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.