Things That Are Easier Than Teaching Seventh Grade

Before Christmas, my boss and I joked that we were just slouching towards Bethlehem – simply focusing on getting our bodies in one piece to the holiday break. This year of teaching has been difficult and taxing due to the huge learning curve of first year teachers. In a fit of desperation, I made a list this year about all of the things that seemed easier than herding preteens into learning things:

-cattle branding

-catching a runaway chicken

-managing Donald Trump’s Twitter feed

-working retail on Black Friday (Yes, I’ve done it!)

-potty training a 2-year old

-being the realtor for the pickiest couple on House Hunters

-writing a shitty novel

-getting Mariah Carey to show up to an interview on time

-programming a robot to sing Christmas carols

-saving the whales

-running a 5k while hungover

-managing feeding time at doggy daycare

-creating a not-racist episode of Girls

In a profession where my ego, authority, and sense of self is constantly challenged, that requires long hours and a ton of preparation, why do I keep coming to work every day? To be honest, it’s a question I’m still figuring out, since I know that I’m not staying in seventh grade forever. Instead, I’m captivated by a stanza from Marge Piercy’s poem “To Be of Use,”  which we read with the students in the fall:

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

I’m undertaking common work that is often emotionally muddy. If I botch it, I will see not only an unruly classroom, but my careful preparation crumbling to dust in front of my eyes. So, I teach every day because, like Piercy, I believe in doing things worth doing and doing them well. If I do not see the shape of a healthy, joyful, and organized classroom appearing before my eyes, I must keep at it. At the end of the day, I am a person who cries out for work that is real. My difficult in teaching, botched and muddy as they may be, will only make my success more clean and more evident.


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