I am not strong. Sure, I ride my bike enough that it is not unreasonable to claim I could probably leap a building in, if not a single, at least two bounds. And sure, I can carry several bags of groceries to fit with the divine command that the groceries shalt be taken inside in one trip. And yeah, I can usually open my own jars of pickles, but that’s not the strength I’m talking about.
I have the emotional fortitude of a child in a toy store: I want everything, and I know I can have nothing, and I’m going to cry a whole lot. I get my high school students tomorrow. Every year, I teach one month of a rigorous program that invites high school students to my university so they can suffer and get a glimpse of what the future is like. Every year, my high school students leave with a little more of my spirit. I am not strong, and I am not ready.
Do you remember that scene in the 5th Harry Potter movie where, after Harry and Dumbledore have been tag-teaming Voldemort (a sentence you’ll only see here and in probably a lot of fanfic) and then Voldemort disappears and all the nameless magic folk come into the ministry building in li’l puffs of green smoke, and then Cornelius Fudge comes in and sees all the ruined shit from all that wand swinging (see above parenthetical). That moment of totally unjustified surprise in which he looks at all the evidence that Voldemort is alive and finally acknowledges it by whispering “he’s back” is exactly the sense of yeah-how-did-you-not-expect-this that anyone watching me spiral before getting new high school students would witness.
I’m not strong. I’m not ready. They’re back.
I have friends who teach high school more than once for 4 weeks every year. I also had teachers all throughout high school, and a lot of them seemed to both love their job and not be utterly crushed by the weight of dozens of teenagers that are both just becoming people and just becoming people who think about sex almost constantly. I want to interview either my old high school teachers or the people I know who are doing it now. I understand how they could love it. That part is actually easy because the work is fun and because it’s incredible getting to talk about my favorite stuff with students who throw themselves at anything with more vigor than I can manage even for ice cream. Loving the work makes sense, and I genuinely really like my students, but I don’t understand how anyone could do this for more than a month. I like riding my bike to work. It’s a quick 5 miles, but it lets me be smug about how good of a person I am for not polluting the environment at the cost of being exhausted for the first hour of work. I would not ride to work if it took me over an hour to get there. The ratio of fun to fuck-it is totally off balance. In the same way, I really love teaching my high school students in the summer, but doing it for more than a month would be too much. I’m not strong enough that the parts of this work that I love can outweigh the parts that make me fall asleep with my head in my hands.
But of course, I’d never let my students know that at the end of our month together I am going to drink heavily, hurl confetti into the air, and sob for 6 hours. I would never let them know that, as much as I love working with them, it drains my strength like I’m teaching a class of tiny, hormonal vampires. I won’t let them know, but the premature wrinkles and white hair sure will tell them something.