I wonder how often my high school teachers slept under their desks. I only teach three classes and I’ve been thinking of installing a curtain under my desk so my officemate can’t see when I’m huddled in a ball on the floor hiding from the world.
I like to argue with my students. Throughout the semester, I’ll give them a chance to work in teams to write and present an argument for a day off. I like making intense eye contact with them while they make their case, and I take notes the entire time they’re talking. After they finish, I take a minute and offer as thorough a rebuttal as I can. The one argument that gets harder to refute is that I’d be getting a day off too.
It isn’t difficult to say not to a day off because I don’t love my job or the work is too hard. As far as teachers go, I have it pretty easy. Lesson planning isn’t hard. Standing in front of a class for a few hours a day is tiring, but my flimsy pudding legs are getting used to it. Grading isn’t even that bad if it’s the only thing I’ve got going on. The first thing I do each day is get out of bed. That’s the part that sucks.
I tell my students I go to therapy and that everyone could benefit from it. I don’t tell them is that every time they talk about depression or hardly having the willpower to get out of bed and come to class, I feel the same. This is a new perspective for me. Your teachers can be depressed. We can be a real mess. Sometimes, we sleep an extra half hour because the thought of another day starting is a little more than we can deal with before the sun has finished waking up too.
I don’t think my students know that about me. They probably shouldn’t. At least, they shouldn’t know everything.
I generally look somewhat put together, but that’s because I’ve been depressed for so long I’ve gotten good at it. I know how to look like a semi-functional person running on bad sleep and constant self-hatred. I know how to look and stand and speak more confidently than I’ve ever actually felt because if I looked like I felt, nobody would sell me caffeine anymore. They’d just tell me to go to sleep. I know because that’s what my first 4 years of college were spent hearing.
Through high school and college I never really considered that my teachers weren’t that far removed from me. They overworked, generally under-compensated people who live and work in an environment that rarely values them for the same things they value themselves. The specific details of that experience have changed, but the overall feeling has not shifted in my time as a student, a student who also teaches, and as a full-time teacher.
If I’d realized how likely it is that some of my teachers empathized with how hard it was just existing, might have changed how I saw mental health and how I understood depression as something that could be physically and emotionally debilitating. I think knowing how much work my teachers did while going through the same shit might have helped me too. There’s something amazing about looking up to people and then learning they’re having a hard time too, and even as they’re struggling they’re also doing more than just getting by.
I also don’t think I’d have believed my teachers if they told me they were struggling with the same things I was. If a younger me had been stabbed and went through their day freely bleeding, and some fucker who doesn’t look like they’ve even been scratched tried to empathize, I wouldn’t believe them, and I’d think they didn’t realize how much getting stabbed hurt. I wear semi-professional clothes, sleep regularly, work out almost daily, and still feel like shit all the time.
I can’t tell my students that exactly, but I can tell as many people who aren’t in my class in the hope that it’ll get somewhere: your teachers are tired too.