On Loving a Teacher

Last year, I tried to make the case that summers were clearly for data analysis while drinking bad lemon-infused beers at a beach in New Jersey. But today, it felt like summers are more accurately for making all the phone calls and appointments that we had been avoiding for the last 10 months. I had to finally call the dentist and find a dermatologist to look at all these moles that sprout like dandelions as I get older, call the cell phone company to figure out why people keep telling me that it sounds like I am standing 50 feet from my phone, refill a prescription, and try to figure out how to get a new battery for our weed wacker. I had to become an expert at navigating the painstaking world of automated menus and eventually just pressing “0” for an actual person. However, as I learned today, some companies are starting to realize that I was just going to do that from the beginning to avoid the hell of their recording so they have changed “0” from being the “talk to someone button” to the “we’re going to start this whole thing over from the top” button.

In the end, I didn’t become an expert in that world at all. I don’t really have the patience required to be an adult in any setting, but I certainly can’t seem to adjust to having a conversation with some low-budget version of Siri over the phone. I end up feeling like my tech-frustrated mother as I start yelling at a recording hoping that my screaming somehow triggers something in their system that gives me a real person.

My wife kind of laughs at me and asks if maybe she should handle that call. Then she asks if I remembered to take my anxiety medication. I tell her I did, wait until she isn’t looking, and sneak into the kitchen to throw back a Paxil.

She is either the most loving person in the world, or she is a complete ass. I can’t decide.

Most times I think she is an ass for laughing at me yelling at Target’s recording for filing prescriptions, telling them that I don’t have a prescription number at increased volumes, but then she graciously takes the phone and handles all the grown-up responsibilities that I can’t seem to figure out.

We had this moment a few weeks ago that seemed a little bit more important in our marriage than automated phone call assistance. We were trying to find a new Netflix show to watch when she told me something that I will probably think about for the next few years. Truth has a way of reverberating like that.

“Jase- I need to try to tell you something.”

It’s the kind of sentence in our relationship that always gets the other person to push away their cell phone and stop thinking about whether the latest season of Arrested Development was just one too many.

“What’s up.”

“I think teaching, and your passion, and your anxiety about your work, and your perfectionism, and all these things that I really love and respect about you, have kind of made it hard for me to have any space for stress and anxiety of my own. There is not much emotional room left in our marriage.”

It was one of those times that I may have wanted to defend myself, but I knew immediately that what she was saying was true. It seems my tendency to wander into my teaching brain, lose hours of sleep, or digress into moments of replaying an old lesson or planning a future lesson has made it harder for the people I love to have stress and anxiety of their own. I was subconsciously asking my wife to care for me by walking some relational tightrope of conversation, care, avoidance or any other of the myriad of ways that you deal with a mentally exhausted spouse.

It’s easy to believe that teaching is a selfless profession. We give so much of ourselves to planning creative and engaging lessons. We spend time thinking of the best way forward for each of the students in our classroom. We listen, we think, and our hearts often bend and break for our students and our schools. But in doing all of this, we have too often asked our friends and our family to support us so that we don’t fall apart. I comfort myself with my selflessness at school, but selfishly asking my family to emotionally help me through the year.

This isn’t just a way to preach on a blog about my marriage. I’m sure nobody wants to hear that. I think my wife and I will figure it out and I’ll start working on better ways to allow some of the other people in my life some emotional space. Sometimes I think life is just a journey, on so many different levels, in learning that this whole things isn’t about me. Things are better when there is a little less “me” and a little more “we,” but that drifts into the chessiness of a 1080s Michael Jackson song. Which just points to the fact that I love those “Heal the World” sentiments.

Teaching has a way of making me think I am a little more important than I actually am and it helps to recognize this in the summer when I have some time to work on it.

This is, however, a blog post about recognizing that teaching is extremely hard when you do it well, but loving a teacher might be even harder. I’m guessing that many of us have people in our lives that allow us to be selfish about our days and our problems, and it might be worth looking at how often we are taking that invitation and how that might be impacting the people we love. It’s kind of about how the most realistic part of Freedom Writers isn’t when a bunch of kids magically open up to the white do-gooder teacher by writing in a bunch of composition books. That shit never happens. The most realistic part is the painful moment when that teacher’s husband packs his bags and leaves their house, and their marriage, behind. If teachers wanted to be perfect, that kind of thing would happen all the time. Our families would rightfully tell us that they feel slighted and they can’t do it anymore.

I’m just thankful that my wife is enough of an ass to tell me that I should probably work on taking up a little less space, instead of packing her bags.