“Married to your job” is an expression we have used or heard tossed around when describing someone’s deep level of commitment to their profession. The connotation of the word married is important- it creates the idea of a relationship so strong nothing can break the person from the commitment. In many professions people are married to their work, tied so deeply that there is, at times, no separation between life and career. A teacher is married to their job, but in significantly different ways. The separation of life and career is almost impossible for a teacher and, let’s face it, their spouse. What is it like to love a teacher? Over the past few months, I’ve compared notes with a few of my colleagues and their partners. I found that my partner and I were not alone in our experience of being “jointly married” to the teaching profession. My guess is that you may see yourself in some of my examples.
You’ll be married to…
Bringing work home.
Considering our workload, some of us bring home more work than the typical profession. If you were to come to my house after dinner, it would not be uncommon to find stacks of papers waiting to be graded. This is expected and typical of a teacher, especially an English teacher. Yes, bringing work home to grade is a given when you are a teacher, and yes it does take away time from your family. However, the work we bring home can also be the emotional burden of our profession, and this impacts our family in profoundly different ways.
This year our school experienced an unfortunate student tragedy. I did not teach the student who passed, and I do not recall ever meeting her in the hallways; however, the impact of the death reverberated deeply in my life and, by association, my husband’s. I was notified over the weekend about the loss and could not sleep the Sunday before returning to school. Why? If I did not know the student how could I already be affected? The thought of my “kids” being upset was enough to keep me awake. I knew I would have to be the solid support for my students who would literally be crying in my arms the next morning. Though some of my students are 18 years old and legal adults, to me they are still children. My children. What hurts them hurts me. Period. As a teacher and human I cannot come to terms with the idea that students I care for have to deal with such adult issues. The aftermath of tragedy is something I bring home: I feel it, I wear it. During the day I am strong for them, but In front of my husband, I break. It is then that I need the same strength and support that just hours before I offered to my kids.
Understanding that your teacher spouse will spend money on kids that aren’t yours.
I just found out last week that my co-worker paid for a student’s traveling soccer cost and uniform because his student didn’t have the money. This particular student was obsessed with soccer, the son of immigrant parents who could not afford it. This happened years ago, and I didn’t know it. I only found out when discussing this blog with him. This situation is not unique to Ken. We have all done this, to varying degrees. Bringing food into classes, buying clothes, providing supplies that students don’t have access to, paying for prom tickets etc. etc. Our genuine love for our students makes it impossible for us to see them go without. If you love a teacher you will be loving their students as well; you will be a frequent financial contributor to making a child’s life better, even if on a small scale.
Have I had disagreements with administrators and parents that have left me jaded about my career? Absolutely. Have I responded to these disagreements dramatically? Yes, indeed. I have even gone as far as proclaiming to my husband that this year would be my last year teaching and that I would go back to working as a barista at Starbucks (one of my first jobs). Did this happen? No. Did I mean it? Also, “no.” My husband lets me vent, and whether or not he agrees or disagrees with me, what he does for me is paramount: He validates my concerns and offers encouragement. He reminds me why I love my job. Loving a teacher is picking them up when they feel walked on and when we have been let down. My husband supports me during my bad days, but also reminds me of the good days which, as a teacher, are much more abundant.
There are universal truths to being a teacher. One of them is that we get super excited about things that our kids get excited about, like holidays, special events, and Disney World, just to list a few. We have a childlike enthusiasm that we want to be contagious to others. This is why we over-decorate, and plan for events in tremendous detail. We want everyone to be happy and we want to make the most out of each experience. Loving a teacher comes with the privilege of witnessing and participating in a joy of learning, celebrating and shared experience. Yes, we may force you to wear a costume to a Halloween party when you just wanted to wear jeans, but in the end you will probably agree that it was worth it and the night was more fun for everyone because of it.
Participation is expected.
As teachers, our classroom, school and district responsibilities leak into our daily lives. Being married to a teacher is getting involved to help, or to move the process along. Maybe you have to help your spouse cut out 250 paper hearts for a Valentine’s project or attend yet another district basketball game. You could end up like my husband who had to help me plan, set up and chaperone the senior prom. Unlike many married people, we get to say we went to the prom together (and we have the side by side staged photo to prove it)! Participation is anticipated and very much appreciated. It is work for us, but it also serves as a way for us to bond with our partners.
Always, always being amazed by the amount of love they are capable of giving.
At the end of it all–the hard work, the disappointment, the tragedies, the paper cut out hearts–loving a teacher is so special because of all the students they have loved throughout the years: potentially thousands by the end of their career. The teacher that you are in love with has room in their heart for them all, and you get the biggest piece of real estate.
Rebecca Stone teaches 12th grade special education English at Long Branch High School.