Notes from a Teacher’s Wife

Conclusions after the first year of my husband teaching middle school

This school year was my husband’s first year teaching. He works at a small private religious school in West Virginia, with most of his students not considering themselves so. His students are 5th and 6th graders most of the time, and 7th and 8th graders for Math. There are some that have special needs, whether diagnosed or simply suspected. There are some that have never gotten below an A mark in their lives. There are some without fathers, some without parents, some with parents who abuse them, some who will never understand those kinds of struggles.

His class is full of children in need of positive mentors, changing hormones, and short attention spans that would be daunting to anyone, let alone a 25-year-old man who is still trying to figure out why his teaching philosophy is what it is. Yes, he’s done the student teaching required. And yes, he spent four and a half years learning the skills and the methods he needed. He has his state certification and licensure. He has the school conference certificate for child safety, CPR, and First Aid.

But nothing truly prepares you for that entire first year, in your own classroom, with your own rules, and a bunch of children who will come to know you and your mannerisms better than you do. Who know how to push your buttons when they see an opportunity. Nothing prepares you for the bad days, when people who have an office job can just put on headphones and shut out the world for the day while you, instead, have to stand in front of kids who are maybe each in the middle of their own bad days. You somehow still have to be understanding and aware of how they’re feeling. They are, after all, just kids. You can’t leave early, or take a long lunch. You can’t call off last minute — who will sub your class? Every day, my husband eats lunch with his students because he has to. He is literally with them for seven hours or more, uninterrupted, a day.

There were days when my husband would come home and not talk for hours because he had to yell at his kids for misbehaving. There were days when he’d come home with a huge smile because a student said he was their favorite, or had brought him homemade curry. And it could have been two days in a row that each of these scenarios happened.

There were days when a student opened up to him about their past. A girl told him why she was adopted one day, after a group of boys made her cry during recess — her parents were drug addicts and would lock her in a closet while they got high. He came home that day slightly overwhelmed with how the conversation went. How do you even respond to something like that? One student didn’t have a father figure to look up to and latched on to him. “You’re the best, Mr. M,” he would say, while proceeding to follow him around like a shadow.

You’re so much more than science, math, and social studies as a teacher. You truly are an educator of just about everything: how to be a successful adult, how to act when things don’t go your way, how to make people smile and laugh, what a Godly man or woman looks like. Because what my friends and I remember most about our teachers from school weren’t necessarily the lessons they taught, but how they showed compassion when we felt distressed, or how they told us jokes when they knew we needed a smile. They laid the foundation for success and knowledge. They were part of the thread that made up our characters, our morals, our thought processes that we took with us into adulthood.

It’s a lot of responsibility to handle without even factoring in the long hours you spend writing lesson plans, tests, and quizzes. Without factoring in grading, recording, and speaking with parents. Classroom observations, staff meetings, board meetings, and professional development conferences.

Teaching is mentally exhausting. One day, the whole class is excited about learning and pays attention, and the next day they hate school and want nothing to do with what you have planned. You may have one parent who advocates for you and loves the transformation they’ve seen in their child because of your influence while another loathes your teaching style and the change they notice in their child’s behavior. The administration may be impossible to work with one day, and then be agreeable and positive the next. You never know.

I know this year has made my husband a stronger person. It’s made him reevaluate his thoughts on education after seeing first hand what it’s like. He has a tendency to turn inward when something goes wrong, but I’ve noticed it slowly go away.

He returned from a conference constituency meeting and was so aggravated, not for himself, but for education and his school. Education, within our conference, received $12 million in donations the past five years. We have 12 schools within the conference, which means each school should have received $1 million to use over those five years. Either way, when one student in public school needs at least $60,000 a year to make it through our country’s education system successfully, $1 million over five years for one school suddenly doesn’t seem like that much. And it’s not. My husband was livid. It wasn’t even about paying anyone, he said. It was about the kids, and the high quality education they need to receive. What’s being done about that? For them?

I’m thankful that he’s passionate and driven, and that he cares deeply for his students and their success. He is constantly working hard to be the best he can be in the classroom, and takes his responsibility seriously. As his wife, then, it’s only fair to him that I take my role of emotional provider seriously, especially when he comes home feeling downtrodden, defeated, or hopeless because of what happened during the school day. In order to be a strong mentor and leader, and a vital part of his students’ developing years, he also needs someone strong standing beside him.

I wish a lot of things were different about the way our education system works in the U.S. Too many students are falling under the radar, and too many great teachers lack the proper resources and financing they need to do their jobs in the most effective way. To me, teachers are just as important as doctors, if not more so. There are so many expectations that they carry every day — so how are we supporting the good ones?

Just because my husband will be starting his second year in the fall obviously doesn’t mean he knows everything. There is always more to learn — new students, new situations, new guidelines. But I can tell his confidence is growing with each passing week. He’ll still need just as much encouragement as this past year, but I’m excited watching him grow because of these kids. I didn’t realize until I was one that you learn just as much from teaching as you do being taught. And he keeps learning right alongside them every day.

Everyone knows teaching is difficult. But if you know a teacher, are married to one, have one as a sibling or parent, try to encourage them as best as you can. They are always working through something, whether it’s tough or otherwise, and sometimes just letting them know they have your support is one of the greatest sources of strength you can give them.

Maybe a gift card to Staples for new school supplies, too. Hah!

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