Once upon a time… before the days of COVID and prior to the masks and sanitizers of today…  I was returning an article of clothing to a store in the fall that I had bought in late summer, right before school started. I apologized for the lateness and explained that I am a teacher and mom of four and… and I was cut off. The clerk looked at me with all seriousness and intensity and she said, “Don’t even get me started… I guess it’s hard getting back after getting the whole summer off…and still every weekend and holiday?”

I was looking at a tired working mom, away from her kids during the evening, with her own list of complaints about her job. The jealousy was thick in her voice, and I chose to restrain myself from informing her that teachers really work so much more than our allotted school hours.

I reflected on her words while driving home, and the more I thought about it, the more I knew she was right – at least about some of the perks of the teaching profession. God knows I work hard, way more than I’m paid for, but there are some incredible benefits of teaching that I sometimes take for granted.  I’m sure you have heard some complaints too, maybe in the teachers’ room – complaints about our workload, whining about our schedules, stares of sheer and utter exhaustion at the driving pace of the curriculum – and it’s real – all of it!  In my 19 years as an educator, I have seen many changes and can attest to the fact that teaching is hard, and it is only getting harder. Who would have thought that we would be teaching the way we are amidst a global pandemic? I hear teachers becoming more cynical, tired, and even angry. I hear myself talking about the “good ol’ days of teaching”- although, I don’t know how I got old enough to be able to say that!

We are forgetting the reasons WHY we went into teaching, and forgetting the reasons WHY we come in every day. We are fortunately approaching some much-needed breaks, offering some time away from the constant demands of our classroom and students. It’s the time of the year when we pause to reflect: to contemplate all that we are thankful for. It is true that we teachers have been seeing harder times- and COVID has made them not only harder, but also more unpredictable.  Nevertheless, let’s take some time to remember and be thankful for all of the great things our lives as educators. I LOVE my job – I do. I do not work a mundane and tedious vocation. My days are filled with excitement and dynamic daily events – events and variety that I plan and create! That’s right: I might have to teach Monday-Friday, but I get to decide the ins and outs of my day. I come in every day, close my classroom door, and I make it happen just the way I envisioned (great for type A, controlling teacher personalities!). I  always get the weekends off, always get my holidays, and this hard working mom is as good as a stay at home mom to my kids, because we have matching schedules! This is such a gift, and one to remember and be thankful for. I have heard from working moms in particular, how lucky I am to not have to worry about working holidays or weekend days, and they are so right!

Teaching is not about checking boxes (most of the time, anyway).  We have jobs that are helping to raise a future generation. Child by child, lesson by lesson, one smile and explanation at a time. Our jobs matter- I mean really matter!  We touch lives that will touch other lives, and ripple out to their successors. We wear so many hats, and are expected to be so much more than teachers, but I am so thankful for a job that gives me purpose, and honored to be given the opportunity to affect the future. It really is amazing…and so much more than summers and weekends off.

Amongst all the chatter of poor grades, difficult parents, never-ending paperwork, and COVID overload complaints, let’s take some time this holiday season to remember why we went into teaching, to read those amazing “payday” notes that we get from students that are sincerely touched by who we are to them. We are constantly reminding our students to say thank you… but when was the last time you mentally or verbally appreciated the career that you chose. Think back to that  sales woman. Her store has closed. I don’t know where she is now, but I think that if she heard me complaining about how hard the pandemic-era classroom is to teach in, she might tell me to be thankful I still have a job, to appreciate that I can work from home if need be, and that without miss, I have continued to be paid. I am so grateful that I have a job that has flexed with this pandemic. Even while my job looks different, even while my classroom is sometimes within my home, and while my students are sometimes in little boxes on my computer screen instead of in the seats in my classroom, I am so thankful for every one of them…for every day of work, for every paycheck, and for all of my co-workers helping to keep me sane. It’s time to think thankfulness, time to say it out  loud, remember it, and own it. We are in an ever-changing world, where seemingly each day has brought large scale changes.  I am so thankful for a little bit of steadiness and routine in the middle of all the crazy. Even in a pandemic, I am a teacher. I can still be there for my students, there is still a building and a classroom (of sorts) to attend. We know we can and will keep flexing with the changes to reach our kids – it is what we do. Happy Thanksgiving!

Author

Jessica Cicalese-Kurtz, MA, k-12 Teaching and Technology; BA, k-8 Education; BS, Biology, Science and Engineering, is a middle school teacher at Toms River Schools. Jess is also a K-8 science curriculum writer for Toms River Schools and Ocean County, as well as an independent science workshop creator and presenter. She is a freelance writer, wife, and budgeting mom of four who loves to travel, enjoy nature, connect with animals, and read.

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