Recently I was saddened to learn of the death of Stuart Scott. As is often the case, we refer back to those moments that inspire us, that we loved. I went back not to his great catch phrases, but to is incredible speech after receiving the Jimmy V Perseverance award. His speech was monumental and inspiring. His words will live on forever. One of the most important things I keep hearing him saying in my mind was this: “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer in how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live. So live. Live. Fight like hell. And when you get too tired to fight, lay down and rest and let somebody else fight for you.” Stuart Scott was referring to fighting cancer, but his words go beyond that. They speak to the very nature of how live. That quote can apply to nearly anything we do.
I think of my own life, and the work I have been thinking about a lot lately: development of new teachers. In the speech he goes on to talk about all the people who fought for him, who, when he could not. As I tried to connect those words to my own life, one of the things that I find is that as a teacher, I spend a lot of time “fighting like hell”. I fight for my kids, for what I think is best for them on so many fronts. I am not a hero, I am the norm. Teachers frequently spend so much of their time on the fight to help kids. But, what happens when you are tired? Who picks up the fight for you? Who else is advocating for your kids? We would like to say parents, administrators, other education professionals in the building, but despite that fact that I know they do, I cannot say that ever really relieves the pressure. I have always felt that pressure to do more, to fight harder. I cannot remember ever feeling as a teacher that it was ok to let someone else fight for me. I have never felt that I could lay down and allow someone else to shoulder the load, and I am not sure if that is a reflection on myself or a reflection on teaching as a profession.
I do not want to give the impression that I do not trust other people to do their jobs. Only that I do not trust others to do mine. I have always considered it my number one responsibility to be an advocate for the kids I teach. I have INCREDIBLE people around me that take that role as seriously as I, many of which I have worked with to (I believe) make a real difference. Even with their help I have never stopped feeling the desire, the drive to advocate for and help those kids I have taught. Several years after they have left I am still talking to their teachers, trying to offer anything I can to help. Talking to their parents, trying to continue being a positive support. Even when my daughter was born and I was “on leave”, I was in my classroom 3 times over the 10 days I took off. I had an amazing substitute, but I went in anyway. It was not her fight and I needed to be there to ensure that the fights I was fighting (advocating for needs of certain kids in my class at the time) were not going to be put off. There have been times when perhaps I should have let that fight go until I can really rest, recharge, find the strength to be what the kids in my classes need, but I have never felt as though anyone could really fight that fight for me.
In light of some recent posts about battling alcoholism and PTSD, it is even more pressing to me. Who picks up the fight for you when you need to rest? I am not asking if anyone helps you recharge, or if anyone fights with you, but does anyone ever fight for you? Is there someone who will bear your burden if you cannot? I cannot say I have ever felt that there was, despite all the incredible people who share my goal. If I am not the exception but the norm, then perhaps it is easy to see why so many new teachers burnout so quickly. I have found great ways to keep my cup full, but that I believe is only half of it.
If anyone has ever fought your fight while you could not, please share their story in the comments.