For the Teacher Desperate for Hope

My classroom feels heavy right now. A weight I can’t lift.

Most days I can get past it. Most days my students are the reason I teach. Most days I’m the first to jump up and defend my teenage learners.

Most days.

Some days I feel unhinged and undone as I look into the faces of students with blank eyes and body language that tells me they think they have better things to do—like they couldn’t care less about what I have to say.

Those days I want to throw my computer across the room. Slam my palms against the desk. Scream, “Pay attention!”

Anything. Anything to get them to wake up.

Wake up!

For one blessed minute.

Wake up!

I want to take their faces in my hands. Look deep into the glazed-over eyes and plead. Beg. Implore. Please. Just hear me. Important things can go on in this room. Possibility exists, if only you listen.

But they don’t wake up. They don’t hear. And they just don’t care.

Some days.

It’s a dangerous gift this handing of my heart pieces to teenage minds. Yes, I put my heart in their hands. Every day. At some point—every day—it gets broken.

Frustration and hurt sit close together when apathy heaps heavy on our teaching shoulders.

Because I’ve done everything to engage the student—the video teaser, the deep questions, the personal applications, the relationship building, the excitement pouring from my soul. All of this and maybe even a purple pony too.

All of this and my audience only sighs with daydreaming faces.

It’s tangible pain to watch students at the edge of world with me wondering if they’ll know what to do with that big-wide future. To know their next steps can really be make or breaks. To watch potential throw itself away.

And it hurts even deeper to know apathy sometimes isn’t apathy at all. It can be the veil worn to cover scars and wounds and hunger and questions and abuse I will never understand.

But. I remind myself.

I don’t have to teach these students. I get to teach them.

I get to pry open the seal of apathy and reach in deep. I get to give everything I have to a classroom of students. I get to watch the days when knowledge lights a dark face.

The hard teaching days? Those are the days I want to give up. Stop trying. Lock the classroom doors forever.

But Hope stands in the doorway. It lifts my head and shows me the places apathy has fallen away or even just cracked a bit.

It gives me a reason to stay.

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The thing about hope for teachers? It’s hard to see. To catch a glimpse, we need to know we make a difference.

Yet seeing the difference we make is like attempting to view the Eiffel Tower with a magnifying glass. We stand so close to the tower of art, our vision so focused on the here and now, we cannot see the breathtaking beauty of the whole masterpiece.

To see the magnificence of the Eiffel Tower, we need to step back. It’s in the stepping back we begin to see hope. We won’t find it examining every bad day with our magnifying glasses held tight to our eyes. We will miss hope when we add up the ways this job is hard.

Stepping back lifts the weighted stone that student apathy sets deep in my soul.

Hope wants me to pull away and number the amazing moments of this beautiful career. Hope asks me to remember the student that emailed last summer after passing his AP exam. His message? “We did it.”

(I still swallow hard. Because we.)

Hope calls me to see the big-picture masterpiece of my students’ lives.

The college freshman asking me to help edit his first few papers. The student texting me the book list of his university’s American Lit. survey course just to share. The one who emails to say thanks for preparing her for the writing—all the writing professors require.

Apathy only seems larger than hope when we spend our days ticking off the list of ways our students defeat us, weigh us down. When we only look at apathy, we stop caring.

But when we step back searching for hope? We find ourselves looking for ways to crack apathy’s shell. We remember the reasons we love this job. We remember it’s worth it.

Begin to list your beautiful moments. Make tally marks of the brilliant lights who remember to say thank you. Watch for the former students who pass by your classroom, look up, and smile. Take note of the beauty.

When you choose to look, you will find hope. It may be small, but it will be there.

On the undone days, I’m left with this—when I walk into my classroom I have a choice. I can choose the bitter or I can choose the hope.

Only Hope can lift the heavy.

So tell me, dear friends, tell me of the beautiful moments you’ve witnessed as a teacher. Let’s find hope together.

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6 Responses to For the Teacher Desperate for Hope

  1. Mary says:

    Oh, thank you for this. I needed it so much. You describe so beautifully the heaviness I feel, the urgency to wake foggy minds when I am too often met with blank stares. I needed the reminder to remember to step back and look at the whole picture–not just of these students, but of 10 years’ worth of students. Your students are blessed.

    • The blank stares are so, so difficult, Mary. I can relate so well. You’re right–there is such a sense of urgency. Thank you for continuing to be a light in the classroom, sister!

  2. grace922 says:

    Girl, thank you for this! I’m not a teacher but a high school counselor and I have had such a rough school year to the point of questioning my entire career choice. I have wondered so much if I am making a difference or even helping anyone. I try so hard to see that bigger picture you speak of, and try to get them to see it too. And I let it break my heart when they still can’t see past their teenage selves. And I feel the heaviness too. I know hope is there. I know that even in my worst days I can at least rest my head on the hope that I was a tiny glimpse of Jesus to someone. And if that’s all I can say for the day, then I call it a success. But the heaviness lingers while I wait for an email of my own from former students, or at least for college acceptance offers to come out this spring. Or maybe just Christmas (I mean “winter”) break. 😉
    I know I’ll get there. But thanks for the reminder that at least I am not alone. God is there 🙂

    • Grace922, you are most assuredly NOT alone…Know that guidance counselors have a special place in my heart. I cannot imagine your job. So much training to reach the hearts of the students you are in contact with and yet, you often get relegated to “pushing paper.” Know that you absolutely are making a difference. God has you there for a reason. I know it in the depths of my being. Thank you for what YOU do to help teachers!

  3. Beth says:

    Thank you for the reminder to step back and stop looking through the microscope. I had a beautiful moment when I went to an annual event held at my former school. A parent of one of my former students ran up to me so excited to see me and tell me how her son was doing. She said she texted him to get her now because I was there! I never felt like I had any special connection with this child, I did tutor him the summer after I left that school. He was in 3rd grade then. He’s an adult now, with big plans for his future that he wanted to share with me! I felt very blessed and humbled. Carry on, the burden is heavy but the rewards are sweet. Blessings to you as you minister to an age group I can’t even imagine trying to connect with.

    • What a sweet moment, Beth! It is an amazing testimony of the difference teachers make, no matter the age student they teach. Oh how I loved MY 3rd grade teacher. She truly understood my ADHD and loved me completely during a time when ADHD was not acceptable in any classroom. She made a difference in me. Thank you for your sweet words.