Okay, seriously, this question. I NEVER, EVER thought I’d be asked this question by anyone. EVER.
Times Change. There I am, in school, sidled by a student that was in the worst times of his life due to being told his girlfriend needed to break up with him to focus on issues in her family, and he is desperate from some words of advice to ease the pain.
Me, the bad luck charm of anything, remotely related to relationships. Being asked this question.
“Of course I have, and as you can see – it just doesn’t work out…” as the phone rings, students approach behind, in front, sometimes ON my desk – there are two things I know for sure 1) My devotion to turning a space into a safe space, an interesting place, a place where everyone wants to be instead of a vacant wasteland (formerly known as the library) have worked, the phone rings, the emails, the masses, the masses of tid-bits needing to be shared with me – all evidence. 2) The opportunity to play into the hands of modeling caring.
I explained in the best possible student/teacher way – “Yes, this is something that is probably the most difficult and most trying aspect of life, LOVE, it is something that can not be brushed off lightly, cannot be under, or over estimated, and it is ALOT of work. Me, I have decided I would devote the work I would and could put into a relationship into the students that surround me, hence, I go home at the end of the day, I have nothing left because I have voluntarily decided to give it to each one of you. You see this, right?” I laugh hysterically and go to the phone that rings yet for the fifth time in one 90 minute period.
Over the next few days, I would find this student coming automatically to the library, and also referring him to the counselor, where he would spill out the pain he was feeling – and if I paused a bit to get past the sense of dread of what I was going to say I haven’t said already, I would realize I felt the same so many times working my way through high school, and it is easy to be irritated and forget what it felt to be like. But I am glad that I did give him this piece of advice: “No matter what you do, if you do not carve out something of your own, something you can claim for yourself, be it a hobby, a skill, or an interest, without that, it will be next to impossible to be able to share a healthy portion of yourself with someone else and to be able to be healthy and supportive for them.”
When I transitioned back to the states, I forget momentarily the issues that students in a rural (and yes urban, but in this case rural) area struggle with, on such a high daily level, when they have sometimes parents that are gone more than home, no parents at all and possibly foster parents, or grandparents as parents, having one parent working nonstop to bring minimal funds in, parents that might be addicted to substances that push the students to be on their own in many different forms, coming to school hungry almost every day, coming to school hiding the fact that students are homeless, students that struggle with a form of abuse recently or n their past. I am not indicating the fact these were or were not the issue with this student, however, these already have been reasons why many students have claimed the library a safe place that helps relieve the pain in these situations, even if but for a day.
Let me make this clear, the fact they find refuge in the library fighting these demons of their life, honestly, is about allowing a place to be that refuge and not about me as a person. It certainly drains me from head to two every single day, and yet, I am merely the door keeper to allow students to find a place they can express, relax, hide, or vent, as well as being a product of years of amazing students and colleagues, parents and family, friends and peers that have helped me become a better person to allow this to happen. This is why this is able to happen and how I am lucky enough to be able to provide this little reprieve to students in the form of a Media Center Library. The same can be said of the purpose of a Media Center Library to the school as a whole as well, but…
..the fact that students need a slight bit of encouragement – from someone they see every day is a REALITY of the stress and work that teachers, and sometimes those teachers that become EDUCATORS (what is the difference? I have wrote a blog post or two about that LOL) is a reality) – In a fiery storm of shootings in our country, a lack of politeness and caring in voices of those that represent our country / other countries on different stages verbally, in an era where money talks and education is deemed something to deal with, students say all the time “You should get paid more” or “You do not get paid to be a counselor, wow”, and yet, educators can choose to watch their watches and leave at the drop of that bell and close the door everything erases. but then there is the other side of being an educator that consumes you because you know things consume students.
This (minimal skills in education) honestly is the way to burn out and not last in a field where it takes all your energy to be qualified and to earn a living, paying off the debt that it took to get that living, and no one said anything about having to lend an ear after taking four hours of papers home every night aside from checking standards to curriculum, watching that students are contained in the day AND learning something they can answer to pass the state test and…
You have summers off right, easy gig, right?
Anyone that knows an educator knows the summer is a small way to clear minds and retain some sanity while planning the next year all summer long.
IEP’s, parents expectations, students expectations, followup emails, calls and this is JUST to be a mediocre teacher. To be an involved and dedicated teacher you find yourself doing what others do not do first, all of the above and going beyond the measure of taking care of yourself as a 9 to 5 employee and bringing the troubles, fears, and excitement home with you to sort out and let your students know that it can be sorted out with someone willing to lend their time to make them see there is a better day on the horizon.
To be an educator today, and not merely a teacher, you need to model that there is more than enough time to be there for each other, and maybe, MAYBE if you are lucky, individuals will learn that there are others pulling for them, supporting them, cheering them on, amid the chaos and crazy pace of assignments, hurdles, and expectations to get to the next grade.
Students will see and understand sacrifices when they understand that visible sacrifices are also made for them, because as an educator you will take lengths to see them to the end, despite the times you lose.
This is something that teachers, cannot learn, but educators do by cheering on students at their games after school, calling parents when something amazing happens, and making mark son papers that point out amazing ideas that could lead to others. This takes an amazing amount of person time.
” You see XXXX (name withheld), I SUCK a relationships of the heart, but when it comes to seeing my students feel and see way through the madness of rhetoric, politics, hurt, shame, racism, and exploitation, and have a chance at succeeding, well, I am getting better thanks to students like you, and yes, you matter”
A pause, a silence.
Comments come out like “You are the best librarian I ever met – This is the best library I have ever been in! – You would be my pick of the best teacher I ever met” _ I have received cookies (fried oreos no less, placed on my desk with A note “You ARE WELCOME – ALI” . (as I think which one is Ali and not Alison or Allison? – I get cookies, brownies, chips, not at first this took months to happen and yet –
I am a total FRAUD because – I get these compliments because of:
-the amazing way I was treated by students faculty, and friends living in a country called Mexico that took me in without a moments hesitation and taught me what love is, even when I sucked at Spanish and do not understand how to do something, they recognized my attempt to try; they embraced me as a person for wanting to, they taught me what indviduals living out of one country can do for others and letting me see inside their own lives and be a part of their lives and respecting me for so many things I was not worthy of being respected for
-the amazing colleagues that were by my side from my first days of student teaching, to the students who were patient with me in those early years, the colleagues and peers that studies alongside me in college, friends that supported me in Phi Kappa Psi and every college I attended
-amazing friends that stuck by me – from high school, college, and beyond that supported and instructed me in being a better person from the time they met me
-the amazing educators at Slippery Rock University, Butler Community College, Mansfield University, Colorado University, even Butler High School
-family that still accept me when I left so many years ago and have not had the pleasure of being with them for so long, and losing family and yet – their support all the time when we talk
-amazing new faculty that took me in and have guided me back to a population of students that latch on to models in and out of school that help them feel as if they might be able to make that next major trail in their life while succeed in obtaining an education
“Have you ever been in Love Mr Brake?”
“Yes, I have been loved by some of the best people in the WORLD that have shown me that love is possible, but love takes many different forms. IF we are lucky, we will recycle that love and be able to change things around us, including ourselves and not forget that what me feeling is annoying form others, at times, can actually be a cry for help. We all have that strength to find something for ourselves first to share with others. When we do, all else falls into place.”
He walked away with a smile on his face.
So did I.
I have not quite recovered from the amazing love I left in Mexico – and yet, the students back here in the states have pulled me in so fast to their lives, and yes, not most times let me explore what life might be life without them (trust me, some daaaaayyyyyys) – their suffocating ways have made a difference as graduates of 2018 become survivors in so many ways. As educators, the world can change when we do not forget a glance, a compliment, a 3 minute chat, despite the most frustrating rapid days we have, will indeed make a change in situations around us. As with anything in education, this only happens in a realization package, years from now. It has happened for over 15+ years I have been in education, and THAT is something, NO ONE will experience unless putting their all, into ALL that surround you in a given day.
Being an educator is a village that some disconnect from and those that do not, control the pace of love in so many forms. For all the thank you’s and gratitude I am sent, I know each one is a result of every single individual that took me in and showed me the way.