Super Human, Sub Human

Remember how weird it was as a kid when you saw your teachers somewhere other than school? Walking down the street or at the gas station like some sort of…normal human with a normal life?

I think that’s a pretty normal reaction for kids, so I’m not surprised when they show this attitude. What catches me with slightly more surprise is the fact that, now that I’m a teacher, I still feel it.

I don’t mean I’m surprised when I see my colleagues outside of work. I mean that as teachers, we’re expected to be this superhuman kind of entity, always with someone else’s interests and well-being at heart, putting others ahead of ourselves — and amidst that, I really haven’t figured out how to be a regular person who goes to the grocery store because that’s part of regular adult human life, and not just because I’ve already put $300 on my credit card this month ordering pizza online from my bed.

That’s only a slight exaggeration.

Before I was a teacher, there were those days that life just felt like too much, y’know? Those days that getting out of bed was a legitimate struggle. On those days, sometimes I got up and faced life like an adult anyway, and sometimes I took a mental health day. And it wasn’t the end of the world. I drank tea and waited for the world to stop spinning a little, went back to work the next day, and everything was fine.

As a teacher, even taking a break is stressful. In a regular job, struggling with mental health is seen as weak and undesirable; it’s difficult to admit the struggles and take the time you might need to recover. Being a teacher makes it almost impossible, and when you’re struggling just to force yourself out of bed in the morning, there is absolutely no benefit for anyone when you also force yourself to half heartedly lead 23 tiny humans in reading a biography about an astronaut while they flip water bottles, surreptitiously fold origami under their desks, screech, and bark. Literally bark.

It’s weird for kids to see teachers in the grocery store because they see us as parts of their environment, not as humans. But I think sometimes parents and administrators see us that way, too. And sometimes I see myself that way, now. The defining characteristic of being a human is weakness. I feel like it’s not allowed to be weak and be a teacher. I don’t know how to do it.

And I haven’t been to the grocery store in weeks.