own. We count down because we have driven a student, for hours, to a college interview, and we sat there as the support person, as their family. And in the midst of counting down, we teach.
Teaching doesn't end when summer begins
We are still planning reading celebrations for our students complete with costumes, food, and music although the days are dwindling. We are still renovating a park with seniors when graduation is right around the corner. We are still planning explosive experiments in science labs so that students can remember just how cool science is as they leave for break. And those descriptions only represent a very small number of the great teachers I know. Imagine all those ripples. Yes, this profession that is filled with paradoxes can drain every bit of energy while simultaneously inspiring us to go to the point of collapse for the kids we love so much. So we check our gauges, check the calendar, and try our best to get to summer so that we can refuel. Summer is the gas station after the low fuel light has been blinking for miles. It is Saturday morning on a quiet patio after the end to a loud week. It is a necessary landing in the middle of a steep staircase. And for my husband, who happens to teach sixth graders from a wheelchair each day, it is the feeling he gets after pushing his chair uphill on gravel and then making it to flat, smooth pavement. Refueling first with family and friends and later with other educators with whom we will plan our next school year of work is what summer is made of. Summer is what allows us to return to the real work. So, in closing, I’ll offer my counterargument to the meme: Great teachers don’t count down because we don’t love the job. We count down because we do.
Monica Washington is an instructional coach for BetterLesson. Previously, she taught English III and AP English III teacher at Texas High School in Texarkana where she served as department chair. She has been in education for 20 years and has taught grades 7-12. She has served as adjunct professor at LeMoyne-Owen College and Texarkana College.
Monica became Texas State Teacher of the Year in ...