Teacher guilt is real, ya’ll.
…and I am full of it. All of it.
This year has been tough at times. There are many kiddos in my class with elevated levels of need. Of course all kids need all sorts of things, but this year is different. These needs are different and they are multi-faceted.
I touched on those needs in this post during the second week of school. Since then, things have intensified.
I have one baby, Junior, who I now hold near and dear to my heart. He is kind, loving, empathetic, and bright. He also has a cumulative folder full of paperwork…incidents, reports, trauma. Things that just punch you in the gut…things I haven’t seen up until this point as a teacher. It is my job to be there for him, help him cope in a world that is tough to navigate, and teach him. Junior needs love, support, counseling, and more. Junior deserves all of it.
One of my other kids, Darwin, is clever, witty, charming, and mostly happy. Until he isn’t. He holds quite a bit of emotional baggage, has difficulty interacting with others, and doesn’t always exhibit self control. It is my job to make sure Darwin knows he is special, understand his value, and help him interact with others and stay in control. It is my job to teach him. Darwin deserves that.
I have a group (“Fab Five”) of kiddos who are reading on a beginning of the year kindergarten level. In the third grade. All of them try so hard. They all want to learn. They yearn to read the chapter books that are sitting on my shelf. They want to read anything. They jump up with a quickness whenever I call them to my table. One of these babies knew 5 letter names at the beginning of the year and zero sounds. Others knew a bit more, but not by much. These babies are expected to read pages upon pages of grade level text and answer over 50 questions about that text at the end of the year. They don’t know their letter sounds yet. In third grade. It is my job to teach them. They need one-on-one, small group, intervention, and more. My “Fab Five” deserve all of that.
An even larger group (“Savvy Seven”) of my kiddos are reading on a first grade reading level. In the third grade. Their reading deficits differ, they can’t just be lumped together by a letter of the reading level alphabet. It is my job to teach them. They need support, intervention, small group, one-on-one, and more. My “Savvy Seven” deserve all that.
They all deserve everything. All of them. The Twitter hashtag you see floating around, the inspirational teacher graphics that pop up…they are real and they full of truth. These little people are 8 and 9 and what happens this year is a key piece of their educational puzzle.
Somehow, third grade feels even more urgent with all “end all be all” statistics that float around. The burden is heavy. For the record, I put that burden on myself…no one has placed that one me. Yet, the statistics are real. I have a job to do. And that is where the guilt comes in.
I am not meeting every one of my kiddos’ needs every day. I have not been able to figure out how to be everything to everyone on the same day. I am trying, but this is the real world and you don’t actually get an “A” for effort and these kids deserve more.
In fact, lately, I feel like I get an “F”:
Earlier this week Junior was having a particularly tough day. It required me to leave my small group with the “Fab Five” to attend to Junior’s immediate needs. To make sure he stayed safe and secure. During this time, I was being exactly what he needed me to be. I didn’t “fix” anything, I couldn’t help in a long term way (that is a whole other layer of guilt), but I was at my best for him and he was able to make it through the day. In the moment, for him, I was fire.
While I was what Junior needed, I was not what anybody else needed. The majority of my energy went toward Junior. Darwin needed me too. He crawled under the table and made whistling noises.
“Fab Five” were left independent and truth be told, they shouldn’t have been. I failed them as well in that moment and they missed critical time building skills that they have not yet grasped.
I put off a story that Maggie (who doesn’t have any “high” needs) was trying to tell me from the start of the day when things began to unfold. I finally got back to her at dismissal time and found out that she was up late with her mom the night before, worried about her father who parties and drinks. This story is relayed into much more adult language by the way. She had to wait all day to tell me that. Because my attention was elsewhere. I still feel like I am about two feet tall over that one.
Of course, if it’s not an issue like Junior’s, it is one with Darwin. If it isn’t Darwin, it’s getting caught up with one of my groups and not moving along quick enough for someone else. If it isn’t that, it’s being forced to make tough calls about the amount of time spent in small group or one-on-one and sometimes even cutting all together in order to move on to another subject or group. This often means choosing between “Fav Five” or “Savvy Seven and it really feels like the teacher version of “Sophie’s Choice.”
Okay, so all that sounds dramatic. But it is guilt. And it is real.
With so many babies who need so many things (both “on” and “off” the radar), it is a tough balancing act. I often find myself questioning if I am enough.
This work is important. Our kids are important. They deserve everything. And I have reached a point where I am finding that I am less than everything.
Teacher guilt. It’s real.