I see you yearning for a connection, and it breaks my heart, but I can’t provide it
This is a long-overdue apology. When I started teaching years ago, I was dedicated and sincere. I connected well with you, and what I lacked in experience, I made up for with enthusiasm and concern. I had a knack for explaining things and making lessons relevant.
Most of you left my classroom, whether elementary or high school, limudei kodesh or chol, with a love for learning. I pushed you a little, encouraging you all the way, until you got a high from the learning process.
I’d like to think that I also was a role model for living as a Torah Jew. I was quick to share real-life examples of living as an eved Hashem, along with pieces of mussar and hashkafah that helped me navigate my life. From the feedback I received, I know these were the lessons that stayed with you.
I believed — and still do — that the key to a successful classroom is a real relationship with students. I tried to understand your lives.
Over the years, I’ve shared jokes and intimate moments with many of you, and have even had the privilege of supporting some of you as you made difficult steps toward growth. I’d daven for each of you. At some point, I pursued a degree in psychology, so I could learn to identify girls who were struggling and help them access the support they needed.
This isn’t to say I was a perfect teacher. I struggled to grade in a timely manner and often returned your tests two (or more!) weeks later. I never covered as much material as I was supposed to, and sometimes you complained we spent too much time on one topic. If there was a girl with whom I had a hard time, due to her behavior or her personality, I had to work hard to extend myself beyond my feelings, and I don’t know if I was successful every time.
Some years I taught too many classes for me to be able to personally connect with each of you. And then, of course, there was that year that I couldn’t control the classroom enough to teach anything!
There were many times when things were difficult and I was ready to quit. This happened most often when I still had to prepare and it was 2 a.m. and my baby was going to wake up in two hours. Or when the grading piled up, and I couldn’t get on top of it. But then I’d have A Moment with you, and I’d be reminded why I’m in this field, and that yes, it’s still worth it.
All this was until things in my private life started unraveling. Suddenly, I had to expend every bit of emotional energy on my struggling marriage. Whatever little humor and patience I have is reserved for my biological children, who are suffering through this chaos. I can’t invite you to my Shabbos table as there isn’t much of it left. Worst of all, I don’t have any brain space left to think about you once I exit the school building.
I often cry my way to school, quickly wipe off the tears, and then immerse myself in the lesson. Once in the teacher persona, I’m on the ball and able to teach as before. It’s the preparation, the marking, and most of all, our connection, that’s suffering.
At the beginning of this struggle, I was bad with follow-up and would forget to check in on you or access specific resources. As I saw how much that hurt you, and as the chaos in my life increased, I’ve pulled back even more. I’m still quick to offer a smile and an occasional compliment, but I have nothing left inside me to build a relationship beyond this. It’s ironic; because of the pain that follows me around like it’s a good friend, I’m able to see your pain more quickly and clearly, but I can’t muster up the energy to reach out.
While I’d love to say that this is temporary, it’s been three years of perpetual crying, therapy, and crisis mode. And so this is my apology note: I’ve let you down. I see you struggling to navigate the world and yearning for a connection, and it breaks my heart, but I can’t provide it. I’ve disappointed you. It hurts to know that, and it hurts even more to know I can’t do anything to change that.
Over these past few tumultuous years, I have often contemplated permanently leaving the field of teaching. My supervisors remind me that the job of a teacher is to be successful in the classroom, and that I still have what it takes. But when I see the pain in your eyes or meet one of your mothers who desperately wants me to reach out to you, I’m reminded that you and our community expect our teachers to be far more than classroom educators.
As we approach yet the end of another school year, I’m once again faced with this dilemma. Do I stay in this field as a competent classroom teacher? Or do I bow out gracefully due to the limitations Hashem has placed in my life?
Your Teacher Who Cares
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 796)
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