Beyond the Call of Duty

I am the granddaughter of a teacher. I’m also the daughter, niece, sister and sister-in-law of teachers. I am good at many things, but I could never do what they do.

Teachers’ jobs have always been difficult, and they have gotten tougher through the years. Their role has been to stand in front of an often reluctant audience and capture their attention in order to educate them. That’s the basic job, which is hard enough but that’s never been the whole story.

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A teacher’s job has expanded to include so many elements of children’s lives. They spend more time with our children than we do. They see their trials and triumphs. Schools have become places where children are often fed and clothed and listened to when those basic needs are not being met elsewhere.

Teachers spend their own time and often their own money to furnish and replenish their classrooms. They spend ‘off time’ in summers seeking continuing education, again on their own dime, in order to bring more to their students during the school year, with little chance that those advanced degrees will lead to any additional financial gain. In fact, they are not paid very well when you consider the contribution they make to the world.

They are on the front lines with our children, literally and figuratively, and it’s too much. It’s too much that not only are we asking them to educate our kids, but they must also be counselors, social directors, librarians, technology experts, social media spies, peace activists, role models for health and nutrition, and amateur pediatricans. They dedicate their lives to our children. Because it’s what they do, what they have always done.

But now we literally expect them to lay down their lives for our children. We are asking too much.

I know that most teachers would not hesitate to do anything for their students. But we should not ask. They should not be have to give everything, even if they are willing. And we should not be afraid that they would have to die if they had to so that our children might live. This should never be in question. Never.

As angry as this makes me, it must be a terrifying and infuriating proposition for teachers themselves. My dear friend, a Chicago teacher, is mad as hell and she puts it better than I ever could. From her Facebook page, with appropriately NSFW language, I present it to you, with sadness and respect:

I am not your savior. 
I am a teacher.

This one’s on you, folks.

I have tried to save lives before. My objective, according to my resume, is to improve the trajectories of young lives through improved literacy and critical thinking. I’ve overstepped. I’ve seen lives drawn toward violence and attempted to pull them back. But that is not my job. And I can’t. I’ll lose. To date, I’ve tallied up right around 17 students lost over my decade plus career. All of them in gun-related homicides. NRA folks, who aren’t reading anyways, does that term bypass the fucking stupid “guns don’t kill people” bullshit? No? Anyways, all of them had gun shot wound listed as cause of death. I wasn’t super close to all of those 17. I did not witness their deaths, nor did I attend all of their funerals. Small mercies. For those who joined the tally post 2012, I did not shed tears. It does not hurt less. I just can’t.

In 2012, a bunch of first graders at another school were murdered just before Christmas. I realized that parents had purchased presents for kids who would be in the ground by Christmas morning. I cried at my desk. Two years later, I opened an email at that desk during second period. Subject line had the name of a student who was absent that period. I learned of his murder surrounded by his classmates. I looked to his fucking empty seat. I tried to grab his girlfriend from another classroom so she would be spared the indignity of receiving that knowledge with a teenage audience. I was too late. I sat with her at the funeral a few days later. Then I went back to school. We had PD that day, and it was a dark day. You view us as a support system for our students. We do that, but we stop there. We don’t talk about it, share tears. We pay lip service to self care. We return to our jobs. Privately, we ache.

Fuck you for adding to my burden, for making solving school shootings part of my job. My students and I are now called upon to write the legislators and abdicate our roles if they deny us? Truth be told, you don’t even like us. Sure, you do lip service to our humble role and long hours. How you could never have my patience. But I hear you, and that’s the only special qualification you think I have over you, patience, not years of training, experience and skill in pedagogy. If my students or I walk out, I’ll be lambasted. If I win, I’ll be lauded temporarily, until I deny your child a bathroom pass or grade him too harshly. I hear what you say about me. You make my working conditions untenable, then demand that I fix them? Fuck that. This one’s on you.

Fuck you for calling to arm me. Do you know what I do? I kneel next to dozens of students, walk in crowded hallways, turn my back to write on the board. Here’s what happens: You arm me, then I react poorly, or slowly, or freeze. Then it’s my fault. Or worse, but way, way more likely, my students and I get killed by the fucking weapon I didn’t want because I’m not a fucking soldier. That’s your solution, right? Give me a weapon inside a fucking classroom? It’s a fucking joke. Be a fucking adult. They’re weapons for the military. Your fucking toy? Because you’re a fucking American? Give it up. Yeah, they’re coming for your guns. Don’t be so fucking facile as to bring up prying things from cold dead hands. THAT IS WHY WE ARE TALKING ABOUT THIS. WE CARE MORE ABOUT THE COLD, DEAD SMALL HANDS YOU FUCKING IMBECILE.

Stop giving bullshit excuses. Stop ignoring warning signs. Stop raising superior, fragile excluders. Ban weapons that only belong in the hands of active duty soldiers. Ban accessories that make those weapons even more deadly. Stop putting this on anyone except for every single fucking human. If you think I have some magic in my perspective as inner-city educator, as survivor in a field of repeated, prolonged murder, you’re deluded. I have anger. But most of all, I have a job. It’s big and important and hard. I’m good at it. I like it. Take care of this one yourselves.

I am not your savior.
I am a teacher.
I have fucking work to do.