Seriously, guys. How do teachers do this every day?


Boots: check.

Lasso: check.

Yodel: check.

Folks, this week, I’m back in the classroom again. Cue music.

As many of you know, I am a former full-time teacher (Middle School, natch. And I have the scars to prove it) (I’m just kidding. Middle School kids are puppy dogs with fairy wings and butterfly kisses. For real.), and now, in addition to my writing work, from time to time I return to the classroom to teach fiction writing for a week with eager, energetic, enthusiastic, and oh, good god, tiring children.

I’m so tired right now. I can barely see straight. I may melt into the floor.

With each class today, I stood in front of these kids and poured my energy out so they could pour that same energy onto the page. That’s what I do – pour and flow, crackle and burn, light the room, hold their attention in the palm of my hands, and set their stories ablaze. They were maniacs today. Story-writing maniacs. They wrote stories with spies in them and stories with aliens in them and stories with best friends in them and stories with soldiers in them and stories about jury duty and super heroes and cranial implants and stories narrated by an arthritic dog. And they were awesome.

Since this is not my regular classroom and these are not my regular kids, I can’t rely on the relational foundation that most teachers use to keep their classrooms going. These kids don’t know me. So the only way I can get them to lose their inhibitions long enough to get their stories written down is to do my little magic tricks on my makeshift stage.

“Look here,” I say. “Storytelling is ancient.”

“And here,” I say. “Stories are an integral part of your humanity. We tell stories, therefore we are.”

“Look here,” I say. “Your brain can do tricks. Watch.”

“Look here,” I say. “I can tell you words and turn them into sentences and use those sentences to make your heart beat fast and your breathing go shallow and make all of you sit on the edges of your seats. Look at yourselves! Look at how you’re gripping your chairs. Look at how your knuckles are white. Now you make that happen in your stories.”

“Look here,” I say. “There is a dragon that can fit in your pocket. And a kingdom made of cattails. And a forest with fire in its belly. Look! A witch! Look! A liar! Look! A horde of bandits, smiling in the dark.”

I told them stories. They wrote stories. They read their stories out loud. We postulated and discussed and argued and laughed and made excellent points. I think we’re all exhausted. The kids walked out holding their writing hands limply in makeshift slings.

On my way out to my car today, I literally waded through a sea of Kindergarteners. They swirled and swelled and crashed like waves. They clung to my boots like seaweed. Third graders jostled me from side to side and fourth graders shouted like fog horns in my ears. Fifth graders pulled at my coat sleeves as I left, and sixth graders called me back because I had to listen to the funniest joke. It took me like an hour just to leave.

I love them. I love them so much. But I forget how tiring this work is. I’m sitting on the couch right now and it is so much work just to keep my skeleton from turning into a puddle on the floor. I am a pot boiled dry. I am an empty husk. I am the ashes from yesterday’s campfire. I have no muscles. My skull has shattered. My eyeballs rolled away an hour ago, and I think they’re lodged under the refrigerator. It hurts to breathe.

And I just want to point out that your kids’ teachers do this every single day. Every day, they work themselves to the dang bone. Every day they pour out their love and their intellect and their training. Every day they chart a course on your kids’ learning. You are here, they say, pointing to the map. And just look at where you are going. Isn’t it wonderful?

Teachers are awesome. And I know that, of course I do. But I know it even more during my little teaching stints. Where I meet these kids and work with these kids and love these kids, and they inhale every joule of energy in me. They drain my essence. They absorb every ounce of my soul. And I know that for their teachers, this ain’t nuthin. For them, it’s just Wednesday. They pour themselves out every single day. They are inexhaustible wells. And god bless ’em.

So here’s my challenge for you: Go out and do something nice for a teacher. Any teacher. Buy ’em a latte. Give ’em a Target gift card. Write ’em a note. Do something. Because holy smokes. Do they ever deserve it.

My hat, ladies and gentlemen. It is off.

And now, will someone please bring a hose and an air machine? Because I seem to have deflated. And I need to be re-inflated by tomorrow so I may return to the classroom and teach my heart out once again. ONCE MORE, MY FRIENDS. INTO THE DEEP.


16 thoughts on “Seriously, guys. How do teachers do this every day?

  1. Kelly, you absolutely made my day! I’m facing a stack of 150+ projects to grade tonight, after being the classroom all day with my 6th graders. I love my job, especially my students, and I get to teach American history, which is my passion. I’m fortunate to have a lot of energy, especially considering that I’ve been teaching for 37 years, BUT it is truly exhausting, hard, hard work! Thank you for writing about that so eloquently!

  2. It’s really nice to find out with this kind of words. Pretty nice! I am a teacher and every word you said was like “omg, I do that every day, with all my love but it’s so exhausting”.
    Thanks, from me and my teacher’s soul 🙂 from Chile.
    Karla 🙂

  3. Such the excellent post. Our son, now 13, is just about to exit middle school, and yet we still give gifts to all of his teachers on teacher appreciation day. (I say we, but really its mostly my wife Teri who manages these things.) You should see the reactions of his teachers. They look at you like you’re crazy. But they are thankful. Oh are they thankful. They give so much, and it costs so little to show respect. Its doesn’t have to be “things” either. You can support them by helping in the classroom, organizing papers, or making copies. Taking donuts to the teachers lounge, or help go through the lost and found.

  4. Beautiful. My daughter is a teacher and I have profound respect for her and her work, as I do for yours and for everybody who educates our children. When she was a small child, I helped in the classroom. I made it clear by my example that the teacher is the boss of the classroom and I do what she asks me to do. More parents need to teach that.

  5. Reblogged this on Deep Blue Readers and commented:

    Friend of Deep Blue Readers, author Kelly Barnhill, writes about her recent visit with 4th – 6th grade students (including a few Deep Blue Readers book club regulars) for a week-long writers’ workshop at a Stillwater area elementary school.

  6. Pingback: Links I Loved Last Week: A Round-Up of Online Reading 3/1/15 | the dirigible plum

  7. I am a high school Intensive Reading teacher. I teach the kids who have not passed our state reading assessment and must do so to graduate. You described my physical and mental exhaustion with great accuracy. I love working with my students, but I don’t think that anyone outside of this profession really understands what it’s like to stand in front of a room day after day. Thanks for penning (or should I say typing) a great post!!

  8. Thank you! Thank you! Seriously can relate to the eyeballs rolling… 🙂 This was so reassuring to read. Some days I feel like such a wimp, how ridiculously drained I am after a days work. Feels good to get some confirmation that I’m not alone!

  9. And you didn’t even have to grade the papers! That’s the soul-destroyer…try being a high school English teacher with 150plus students per day. I never minded the time in front of the class, but the hours and hours of grading papers finally got to me after 35 years. There isn’t enough money in the world that would make me go through that again!:)

  10. You hit the proverbial nail on the head. Thank you for the recognition. Most days I am eager to get to class and can’t wait to start the day. But there is the odd occasion when I’d rather have my eyelids ripped off. Great post! I had a good chuckle 🙂

  11. Thank you, Kelly. You have once again displayed your magic here, doing honor for magical people: teachers. I would add only one piece of advice, and this one I hope is helpful. Among the many nice things people can do to express gratitude for teachers is to support schools. Like never before the profession is under attack in every state…most unfairly so. And teachers, they ain’t feelin’ the love much these days, but they’re still givin’ it…for all the reasons you beautifully shared. Support schools with your vote, with your taxes, with your good will, and with what precious time you can…and you will be doing teachers the greatest honor they could wish for. I’ll end as I began…thank you, Kelly.

  12. I retired after 40 years in the classroom in June of 2014. I wasn’t ready to retire but I saw a need for some major work to support the public schools of our great Nation. We are the only nation that believes in educating all children. It is one of our Rights. Unfortunately, there are those who do not agree with this Right and are trying with all their might to change it. I decided to run for the School Board in our city and found out last night that I won. I hope to educate the Board members and community members about the importance of Public Education. It is what determines our future as a Nation as far as, capital and educational potential. No other Nation can stand as strong as ours with a solid education base. Teachers do not give in and stand STRONG!

  13. I’ve just started off as a teacher, and am doing a short internship of sorts; and boy do I get exactly what you mean. Though my workload is a mere 70% of a full time teachers’, I feel worked to the bone once every few days and in desperate need of a rest. In the classroom when you’re hyped up and energetic you don’t feel it, but once you leave it’s like the hangover the next morning, you feel so exhausted you’re surprised at yourself. Many times I just sit at the staffroom and wonder: how do they do it? The exact same question you discuss here is very relevant to what I feel every day and so as a teacher who likes to blog, I really appreciate your post.

    Thank you, kind sir, for sharing these thoughts.

  14. I so agree with you! Teachers are amazing. I am teaching outside my own home for the first time at the age of 51 and I am discovering that this lifelong dream is 1000 times more life giving than I had imagined…and 1000 times more draining. I do this one day a week for the school year, really only half a day, and I go home completely depleted and happy. But to wake up and do that again five days a week? I have always held teachers in high esteem, but like motherhood, once I started doing it I realized just how magical they are.

  15. Kindergarten teacher here, 22 parent-teacher-student conferences held this week, after school. Loved your post but unfortunately cannot muster enough energy to comment fully….Just wanted to say thanks.

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