12/30/2014 11:22 EST | Updated 03/01/2015 05:59 EST

Press On, Teachers: For When We Need Reminding

I have been feeling it all again. That sensation of exhaustion that washes over you, day in and day out.

Late one afternoon this past fall, after a final word with the vice-principal before leaving for the day, I placed my hand over the center of my abdomen and felt a sharp, persistent pain. Something cutting. Felt like I was being pulled from the inside out. I left for home, and once supper was on and the house cleanliness status went from 'disaster zone' to just 'normal messy', I left for a walk. But again, exhaustion seemed to overcome me: this time, accompanied by shoulders aching from the day's (and night's) stress and tension. I pushed past the pain and tried to extend my steps to make up for the pull I felt.

Focus. Step, step. It's what I do -- press on. I won't give in.

And truth be told, it's what we all do: push past the feelings and carry on in spite of it all, wondering how we will have the strength to take another step. Taking that next step anyway. As I walked, I let my mind wander to the day's events. Wondering what had I even accomplished.

What did I ever do today to make a difference?

My mind drifts back to earlier that week when I was sitting at my chair filing papers while children played happily all around me. A little voice happened to pipe up: "Mrs. Gard...I have something to tell you." I wait for the words, not quite knowing what to expect.

"I love you," he says.

I am immediately so touched. He loves me? But why?

What is it I have done to deserve such precious words?

For sometimes we teachers wonder about such things: wonder whether what do we as educators and teachers is really enough, really enough to merit such beneficial love? And in thinking about our children and what they desire, I am reminded again and again: it isn't what we do -- it's who we are.

That's the defining difference.

Although we might be the very best at planning and orchestrating amazing lessons. The very best at making our classrooms a place for discovery and exploration. The epitome of professionalism. Or perhaps not quite this ideal.

It's really not our 'stuff' that makes the difference.

It's who we are to them that matters.

I walk a quiet road and reflect on my day as a teacher. So what did I do today?

I smiled at the door -- even when inside I was still reeling from last night's news.

I crouched down low so that they could see my face.

I talked gently and repeated myself when necessary.

I greeted that child who was lonely, helped another who just needed my love.

I zipped zippers and put on gloves.

Talked and chatted.

But still I wonder: What did I do today?

What did I do today?

Well, I hid tears as quickly as they fell so that little eyes wouldn't see and wonder.

I made assessments feel like games and stories come alive.

Walked a little one to the bathroom in the middle of a lesson so that she wouldn't feel scared to go alone in the hall.

I located lunches that were lost, stowed toys that were distracting and sorted dozens of wiki sticks back into their spots.

And at the end of it all I still ask: what did I do today?

I walk back toward our farmhouse thinking all the way. And I remind myself that as a teacher, I need to give myself permission to be a human. To make mistakes. To feel pain. To be a real live person with ISSUES and STRUGGLES and HEARTACHES and SORROW. We as teachers don't completely check our lives at the door when we come to school. Yes, we must be professional, but we also have to be real.

So here's what I did that day at school.

I got through a day that was difficult and I survived.

And in spite of my failings and in spite of all the circumstances of life that pull me from every direction, my students love me. Accept who I am in those moments, in those hours that define a day.

They love me. They care for me. And I for them.

And because of this, I can do all I do each and every day. I can do what I do...both today, tomorrow and every day after that.

Because of them, I do what I do.


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