When I was in the classroom and people would ask me what I did for a living, I would tell them, “I am a teacher,” and without fail I would get one of a couple scripted responses in return: “Wow, good for you,” or “I could never do that.” As a principal I have received almost identical responses from friends, family, and strangers alike. Whether it was during my teaching tenure or my time as a principal, inevitably people from other career fields always want to know what is the most difficult thing about being an educator.
Any time I am prompted with this line of questioning my mind automatically drifts to the hours setting up labs after school, the parent complaints, the state mandates passed down with little to no school input, etc. But the hardest thing about being a teacher or a principal is not any of these things. In fact, it is such a difficult thing to deal with that we push it out of our minds as far as possible to the point that we don’t list it when asked. The hardest thing about being an educator is the death of a student. Over the course of a school year teachers learn an incredible amount of information about their students. Good educators know that you first must know the student before you can teach the student and they dedicate time and effort in building a relationship that will allow for learning to take place. Often times these relationships last much more than a year in the classroom and life-long bonds are created. For example, a year ago I was contacted by a couple of former students in Georgia that were heading to Michigan for the Thanksgiving holiday and they wanted to meet up. Another example is that I have kept in contact with my AP Biology teacher from high school and try to meet up with him at least once a year.
I was reminded of this hardest aspect of being an educator on Friday when a 16 year old boy at the school that I just left was killed. This was the fourth time in my 13-year career that I have experienced this most difficult-to-deal with hardship; all of them were motor-vehicle related. Each of these deaths rocked me to my core and made me question the fragility of life and the precious nature of enjoying the people around you as much as you can. These young people had so much more to offer this world and now they are gone.
Rest in peace Sean, Madison, Tyler, and Jacob