No One Prepares You for the Emotional Toll of Teaching

emotional effect

One of my young students clung to my leg on the last day of school.

“I don’t want to go,” she said. She had told me this every day of the last week. She didn’t want to go to a new classroom next year. She didn’t want to stop coming to school for the summer. She was one of those kids who joyfully walked into the classroom each day and wasn’t as eager as others to leave. 

I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. My classroom was the safe space for her I wanted it to be for all my students. I wanted them to be a little sad to leave; that meant they wanted to be in my classroom. It meant I had done my job, and that means everything to me.

However, no one prepared me for this. I had no reason to believe this little girl was being mistreated. I had no reason to believe she didn’t receive love at home, but the fact that this third grader clung to my leg on the last day of school absolutely wrecked me inside. 

I wasn’t prepared, and it wasn’t just on this day. Every day, I feel a tug on a heart string I didn’t even know existed. I watch my students exit my classroom and I wonder what they go home to. Sometimes they say things that make me worry just a little, and I’m forced to walk a fine line. 

As a teacher, I’m told to keep my distance; I’m not a counselor. I am supposed to draw a definitive line and show compassion without prying. I’m supposed to spend seven hours a day with my students and then flip a switch when they leave their daytime “home.”

Then they leave your classroom for the year and you want to make sure every last little person who walks out that door uses the potential you saw in them all year. I can try not to be the “helicopter teacher” but teaching is, without a doubt, the closest thing to parenting I’ve ever done in my life. 

Telling me not to care about my student’s well-being beyond my classroom doors is almost like telling me not to worry about my kids when I send them off to school. 

1,170 hours. That’s the number of hours you have with your students during the school year. Even with busy time, disruptions, and chaos, that still leaves a lot of time for bonding, growing, and worrying.

No one told me. When I was sitting in my college Education classes, I learned how to write great lesson plans. I learned about child psychology but never how their well-being would affect me psychologically. I learned about Common Core but never knew how I’d be shaken to mine. I learned about the philosophy behind this education business but I still don’t know which philosophy would help me not care so, SO much. 

I learned a lot of things about teaching but this emotional toll it’s taking was never one of them.

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Whitney Ballard is a writer and teacher from small town Alabama. She owns the Trains and Tantrums blog, Whitney went from becoming a mom at sixteen to holding a Master’s degree in Education; she writes about her journey, along with daily life, through a Christian lens on her blog. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her in the backyard with her husband, two boys, and two dogs.

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