I threw yet another dried-out Expo marker into the trash.
Character Ed: What will you do today that — I made it midway through the morning’s prompt on the wipe-off board before expiring the last of my school-funded supply.
I then reached into my worn teacher tote to produce the bright yellow Dollar General bag from yesterday’s quick trip.
The bag held a multi-colored pack of Expos and two composition notebooks; one for Ellen who left hers in Georgia at her dad’s house over the weekend, the other for James, who never brought one to begin with.
I had nudged my own preschooler through the concrete aisles of the bargain store to secure the materials I needed to make the next day run smoothly with as few mentions of Mrs. Ballard-I-don’t-have-this as I could manage.
To pay, I used the money I make teaching grammar and grace.
I could’ve asked the librarian for an extra marker but I’m a second-year teacher and I’ve already bugged her twice about looking out for lost copies of “Holes” so that Kendall and Roderick don’t have to share when we read aloud.
Besides, she’s got the book fair coming up and a million testing rules to read off in today’s faculty meeting. Oh, and the students with learning and behavior needs meeting and the website updates. Don’t forget that she has to watch Mr. So-and-so’s class because he has a sick kid and the substitute list is dwindling.
This is teaching. This is knowing that every one of your coworkers wants to help you from the very bottom of their hearts but is sinking in priorities and paperwork to the very tips of their eyeballs.
Just. Like. You.
This is wanting to ask for supplies from outside sources but not wanting to be greedy.
This is wanting to ask for tangible help but not wanting to seem overwhelmed.
This is the thought process every time you consider knocking on another classroom door or sending another note home or writing another grant on a Saturday.
I’m a constant burden carrying a constant burden.
Like an ant carrying 5,000 times its weight, others line up to follow me with weight of their own. Siblings/sports/scholarships/sanity/stakes/solitude.
Sometimes the weight is as obvious as a large backpack carrying three textbooks after a heavy homework night; sometimes the weight is as hidden as a smile or snarky remark.
We make an uphill climb every day. If I misstep, those following close behind stumble, too. When I put one foot in front of the other, we can unload one pound at a time the right way, at the right time.
I don’t sit on the highest hill, I follow those above me. They lead as well as anyone could with twice the weight I carry.
But sometimes the weight drops in heaps. Destiny grabs a book from the bottom shelf and the rest come tumbling down on top of her. The whole shelf breaks. We spend the rest of the period cleaning up her mess and her mindset.
But it’s so much more than embarrassment and Expo markers.
The book drops every day in a teacher’s life.
Every 50 minutes, I’m faced with 30 new sets of eyes.
50 minutes is so short to teach them sentence structure and strong viewpoints and thesis statements and writing style.
50 minutes is so long to hold the stares that will ensure more vigor and depth with less stress or passing-notes-under-the-desks.
I give the same performance six times each day. In first period, I receive applause and rave reviews. Second period brings critique. Third period yields anger. Fourth, stares.
In my planning period, I turn off my lights and lay my head on my desk to collect composure and regret, as I will have to make up that time tonight in my bed after bedtime stories and little boy prayers.
During remission, I scarf down salty bites of quesadilla between spats of stop touching him and one more strike until silent lunch.
The loudspeaker breaks my remission rhythm.
Mrs. Ballard, there’s a parent for you in the office.
The last three bites are swallowed without chewing as I hurry to the office. In the 30-second walk, I wonder whose parent it is, I wonder if I will lose my job because I don’t have tenure, I wonder who will open my classroom after lunch, I wonder if my kids will get stuck in the hallway, I wonder if they will bother another class, I wonder if a fight will break loose.
Alex’s mom showed up for his week’s worth of make-up work and I spend the first 10 minutes of my next class getting it together and then the next 40 feeling behind in my open theater.
The last showing of the day brings applause again and even popcorn during snack time, giving me just enough motivation to lay out the script and props for the next day.
At 3:30, I reach for the light switch and see my Yeti cup still filled with hazelnut coffee sitting right where I placed it after unlocking the door that morning.
How was your day?
Did you finish that book?
Where’s your folder?
I’ve asked these questions a dozen times today, but for the first time, it’s to my own son. We walk hand-in-hand to the softball field where he will sit in the dugout or practice his throws into a net outside the fence while Mommy counts laps and pitches batting practice.
I’m only an assistant coach, though, which means half the workload and none of the pay.
But that’s what you do when you teach. You give.
You give and you give and you give.
That’s what you signed up for, right?
You knew what you were getting into.
You have weekends off except when you have to write lessons plans or grade papers.
You’re in the air conditioning when it works.
You get paid even when you don’t work because nine months of pay is split into twelve.
You. Have. It. Made.
And sometimes you do. Those are the moments you have to hold onto. Because if there is one thing in this life that’s similar to teaching, it’s parenting. And you’ve got 160 kids today that need to learn verb from noun and right from wrong.
So when you’ve got four new audience members with clipboards sitting in the first row of your debut, give it everything you’ve got.
And when they’re not there, give it everything you’ve got.
It’s what’s behind those curtains that’s going to come to light in 20 years when Derrick is fighting fires and Brianna is performing open heart surgery.
Who knows, some might carry on your Broadway.
To all the teachers feeling under-appreciated, just know that for every one kid putting eye drops in your Diet Coke when you leave the room, there are 10 going to bed with a smile on their face because you said their writing was spectacular.
For every one time you’ve had to stop a lesson because someone is crying, you’ve helped countless kids by climbing high on your soapbox with a message on bullying.
For every time you’ve had a parent roast you on Facebook for disciplining their child, there are 100 others thankful for your continuing their accountability outside the home.
For every time you’ve held your bladder until you peed just a little bit, you’ve shown a whole different level of dedication that no one even knows about. Please tell me I’m not the only one.
If the classroom is the stage in which you feel yourself, keep showing up.
Keep showing up for the kids who love you and for the ones who’d never admit that they do.
Keep growing your own love for your subject.
You can’t save them all, but I know you’ll try to anyways.
Because written words on clipboards and crumpled curtains can’t stop your show.
This story originally appeared on Trains and Tantrums