The first thing that gets you is the lack of sleep.
Well, it’s not inherently a lack of sleep. It’s actually the fact that you have to wake up early now. Very early. Long before the sun comes up, your alarm is blaring whatever iPhone sound you’ve chosen (some days it’s something soft like ~Bamboo Forest~ but most days it’s that one that sounds like the submarine alarm because you know that fooling your body into thinking we’re on the brink of nuclear disaster is the only way you’ll get up).
You groggily reach for the phone, hit the button, and look at the time. You groan internally. You’ve never had to get up this early before. Years of college have softened you, and you’ve been living in the magic land where you create your own schedules and can ditch class when you really need to. Your body still thinks that if it crashes at 11:45 PM after just-one-more-episode of Stranger Things, you’ll be able to skate through your alarm clock to get the 7 or 8 hours of sleep you know you need.
That’s not an option anymore, though. Now, you know that at 7:45 AM, for better or worse, 32 sets of eyes will be looking at you. 32 heads will be craned towards you, wondering what they’re supposed to be doing next. Now, unless you want to stand there, mouth agape and unknowing, you have to get to school by 6:30 at least to handle the myriad tasks necessary to try and engage 32 adolescents in whatever shenanigans (and, yes, even the best, most effective plan becomes “shenanigan-esque” when 32 kids get involved) you have put together.
You roll out of bed onto achy joints. Maybe you stretch a little first– the whole “walking the room” thing does, in fact, work for classroom management, but it’s doing a number on your legs (“At least you get your steps in,” your friends muse at you). You crunch your toes into the rug before slinking across the room. You go through your shower-clothes-coffee morning routine and grab your bags– always more than one, always one with papers/supplies/books– and head out the door.
This time in your car is some of the only solace you’ll have for the rest of the day, so you try and enjoy it. Some days, it’s a hilarious podcast to take your mind off things, or NPR to help you understand why you do this work. Some days, it’s just silence– you let your mind wander at the million-hour pace it now functions, crunching numbers, figuring out activities and assigning the minutes they’ll need, wondering what to do with that one student. The stoplights and turns are on autopilot now, and before you know it, you’ve parked your car in the parking lot.
Stop. Close your eyes. Breathe. Again. Good.
Here we go.
The day passes in a blur. Your body, in some ways, is a machine now, or at least it has learned how to be efficient. You have learned the time it takes you to run to the bathroom hurriedly in between classes. You can eat your lunch in 22 minutes while walking around monitoring a make-up quiz, listening in on the small anime club that meets in another corner of your room (sometimes, that “lunch” is leftover Halloween candy bars from the break room). Your vocal chords finally adjusted a few weeks ago– up until then, the consistent projection they had to produce caused them to crack by 6th period. You shake out your arms from hours of jazz hands, reaching to the top of the board, tapping on a kid’s desk, handing out papers or receiving the high-five from someone smaller yet so much stronger than you.
By the end of the day, you finally flop into your chair. The squishiness in the seat is sinking, but it feels good to relax in that moment, to feel your low-back and legs release some of the tension they held. You rub your eyes for a second and hear your phone buzz. Your friends will want to go out for a drink tonight. It is a Tuesday. You know you will have to decline. The most you might squeeze in is a quick run or a hurried dinner with a coworker. Then it will be back to the grind.
As you hear footsteps fade down the hall, you cannot help but notice the way your life is different now. This job is not at all what you thought. You see you friends and a partner– if you’re lucky enough to convince someone to stay through this with you– less. You are more drained at the end of your day.
It’s physical, yes, but it’s emotional and mental too. Your mind works harder than you ever thought it would– the knowledge is there, but you are forcing yourself to re-remember how it got through to you in the first place. You now learn how to deal with being “on” for the majority of your day, often unable to take a minute to yourself, except for a few hurried breaths in the bathroom. The stakes feel higher (even if your paycheck doesn’t show it).
So, you sit at your desk now and think about these things– the changes, the struggle, the process. Then, you hear your door open, and a kid peeks their head around the corner of the door, and waves at you.
You smile, genuinely. An inquisitive kid is always the sweetest image, and it fills your chest a little.
“Hey kiddo, how can I help you?”
They smile and bound up to your desk with a question, a comment, a thought.
A veteran teacher once told you that, when you are a teacher, every morning your alarm goes off, it’s a call to lead. You didn’t fully understand the sentiment at first, but now it becomes clearer.
It’s not a call to “lead” so much as it is the space to “guide”– every morning, you know your work is to create space and clear the way for your students to shine, to grow, to question and struggle, perhaps even to fail so that they can rise far higher than they thought. Every morning is a new one that fills the space in your soul with some of God’s purest joys– the laughter of children, the pursuit of discovery, the warmth of community.
So, when the kid comes into your room at the end of the day, you can’t help but smile a little deeper into your heart. And, when someone asks you how you’re doing, you can answer honestly: My body is a little tired, but it is well with my soul.