Teaching can be hard. Really hard. At times I daydream about what it would be like to have a job that stays at work, that you’re not pondering about in the middle of the night. As I share my thoughts with my husband he gently reminds me, “Sara, you’re shaping the future… you’re making a difference…” That advice doesn’t always ease the burden and can force me further into myself. Some days, shaping the future is too hard. At times, facing this pressure alone can be suffocating.
When I first began my teaching career, I was desperate for someone to tell me that what I was experiencing was normal. I was so in need of coaching on everything, but most of all on how to leave my classroom before 9 o’clock at night every night. Anxiety fills my body as I remember the dark school hallways, strange noises rumbling from the bathrooms down the hall, and my desperate need to keep working. After all, it would only be like this for the first year, right? I felt so alone.
The memory of these feelings of seclusion remind me how essential it is that teachers share their stories with other colleagues, because through storytelling, experiences are validated and overwhelming feelings of seclusion, or any other emotion, can easily be reduced. (Jalongo, 1995, Teachers’ stories: From personal narrative to professional insight, 4 54)
For the past couple of years, I have been a part of a professional group of teachers who come together semi-regularly for different purposes, be it professional development or just good conversation. Recently it was my turn to lead the group. I landed on the topic of the benefits of a reflective practice. As we began, I asked those who came to participate to do one task: each teacher was to choose an incident that made them say to themselves, “This is what teaching is really about” or “This is a great day in my life as a teacher.” That evening my heart was bursting from the seams and joy poured from my eyes as, teacher by teacher, stories emerged. Each story was unique and each struck a chord with my very own teaching practice, encouraging my tired soul to keep up the hard work because, as challenging as it can be, it is making a difference.
Mary Jalongo says that “in moments of discouragement, teachers will also draw upon their reservoirs of success and stories as a source of strength and support” (Jalongo, 1995, p. xvii). It is in significant moments like these, that the ability to recognize small victories and unexpected breakthroughs in one another’s stories keeps us engaged in our very important work. “Educators must delve beneath the routine, the surface, the business-as-usual if they are ever to unearth the heart of teaching and, in the process, nurture their souls as teachers” (Jalongo, 1995, p. xvi). When educators reflect on the mundane and engage in taking a closer look at their own “real-life ‘classroom’ experiences – both lived one’s self and borrowed from other teachers – that teachers explore the complexities of what it means to teach” (Jalongo, 1995, p. xvii).