Wednesday, November 7, 2012

There Is Always More

My best friend, a fellow elementary teacher, has said to me more times than I can remember, "there is always more you could do."

I don't think I truly understood what she meant until today.

That's her on the left. Sorry, she's taken (and not by me!).

Any teacher worth her (or his) salt knows that you're never done learning, adapting, adjusting, tweaking, and changing. It's part of being a good teacher. That lesson could always be better if, those worksheets could have been clearer if, that activity could have been more engaging if...

If, if if.

Today I realized that for all the improving I have to do as a teacher (and lemme tell you, when I come into my own and really settle into a class, I'm gonna be totally kickass. This is the greatest job in the world, and I full plan to own it) I have a million and one little and big things always plaguing me.

Completed work to be filed, updates to be emailed, new work to be sorted, posters to make, projects to arrange, centers to organize and improve, art to hang and take down and rehang, homework and tests to grade, grades to enter on paper and online, Scholastic book orders to fold and send home...

Seriously, this list could go on for pages.

But at some point, I have to realize that I'm done. My day starts at 6:15, and magically it's one of those points in my REM cycle when I can jump out of bed and start powering along. I get to school by 7:15, the kids arrive around 8:30. I work straight through my lunch, eating at my desk, and the only socialization I achieve is asking one of my grade level partners for help with something.

Kids leave around 3:45 (hallelujah) and I can clean and straighten my classroom for the next day, write out the schedule on the blackboard, morning message on the white board, and make sure all my worksheets, projects, and supplies are lined up and ready to go for the morning. I make plans and posters and copies, and I email parents and staff members. I organize paperwork, switch out completed units for new material, and try to get ahead by researching games, activities, worksheets and bulletin boards for the future.

Are you tired yet? I am.

Throughout the day, I'm constantly on my feet. I hear "Mrs. Henrich!" about eight trillion times, get thirty-four pats on the back (or hip, which never ceases to amuse me), repeat directions about ten times, hear 8456 tattles, and every time I pause to check my email because I see a parent's name pop up in my inbox, I'm interrupted by an "I don't get it."

Now please don't take this to mean that I don't absolutely love my job. For all its overwhelmingness, all its busyness and multitasking and never getting a break, I adore it. But I finally understand what my friend meant.

When 5 PM rolls around, and I've been in my classroom for more or less 10 hours straight, I look at that pile of papers to be graded, that stack of completed work that needs to be filed, that math center that isn't quite ready....

Writing center fail. Still not quite ready. 

And I go home.

There's always more to do. I could always stay another hour. It will never be finished.


Hold onto your hats, people, because this may be the biggest lesson of my life.

When 5:00 shows up on my watch, and I know that when I get home I have to walk the dog, and make dinner, and fold the laundry that's been sitting in the hamper for six days, and oh, it'd be nice to spend some time with my husband....I can leave. And it doesn't make me lazy or a bad teacher, and I don't have to compare myself to the other teachers who don't leave until 8 PM.

I'm sure there will be nights when I don't leave until 8 PM. And there will be days when I leave at 4:30. And you know what? The amount of work will never really change. It will be there when I come back at 7 AM the next day.

And that's ok.