Yesterday I had one of those days: The kind that leave you staring at the floor for a few minutes while your brain takes a nap unintentionally. When I looked up, I recognized that numb feeling. It reminded me of my first-year teaching. Oh yeah, and I wasn’t teaching. I was just being a mom.
For the first time yesterday, I had to balance the needs of both my kids when my husband returned to work after a three-month paternity leave. And let me tell you, it was a day packed with unexpected chaos, surprises, and—when I was brave enough—humor. I started with a perfect plan: Get the baby dressed, fed, and sleeping so I could take him with me to a doctor’s appointment. I executed that plan, loaded him in the car, BUT…found him awake when I arrived. He was happily awake for about 15 minutes…and then he wasn’t. I had to leave mid-appointment because he began sobbing uncontrollably until I had no choice but to leave. And the day just kept getting worse.
Because I was low on gas, I couldn’t sit in the car with the AC until the baby felt better. So I had to put the angry little man into his carseat and drive to the gas station while he was losing his mind in the backseat. Disaster averted, I got us gas and calmed him down, deciding to calm myself down by picking up lunch on the way home. And…while I was in the drive through, I received a text from my daughter’s teacher that she was having tummy cramps and needed to be picked up early—much earlier than I expected. So I took the baby (who was crying again) and went to school to pick up my daughter, who was not very cooperative about getting in the car. And as we drove home, both kids crying in the backseat, I was having one of those low morale moments when you think you don’t have what it takes.
As I stared into space about an hour later with both kids calm again, I realized how much moms have in common with teachers. We both experience overwhelming, unpredictable days when we feel ill-equipped despite starting with a good plan. Little people aren’t predictable and we have to roll with lots of punches to make it out alive.
My first-year teaching, I remember a day like this one. It was especially hectic and crazy because there were some researchers in my room working with students (a project I had agreed to because I didn’t have the guts or wisdom to refuse.) As they worked with kids in the back, I was desperately trying to get through a group lesson on the carpet, shouting to be heard because the researchers were so loud that they were distracting my other students. As I soldiered on, the PE teacher entered the room and asked if my class was going to come to PE—which I had completely forgotten. And right there in front of the kids, staff, and strangers, I burst into tears. It was just too much stress!
Days like this in teaching aren’t isolated in the first year. This chronic stress spreads out over a teaching career, though certainly more concentrated in the first year and any time a teacher experiences a change in teaching situation. And for any mom who is nodding their head along to these stories, we MUST work together to restore working conditions for teachers to decrease the frequency of these chaotic days. As an educator, I have found it interesting to see the group #PurpleForParents spring up and put itself in opposition to teachers. It just doesn’t make sense to me. If we want what is best for our AZ kids, we need to be working together. And I think moms (and some dads too!) know why.
It’s impossible to manage day after day of overwhelming tasks and stress. But in Arizona, we have some of the largest class sizes in the nation. Instead of giving teachers the manageable days you plan as a mom—that occasionally go differently than planned—we are giving AZ teachers day after day of chaos and asking them to keep coming back to their classrooms. Some will say that large class sizes are because we can’t get enough teachers to fill positions. But it’s only partially true. Large class sizes are part of the reason WHY we can’t keep teachers. We say goodbye to qualified teachers every year when they decide the job is bad for their health and well-being.
But here’s what I think: The moms get it. If you’re a mom, you know what these days are like. You might even recognize how hard it is to make decisions on days when you are feeling overwhelmed and over-stressed. Perhaps you even find yourself staring at the floor sometimes without realizing it. So why would we want our AZ teachers to be experiencing these feelings day after day while trying to educate our kids? It just doesn’t make sense.
So if you’re a mom, get behind initiatives that seek to improve funding for our schools. Let’s provide for our kids by increasing school funding, lowering class sizes, and decreasing the cognitive load on our teachers so they can be the best instructors EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
The Invest in Ed Initiative is one way you can contribute and get involved right now. Don’t let education opponents convince you that movements like #REDforED and #InvestInEd are simply about teacher pay. You’re a mom. You get it. (And I know you don’t get paid.) You know that having a “good day” with little people around is based on the materials you have, the supports/help around you, and the number of little people in the room. Let’s work together to improve classrooms in AZ for the leaders of tomorrow.