Being married to a teacher is hard and is a uniquely challenging proposition. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great things about it (including being married to a teacher!). But after recently celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary, I’ve been thinking about all the things I wish my wife understood about my vocation when we walked down the aisle on that sultry August day.
Please don’t confuse time-off with flexibility.
One of the great things about being a teacher is the calendar. Most of us work fewer than 200 days per year. As a reference, you corporate types are working about 240 days and you small business owners are working, well, 365 days. On top of that, most teachers leave school well before the 5pm. And while I’m grateful for all that time off, my job is the OPPOSITE of flexible. You need to get in touch with me during the day? Good luck with that! A kid gets sick and one of us needs to stay home on short notice? Ain’t gonna be me! Need a drop off at the mechanic or someone to make a phone call to the bank? No chance! As a teacher-spouse, please understand that I’m not always at work, but when I am, I might as well be in the White House bunker.
I will take my work home with me.
As a corollary to the time-off issue, get used to the fact that a lot of my “time-off” belongs to my job. Weekday nights — grading. Sunday nights — lesson plans. End of term reports. Mountain Dew fueled all-nighters like finals week in college. Except for the summer, your spouse will be “on” for about 10 months straight, day and night. On top of the literal work I bring home, I also bring home the emotional baggage of teaching young people. I know that everyone has a story, has challenges, but when bad things are happening to young people, it affects you in a more profound way. Sometimes, I can’t leave my empathy at the door. I can be sad. I get angry. I might be scheming ways to intervene as you’re thinking, “Don’t get involved!” In those moments, please don’t get frustrated. Just remember that my big heart was probably one of the things that attracted you to me in the first place.
I spend my days in a world that you don’t understand.
Let’s be honest, kids are aliens. Whether your spouse works in elementary, secondary, or (heaven forbid) middle school, know that we spend our days immersed in a culture that you don’t understand. (To be fair, neither do we really.) As a grown-up, it’s tempting to think, “Hey, I was a kid once, I remember what it was like!” “Well, guess what — you can’t relate, and there’s two huge reasons why.”
First, you don’t actually remember the day to day experience of childhood or even adolescence. Second, being a kid today is vastly different from when you were a kid — and it’s constantly changing.
So why does this matter for your marriage?
Because when you sit down to dinner (which teacher-spouse probably prepared), you have to figure out the best way to deal with the “How Was Your Day” question. I want to share my experience with you, but I’m telling you about my time in a foreign land. Sometimes, you will find my stories unbelievable. The “drama” I tell you about may seem overblown. The lingo will be nonsensical. Who the hell cares if Tinsley was sub-tweeting about Maddie? Did it really traumatize Bobby that Merritt said that Minecraft is for babies? Well, it matters to them, and as their teacher, it matters to me. The best thing you can do for your teacher spouse is to show interest and familiarize yourself with “kid world” and then be my adult sounding board so I never lose perspective.
My work friends get me.
There’s nothing my wife loves more than an evening out with my colleagues when we talk about school. The. Entire. Time. Teaching is a career that can both isolate and create indelible bonds. Every morning, a bell rings, I close my door, and spend hours on end with 20 to 30 of the aforementioned aliens. Remember that crazy situation in your 20’s when you felt like the only grown-up in the room? That’s me. All the time. And there’s nothing that makes you feel more lonely than being surrounded by people who just don’t get you. Yet, for a few moments each day, while inhaling lunch or toner fumes, teachers escape our rooms and connect. We laugh. We cry. Mostly we complain. Sometimes it’s nonsense. Most of the time it’s the frustration we feel when the idealism that brought us into the profession meets the reality of working in a school. As the years pass and the students come and go, teachers realize that we need each other to survive three or four decades in the profession. This creates a camaraderie that is hard to explain, and impossible to duplicate. So, when your spouse’s “dreaded” teacher group decides to get together for a night out…let them go, by themselves. Or, if you choose to come, be patient. After the first two hours, I promise we’ll start talking about something besides school.
It’s okay that not all of “my kids” will be “our kids.”
Having children (three girls in three years!) has changed my perspective as a teacher. In some ways I’m more detached. I have less time and even less emotional energy to give to my students. But at the same time, I now truly understand that all of my students are somebody’s baby. While my priorities have changed, my calling to do right by my students is alive in new ways. So please don’t make it a competition. Don’t see every event I attend or all the extra things I volunteer for at school as being in competition with our family. I’m doing my best to fulfill two unbelievably challenging roles — daddy and Mr. C. While our kids will always come first, I hope that our children will have teachers who go above and beyond for them as well.
So, that’s what I’ve learned after almost 20 years in the classroom and 10 years of marriage. I hope you find it helpful for your relationship. And if all else fails, just think about your spouse’s great health insurance plan!
This is one experience, but maybe you and your spouse are BOTH teachers? Apparently, a double dose of teacher life does not EQUAL a more difficult marital situation. See what this writer on TES (a resource for teachers and school leaders) has to say about it, HERE.
Todd Curtis teaches AP social studies at Howell High School, and was recently named the 2018-19 Monmouth County Teacher of the Year. Connect with Todd @tcurt_hhs