An Honor, a Privilege, and a Burden

Most days I think of my job as an honor and a privilege. It is a tremendous gift to be able to encourage, cultivate, and nurture the minds of at least 140 teenagers each year. And, to be able to gain glimpses into their lives, their losses, their loves, their passions. They are all incredible human beings. And I do mean that, every single one.

Yes, I’ll be honest, it doesn’t always start that way. Sometimes I have students whom I just don’t click with right away. Sometimes I downright dislike them for months. And I know there are many who will dislike me. But, often, those are the ones I end up loving the most by the end. They make me better. They make me work harder. They keep me humble. They teach me to stay curious, to stay open, and to broaden my definitions of love and acceptance. Because, as taboo as it may be, I believe my students thrive when they are loved. The hour and a half that I see them every other day is an hour and a half that they know they can come as they are; they can be raw and real and human. They are free to make mistakes and struggle. It is a privilege to get to work with that, to see it and to help them persevere through whatever life is throwing at them.

But, sometimes my job feels like a burden. And I do mean this in terms of the definition, “a heavy load.” Working with teenagers, if one is not careful, can weigh on a person’s heart and soul. Today I am feeling that weight. I won’t go into too many specifics but I will say that my students trust me and they often tell me things they would never dare tell any other adult. Today I had a student tell me that they made an attempt on their life this last weekend. If you don’t know much about the rules that govern teachers, I will tell you, this confession means I had to alert one of our mental health professionals on campus. It meant that I had to betray my student’s confidence. Granted, I was able to pull my student aside and talk it through before taking action. I didn’t want them to be blindsided. But, still, it just makes me feel… blegh. I know, that is so eloquent.

I felt like a hypocrite. Just this last weekend I was dealing with my own suicidal thoughts. And because I’m an adult, I get to make my own decisions about who gets to know that. I get to keep my secrets under lock and key, if that’s what I choose. But, my sweet teenagers don’t always get that choice. It means something that they trust me enough to tell me their secrets. I don’t ever want to jeopardize that because I want them to continue opening up and sharing. I don’t ever want them to feel like they have nowhere to turn. And I know that by reporting, though mandatory, it is a risk that I take. I hate that. I hate that this also means their parent is going to be informed and sometimes that just makes it worse for the student. Life really isn’t fair sometimes. I wish that I could wrap them in my arms sometimes and say, I really, truly understand. I wish that I believed and knew and could tell them that it gets better. I wish that was in my heart right now. But that isn’t something I can give.

All I could give that student today was the reassurance that I was still here. That I will always listen and that I really do understand. And that whatever was in my power to do to help, I would. And that I will never, ever make a student feel like I am burdened by their needs (the student wrote about feeling like they couldn’t ask anyone for help because they felt like a burden). That’s it. That’s all I could give and that weighs on me. Maybe it’s because I’m too close to this, maybe my feelings are still too raw from this weekend. I don’t know. But I do know I feel sad. My heart is simultaneously warmed and breaking.

24 Thoughts

  1. Ugh! What a difficult day. You are making all the difference for this kid. You are not a hypocrite; you know better than anyone what these feelings can do to a person and you were able to intervene the only way you could. They may even thank you one day for having the strength to get them help when they most needed it, even if it didn’t feel that way today. I applaud your strength in being their advocate.

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  2. That’s really cool of you, sometimes and I know from experience but sometimes students feel closer to their teachers, peers, or anyone else. It’s just a person’s personality and their trust of you, since for myself I never felt like I could tell my parents anything. For some students, you could be their one light in this whole world. Teachers/people like that are so special to me. I hope you would be encouraged to keep being the best that you can be, and be the teacher and human that you want to be as well. Many blessings, and God bless.

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    1. Thank you. You’re right. And I do know this on some level. What hurts me most though is knowing that very often the reasons students become suicidal are the very parents the counselors have to contact. So, we may be saving a life temporarily only to make things harder in that life.
      I remember when I was in school and my parents found out I was suicidal, they freaked. Pulled me out of school for two months. Locked away all the razors, knives, pills, booze, etc. And refused to let me talk to any of my friends. It was counterproductive to the extreme.

      So, while I know that’s unlikely to happen with my students, part of me still worries that it’s a betrayal. Because the system is set up to believe that parents are caring and involved and benevolent which isn’t always the case. And the entities we have to protect kids often miss cases like that because they’re not grossly negligent or abusive. Or they’re good at hiding the abuse. Or they’re good at keeping up with appearances. It’s just so complex.

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        1. Except that it isn’t imposing my own experiences when I’ve been told directly from the student that their home life is Hell and that they’re constantly made to feel like an outcast. And no one shows them love at home, and all they get is disdain. I can acknowledge that my students experience will not be the same as mine, while also being aware that it isn’t going to be pleasant either.
          My students have me in the classroom and I am the least imposing person many of them have in their lives right now; hence why they share with me. Please don’t make presumptions to the contrary.

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          1. I guess I’ve been burned too much in the past. I just want you to be careful because school politics is a very tricky business as I’m sure you’re aware. I’m glad you do what you do 💜

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          2. I am quite aware. I’ve got me. I follow protocol and do what needs to be done but I also won’t hesitate to advocate for my students or help them advocate for themselves if need be. I would rather be taken down doing what’s morally right, than to passively bow down to authority just for the sake of obeying rules. I operate 100% with the best interests of my students at heart. And I accept whatever “burns” may come from that.

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          3. Check this out: a student of mine was suffering from depression. I told her what helped me was getting a dog. Her mom comes in to ask me for help in finding the right dog. 🐶 They get a dog. The mom thanks me. Sends me an email thanking me for the help. Eight months later the mother complains that I “overstepped my boundaries” when suggesting that my student get a dog. Now instead of teaching I am blogging. I guess I can sleep because my conscience is clear and I know I did the right thing, but I guess I just want teachers like you (and me) to stay in the classroom where we belong. Much love and respect 💜🐶🐾

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          4. Unfortunately, I’m already well on my way out of the classroom because of all the extra b.s. that comes with the position. I’m sticking with the kids though. I’ll be finished with my degree in counseling before Fall 2018, so the hope is actually to begin the next school year as a school counselor. That is where my heart has always been.

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          5. Thanks! And, why not? You’ve got one life to live. I figure, if I’m going to be here, I might as well fit as much living and striving and growing in as possible. You should go for it, if you feel like it’d give you some fulfillment.

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          6. I’ve been tutoring and I really like that — not as stressful and definitely not as much politics. I know it doesn’t pay as much as full-time teaching but at least I can spend more time with my dog 🐶

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