The Upside of Teaching

I was talking with someone recently, and she asked me, "it seems like the last couple years everything about teaching has been you still enjoy it? Is it still bringing you joy? 

Oooof. That stuck with me. Because I realize, as exhausting as things have been (especially since the pandemic hit), I could totally stand to share some positives. Because even in the crap slurry that has been the past few years, there are soooo many good things. 

Before I get into those, I do want to mention that I am not alone in feeling the exhaustion of life as a teacher right now. There are countless articles that help me to see that I am not crazy, I am not a negative nellie, that this is a pervasive issue that is countrywide and causing a significant issue with teacher retention and teacher shortages (which further make things difficult for those of us who stay). And, it's been an issue for a while: see this post from The Cult of Pedagogy in 2019. Irony...I bought that book Fewer Things, Better  but haven't had time to read it yet. I feel like when I have time to read, I need it to be an escape.

This is the cover of my neaToday magazine from the National Education Association: 

One woman says: 

And then, there's this: 

Yikes, that all sounds so dire. 

I can say that I fall in the "No effect" category. I have no plans to leave teaching, or to retire earlier than planned. I really do love it. But there's definitely problems in the way the United States views and uses teachers. 

So what are my positive things? The stuff that fills my bucket? Let me give you a taste of some things that have happened just in the past month or two: 

  • When a parent thanks me for understanding and advocating for their child.
  • When a student turns to another student, new to Resource Room, and says, "I didn't love Resource at first either, but this year I have had my best grades ever and I really think it's because of Resource -- it helps me so much!" (I might have teared up a bit)
  • I have amazing colleagues who are also my friends, who teach me things, who are there when I need to walk into their room, close the door, and cry, who know what it's like to love your job even when you're feeling totally underwater and frustrated with the systemic aspects of it. 
  • When a student lights up in the hallway and yells, "Hi Mrs. T!" 
  • When I run into students in public and they ACTUALLY WANT TO TALK WITH ME and tell me they miss me, even when they were the classroom. 
  • When I run into a parent in the grocery store and then find out I'm invited to a summer graduation party for a student I had in 8th grade, four years ago
  • When I have a student with many behavioral challenges who can truly be infuriating but then will stay after school with me to get work done and then asks, "Are you going on the D.C. trip?" and when I say, "Oh, unfortunately not this year," looks STRICKEN and DISAPPOINTED and so I know there is a connection there underneath all the prickles and eyerolling! Huzzah! (but also I cannot acknowledge this one bit because it will kill the moment) 
  • When parents say in meetings that their child is successful because of the combo of pushing and support that I provide
  • When I feel like I'm all negative nellie and then another teacher tells me that I'm "a ray of sunshine, you always seem so happy and positive" and it reminds me that I'm not a black hole of negativity after all
  • When a student finds my room to be their "safe space" and stops in throughout the day
  • When other teachers say thank you for all the work I do as lead special ed teacher and one even speaks up in front of our new principal who starts July 1 and says "I just want to thank Jess, because she does so much for our department and she really goes to bat for us." 
  • When students start using silly phrases that I use to be ridiculous, like calling Google Classroom "googly classroom" or a computer a "compooter" and they correct me when I say it the regular way...
  • When a student "gets it" and you can see that lightbulb light up as they realize they understand something that was hard before
There's so, so much. Maybe even more than is on this list. It's what makes the exhaustion and the feeling wrung out worth it. 

I am so thankful for break. I need this so much, because it helps me restock my patience and my energy. It helps me stop and breathe and make lists like this that give me perspective. I do have work I have to do this week, but I actually managed to do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING school-related from Friday through today, and it was GLORIOUS. I did see an email come in, but I IGNORED it. Even though it felt weird, it was a good reminder that I do not have to be accessible 100% of the time. I can take time for myself. I can make myself whole again and have a strong end to the school year. I really do think that the pandemic has taken normal teacher fatigue and exponentially magnified the impact. 

So thank you, person who questioned if teaching still brings me joy -- you have given me a tremendous gift in this reflection on the positive moments that sustain me as a teacher. 


  1. Thanks for sharing these thoughts and observations! It’s easy to only notice the struggle but miss the small victories (and none is too small). Another reason I’m grateful for the opportunity to teach is it can always be meaningful work. As part of Covid rules teachers have been required to sign in and out every day. We have to specify what is the “purpose of our visit.” For a long time I found this wording ridiculous but then I started to appreciate the invitation to think about my purpose every day. It became a mindfulness moment.

  2. This is so important. Teaching is so demanding and it's important to remember all of the upsides. Admittedly, I left teaching. But, I definitely miss the students!!

  3. I recognize the energy you bring to teaching and I honor it! There have been a few in my life that are silly, attentive, accountability-seeking and connection-building, just like you. They make all the difference.

    How wonderful that you enjoy the thing you do that makes the world better in so many ways. What an uplifting post!