While making dinner last night, I needed to cut chicken. So I walked across the kitchen. I opened a drawer. And I picked up the can opener. To cut the chicken.
Worse, it didn’t occur to me that I’d chosen the wrong tool until I’d crossed back to the cutting board and looked at both the can opener and the chicken at the same time. Only then did it click that I needed something called a knife, and that the pointy knife thing was a totally different instrument than the turn-y can thing.
It’s not that I’m inept in the kitchen. I spend time in that yummy room of the house most days. Know-how and familiarity weren’t my problems yesterday.
My problem was total and complete brain drain – the kind of exhaustion that only makes me good for two things: sitting on the couch, and watching TV.
Now, this is a kind of post-work tired that I never experienced before becoming a teacher. None of my previous jobs put me on my ass like a day of teaching does.
And it’s taken me forever to write this post about it. Because I’m too exhausted at the end of the day to even write about why I’m exhausted.
See, I thought for a while that work tires me out more than it used to because I’m getting older, that I just don’t have as much energy as I used to. But, um, I’m 31. I’m not exactly shaking hands with the dude in the black cloak. So it couldn’t be that.
But on the days when I thought I could pinpoint exactly what was different now than it used to be, the only words I could string together were “What do you want to watch?”
Hardly blog material.
But today I can write. I can tell you what makes this teaching gig so draining and how it turns my brain to mush. Because I had an epiphany of sorts in a rare moment where my thoughts were my own, rather than divided and shared among 25-30 students: this job is insane.
Think about it.
At its very core, what’s my job? It’s to teach teens, right? So, I’m supposed to provide them with – or help them to discover – information about my areas of expertise (French and English). I’m supposed to teach them and they’ll learn. That’s kind of the deal, right? I teach them the concepts outlined by the Ministry of Education, and when I see those light bulb moments, or when they pass my course, I’m supposed to get that gold sticker telling met that I’ve done a good job.
And let’s face it: nobody ever outgrows stickers. So, I work my butt off. I’m a freaking salesman, selling my language products and trying to reach my quotas. But, um, my quotas are 100%. My target is a 100% success rate every semester.
But my clients don’t always want to buy my products. It’s like I’m doing one of those timeshare presentations that tourists get sucked into: my students are there because they can’t escape, but some of them will never buy.
Yet, I don’t give up. I do everything aside from cartwheels to get these kids – these clients – to buy in. But I’ll never get my 100% success rate. Because not everyone wants the product I’m offering. And just like sales, I can’t make someone buy into it if they’re dead set against it.
But here’s where teaching gets insane: I’m still trying.
Even though can’t reach my goal.
Everyday, I aim to chisel a crack through the apathy. I look for new ways to squish a few more scraps of knowledge into brains. I try to dig through the mental blockades and find a way in. My brain sprints to stay with students when they veer off course, and when I catch up, I lasso them and pull them back.
I pull out all the stops. I motivate, cajole, discipline, lend an ear, encourage, offer support, and put on the performance of my life every. Single. Day.
Because I don’t have the option of dropping clients. I can’t cut my losses and try a new lead. My students are my responsibility. Their success or failure ultimately lands on my shoulders; it impacts my professional reputation, and my personal sense of self-worth. So I don’t give up.
I can’t give up on them. It’s not an option in this profession.
Even when it means that I work myself to the point that I can no longer tell a can opener from a knife.