Updated: Apr 23, 2022
Last night was almost boring until I received a message from my six-year-old's teacher asking if I had listened to the voicemail she left. I hadn't. It felt like she prompted me to listen soon. This teacher move has been used for centuries: "Hey, you probably should check your email since I sent you some information you need to know immediately that might change the trajectory of your evening and know that you haven't done so yet, for I have not heard or seen any reply." I knew this move. I checked my voicemail. A new message was waiting there for me in the night. I sat in silence for a moment not knowing if I was ready to hear what was going to be said. "What did he do?" was honestly the first thing that I thought. I took a breath, and I pressed play:
"...I'm standing here with Kinsey. We just wanted to give you a call to tell you that he was the only student today who read the entire time during read-to self and wrote the whole time. His eyes didn't come off his book and his pencil didn't come off his paper. He worked his little tail off today. He is going to have a reward in the classroom. He is super excited and wanted you to know. We are super proud of him, and I just wanted to brag on him..."
I felt so proud of him. I couldn't wait to talk to him about it. When I got home, I said that I wanted to talk to him. He immediately began to get defensive wondering what he had done. I brought him inside to tell him that I got the voicemail from his teacher. I told him that I was proud. I told him how happy I was. I told him that it was the best message in the world to get. His smile was intoxicating. He hugged me. He wanted to talk about it. For the next few minutes, he was the most affectionate little boy. He wanted to hug me and, well, I wanted to hug him too. Seeing me thrilled and hearing my praise was what this little boy needed. It's what I needed. The call felt divine in nature.
I knew this required something he often requested to which I would say no.
"You wanna go get a Slurpee?" I asked bending down in excitement? He exclaimed, jumped, and immediately began to get dressed to go before turning and asking, "...what size?"
"A medium!" Now, this was a real treat. (Spoiler alert. They ran out of medium cups, so I was forced to get him a large.)
We went to the convenience store so that I could pay up. It was all good until it was my turn in line and my son wanted to share this great news with the cashier. Polite and interested, he asked a couple questions and told him that he did a great job. Thank you, sir. I'm not sure how his comment induced a reply that I, too, was a teacher, but then it happened: six words that bore holes into my soul. First, he laughed at me. It was not a giggle. It was not a scoff . It was almost a belly laugh. And then. He uttered.
"Lookin' for a new job yet?" Now I don't know about you folks, but I have brown eyes. Sometimes, if I feel ever so angry, they turn black. My eyes went black. I smiled at him. It would have been creepy as hell had I not been wearing a mask.
"Ha, nope not yet," I said sending him a very different message as I pulled my child in close to protect him from this seemingly-innocent question of pure madness. I knew, as I have often corresponded with this man, that he meant no ill will. Luckily, my son was with me. Luckily, he was over the moon getting his treat. Luckily, a line had formed behind me. Here is what I wanted to say:
No. I am not looking for a new job right now. Or ever. This isn't a job. It's a career and my life's work. Yes, this year has been challenging on many levels for teachers. But it has also been challenging for working families, for parents, and, most of all, kids. That we often do not think enough about as many of us are blinded by the "inconvenience" of it all. Yes, this year sucks in a lot of ways. It's frustrating, exhausting, life-sucking, and hard. But it's also rewarding like every other year. Teaching is what I do. Teaching is what I am good at. And I don't mind saying that. I happen to like tooting horns that belong to me.
Two days ago in my classroom, I removed my mask that I am required to wear the entire day to take a drink of water. One kid immediately commented: "Oh, so that is what you look like." While he must not have remembered seeing me in a virtual setting weeks before, it was a punch in the gut. How devastating that my students can not see my face as I teach, and my nerdy excitement when I talk about literature that is communicated in my facial expressions (and also the looks of "get back to work" that are not landing as effectively anymore). There is a layer that they are not experiencing of me, and I in them. I can hardly recognize many students because I can only see a small portion of their faces.
I look at them, weary with change and adjustment, and I know some of them have stories to tell about the recent months in their homes, some of them with a not-so-pleasant experience due to situations in their family. There was a burglary in that convenience store of a different kind. He took from me. He unfairly believed that it was something I wanted to give up on.
Let's back up and return to the voicemail. I needed this call. Teachers, parents need this call. Let them know what their kid is doing well. How they are working hard in the most difficult setting they have, and we have, ever seen. In distanced rows. In no groups. Individualized in a world of collaboration. Lonely. They need the feeling that I had when I heard that voicemail. We are all dealing with this in different ways.
Just to clarify: I am not looking for a new job, sir, and frankly, it's offensive that you assume that. Education needed me before, and education needs me now more than ever.
Maybe I need to grab something before work today at that store. Because it is "College Week" at school, and we have invited students to dress professionally for a career they want to have in the future. And lo and behold, guess what, sir. I dressed as a teacher.