Saturday, August 22, 2015

To Teachers, Moms, and my High-School Crazies

I am writing this in response to a  post beautifully written by a mom of six kids. She is overwhelmed by the amount of school supplies and back to school clothes she needs to buy when the year starts. She is stressed at the paperwork that needs to be filled out. But she remembers that the teachers are working just as hard and loving on her kids almost as much as she does.
It's beautiful. Read it.

Dear Loving Moms and My High School Crazies,
I am a mom of two little boys, and a wife of an amazing elementary school teacher, and an intervention reading and writing teacher to about 25 high-schoolers, and a case-manager for 27 IEPs.  I'm a little overwhelmed this time of year.  I read this article when I woke up at 5 am to feed my second boy who is 7 weeks old today. It's Saturday now, but I won't be sleeping in tomorrow, even if my boys let me. In a few hours we are going to watch one of my 5 siblings play in his first scrimmage as a college athlete at The University of the South. The baby just spit up and peed through his diaper at the same time so I gotta pause to take care of that and hope he goes back to sleep...
I'm back. And he did. He is a much better sleeper than his brother is or ever was.

I haven't spent hours at the store picking out cute stuff to make my classroom a little homier because we don't have a "cute classroom" envelope in our strict envelope budget system. My white brick walls are covered with taped pictures of the people I love and articles about the importance of not dropping out of high school. Unfortunately, against my best wishes and repeated pep talks and words of encouragement, some of them will drop out anyways. And even though it was a choice they made on their own, I still feel like I did something wrong. And I pray that what happens in that article won't happen to them. I pray they won't be statistic again. My walls don't have laminated posters of famous people with well-known quotes on them, because of that whole envelope system thing. And contrary to popular belief, none of the state's education budget goes to filling my room with posters, or even books for that matter. My joke of a classroom library contains books I loved when I was my students' age, and love to read again now, that would otherwise be on my shelf at home for my boys. I bought them in college while taking my favorite class ever, children's lit, back when I didn't need an envelope system. My job was running for the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and my fast feet paid my bills. I didn't have a husband, 2 little boys, a car payment, bills, and a mortgage. My library shrinks every year and I try to tell myself my students loved the books as much as I did and took them home, even though I know they aren't big fans of reading. I think, "maybe, just maybe, they love reading (or hate it just a little less) after taking my class."  

The colorful quotes on my walls were quotes I found on Pinterest from not so famous people, handwritten in colorful marker and taped to those white bricks. 

I have some colorful baskets. They are filled with free spiral notebooks provided by our guidance office because someone knows our students probably can't afford them or don't care enough to bring them. But even the baskets are hand-me-downs from lots of teachers that came before me. I'm a little jealous of the pictures of my friends' classrooms that are super cutesy and have their students' names beautifully written and taped lovingly to their wooden desks. But most of my friends are elementary school teachers. I am pretty sure my high school students would think I was crazier than they already do if I did that. They wouldn't see it as an expression of my love for them and the excitement I have for them being in class, some of them for the fourth year in a row. This is not because they failed my class, but because I teach reading and writing to 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders. I love having them again, even the ones that drive me absolutely insane. That is because I get to see them grow as people, and as readers, and as writers. When they graduate, I feel like I played a part in it. They aren't just students I taught for a semester. They are my babies. 

I hate the first day when they walk in my room and some of them say, "Ms. Strauss, why do I have to have your class AGAIN?" And it warms my heart to hear some of them say, "stop it guys. I love Ms. Strauss, and her class isn't that bad." I'll take "not that bad" from a teenager that has been forced to take my class again when they could be in Ms. Cooper's Zumba class :) any day. 

Last Monday, I dropped off my 6-week-old baby at daycare for the first time, along with my rowdy two-year-old. And I didn't even remember to take their first-day-of-daycare picture. (Thankfully their teachers did for me.)

I was too excited to go to my school and teach my other babies. I love being a teacher, even though I forget how much I love being a teacher about 90% of the time. 

I forget because I start to drown In pile of paperwork, or my kids are ignoring me AGAIN, or they won't put their cell phones away even though I have asked them 5 times, or a kid asks to be switched to a different lunch because they "don't have any friends in first lunch" even though I know they do and I spent hours working on their schedules so I wouldn't have to take them out of their favorite class, or my student refuses to do his work because he is too tired, or her boyfriend broke up with her, or his dog died, or their parents got a divorce, or they are hungry because they haven't had anything to eat since lunch YESTERDAY at school, or they were up late taking care of their baby, or their friend OD'd, or or they had to work late last night to help their family pay the bills. 

And some of it I understand, because I was in high school like them not too long ago. I remember having homework in all 5 of my classes on the same night. I stayed up way too late on the phone with my boyfriend, against my parents warnings, and fell asleep in class a time or two.  I ignored my teachers sometimes, too. Sometimes I hid my flip-phone under my desk where I thought they couldn't see it. I, too, tried to  get my schedule switched so I could be in the same lunch with my best friends, because there was a time when I didn't have a lot of friends either.  I've had my heart broken by a boy a few times in my life. Once, my dog died and I had to be in class the next day trying to hold back tears.  And my parents are divorced, too. They aren't alone.

The rest I feel for, but I can't even imagine. I never lived their life. I never walked in their shoes. I never went without a meal. There was always food on my table. I didn't have to raise a child until after I had a career and a husband. It's really hard to do and I don't have to do it alone. I was blessed to never have to see the effects of dangerous addictions on people I love. I didn't have to work to help pay my family's bills. They were busting their butts to make ends meet so I wouldn't have to while I was in school.  I can't relate. I don't know what it feels like. But I do hurt for them. My heart breaks for them. When they aren't around, I cry for them. Life shouldn't be that hard yet, because they are just kids. And most of the time I forget they aren't really my kids. Because I love them that much, even when they are hard to love.

I hope they know that I wake them up because Iove them. I take away their phones because I know they need to become better readers. I make them write a whole page about their feelings because one day it is going to be important to communicate their thoughts and feelings effectively. 

There are times when I can't communicate my thoughts and feelings about them and for them. I can't tell their teacher not to give them less homework. I can't fix their high school relationships. I can't let them catch up on sleep in my classroom, and I can't take their cell phone and throw it down a flight of stairs. I can't be a best friend matchmaker or change their schedule so they can find one. I can't bring their dog back to life or put their broken families back together. I can't put food on their tables, or feed them more than some candy and some pretzels from my lunch.  I can't pay their bills. I can't help them raise their babies. I can't take their friends'addictions away. So when I am at a loss for words, and don't know how to fix their problems or stop their hurt, I hug them. 

And then we take out a book and read. For about 30 minutes we are in another place together, enjoying the triumphs the protagonist is having, hurting over someone else's fictional problems, laughing at an author's wit, perusing the pages for plot and climax and similes and metaphors and personification. We search the novels for events we have experienced, characters we can relate to, and settings that take us somewhere else. Sometimes those stories are the only escapes they have.

And sometimes, near the end of the semester, a student will walk up to me and say, "I actually loved that book. I have never liked a book before."

That, my friends, is worth the mounds of paperwork, and whitewashed walls, and makeshift posters, and grumpy kids, and attitudes, and drool-stained desks, and self-funded classroom libraries. That is what keeps me going back. That is why I hate that I love to be a teacher. That brings me joy that outweighs the chaos that is the life of a high-school teacher. And when that student walks out of my classroom, I smile and rub my hands together and sigh and say, "my job here is done." ...until the next class walks in.


  1. Oh sweet friend, thank you so much! I see you!! I wrote the post "Dear Teachers: You're Not Fooling Me" and I'm thankful that you took time to read it. I know taking your children to daycare can't be easy, thank you for making that sacrifice. God bless you and I am sending prayers your way for the new school year. I see you!

    1. Thanks so much for replying. I hope the link brings people to your post. It is a great reminder to teachers how hard it is to be a teacher and to parents how hard it is to be a teacher. But both are oh so worth it!

  2. Thank you so much for getting back to me. I really hope people see what you had to say. It is a great reminder to teachers how hard it is to be a parent and a great reminder to parents how hard it is to be a teacher. Both are so hard and stressful but such a blessing that is so worth it.