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“You won’t fall—I’m holding on to you.”

There are times when a single moment contains the whole world.

This morning, walking my daughter to kindergarten, I picked up my two-year old son to navigate a treacherous sheet of ice leading to the school door. He clung to me like a koala and said, “Don’t worry, Daddy. You won’t fall—I’m holding on to you.”

That moment compressed twelve years of teaching for me.

We think we’re carrying our students, but there are times when they carry us. One of the things I find hardest to explain to people outside our profession is the combination of exhaustion and renewal that teaching brings. A day of teaching can weary you to the bone, but a single moment—a kindergartner’s breakthrough, a 3rd grader’s utterly hilarious joke—can cast off months of fatigue and frustration in the time it takes to laugh.

At a time when teaching is often a three-year career, we keep asking the question, “Why do so many teachers leave?” It’s a good question.

But we also have to ask, “Why do so many teachers stay?” The connection with our students is at the heart of the answer. They need us, but we need them, too.

At the end of Winter’s Bone, Ree’s younger siblings ask, “Are you wantin’ to leave us?” She answers, “Naw. I’d be lost without the weight of you two on my back.”

Teaching and parenthood both feel like a burden at times—there’s no denying the weight. But there come times when our students cling to us not to seek our support and protection, but to provide theirs to us.

There can be a bone-deep joy in carrying that kind of burden. It’s a welcome weight.

18 Comments

Matt Cregor commented on January 8, 2014 at 11:39am:

Beautiful.

Beautiful.

Lee-Ann Stephens commented on January 8, 2014 at 11:46am:

Advocate for Latino/African American AP/IB/Honors' Students

This is just what I needed after a long winter break away from school. My students carry me more times than they realize. I am currently earning my doctorate and the support I get from them is phenomenal. They care so much about my success and my well-being. One day I was a little down and the next day I came in and there were flowers and chocolate on my desk. They wanted to pick me up. Those moments make me realize how blessed I am to have them in my life. 

Justin Minkel Justin Minkel commented on January 9, 2014 at 9:21pm:

Beautiful story, Lee-Ann.

Lee-Ann, your story brought tears to my eyes. It's wonderful to see not just the affection our students reciprocate with us, but to see them developing compassion and acting on it.

Bonnie King commented on January 8, 2014 at 1:34pm:

Yes!

I love this so much, Justin. love that your son felt he was big and strong enough for his statement to be true. We also try to instill that sentiment in our students, that they are strong and can operate independently of us. I always like to show that I'm a learner like they are and they can take the reins and help me so we all benefit from the give and take between teachers and students.  Thank you for sharing your life and lessons with us! I

Justin Minkel Justin Minkel commented on January 9, 2014 at 9:25pm:

Our kids' strength through suspension of disbelief

Bonnie, it seems like so often our children foreshadow the abilities they'll develop through a momentary suspension of disbelief. I'm thinking of Ariana "reading" long before she truly began to read in kindergarten this year, or "writing" with scribbles before she started to form the words. I see that same kind of thing with Aidan's perception that he's taking care of me. Sometimes it's scary that our kids do what we do, not what we say, but other times it's reassuring--I see him acting out a lot of the affection and nurturing that the adults in his life (Karen, his Nana and Pa, his friends' parents, and me) lavish on him.

Heather Elliott commented on January 8, 2014 at 3:35pm:

Thank you

Thank you for this reflection -- it brought a tear to my eye, and a smile to my lips.

Justin Minkel Justin Minkel commented on January 8, 2014 at 4:28pm:

Thanks, Heather!

Thanks for reading, Heather. I find that parenting and teaching have become increasingly intertwined for me--there are huge differences, obviously, but a lot of the emotion involved is similar.

Dixie commented on January 8, 2014 at 7:42pm:

Stories of Staying

Hi Justin! Lovely, just lovely and so true for teachers. One of my mentors, Jean Clandinin writes of "stories to leave by" (for teachers) and also "stories to lead by" AND "stories to stay by".....Thanks for reminding us all of the reasons why we stay and for embracing those joyful bone-deep moments that sustain us. Bravo.

Justin Minkel Justin Minkel commented on January 9, 2014 at 9:29pm:

Stories to stay by

Dixie, that frame of "stories to stay by" will remain with me throughout my career--love the concept. There's a lot of negativity in our profession, and though teacher anger is usually justified with interest, I do think it's important for many reasons to share these stories of the joy and meaning we find in teaching. One of the main reasons, to me, is to convey to potential new teachers--whether they're 3rd graders in our class or college students--that it can be a wonderful career despite all the obstacles and frustrations.

Thanks for being such a loyal reader/responder--your comment made my day once again.

Bonnie Brown commented on January 8, 2014 at 11:03pm:

You won't fall

You mentioned how the student/teacher relationships are a reflection of support.  I am planning an assignment for students to teach and  provide some form of demonstration for the class. The demonstration will be for skills I just taught. This is an 8th grade computer discovery class called Methods of Technology. Your comment was absolutely beautiful. Now I am looking forward to the positive behavior to show mastery of each skill by individual student's teaching of the skill. On the other hand, I know that there will be awareness that will help students mature and realize the role student play in this equation on a teacher's view. 

Justin Minkel Justin Minkel commented on January 9, 2014 at 9:30pm:

Students teaching

Sounds like a great project, Bonnie. My friend, the 2008 New York Teacher of the year, once said about his award, "I'm not the best teacher in my school, or even on my hall--or even in my class!"

Thanks for writing.

Andrew commented on January 9, 2014 at 12:14am:

ELA

Okay,  You've obviously thought about it.  The transition between semesters is a great time for this message.  Come so far, and yet so far to go.  Thanks for the fruits of your encouragement.

Brianna Crowley commented on January 9, 2014 at 12:33pm:

CrossPost

Good.is

Renee Moore commented on January 9, 2014 at 11:04pm:

GOOD it is!

I was hoping you'd share this one with the audience at GOOD, Brianna. Justin, this is timely and timeless.

JustinM commented on January 10, 2014 at 11:00am:

Your kind comment

Thank you so much, Renee! That means a lot.

Meganpreneur commented on January 9, 2014 at 12:54pm:

Lovely, Dear Minkle!

A beautiful read. 

Katy commented on January 9, 2014 at 9:08pm:

Beautiful and so true.

Beautiful and so true.

Justin Minkel Justin Minkel commented on January 9, 2014 at 9:31pm:

Many thanks

Thank you, Andrew, Matt, Brianna, and Megan for the kind words (and cross-post!)

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